Early in May, the town of Surfside Beach, South Carolina kicked off the first Wheel to Surf event of the 2018 season. The event consists of surf clinics that have been modified to accommodate athletes who have disabilities.
The clinics are organized by two non-profit entities—Adaptive Surf Project and Coastal Adaptive Sports. Adaptive Surf Project helps to raise funds for manufacturing adaptive surfboards and Coastal Adaptive Sports is sports club dedicated to Paralympic sports.
Brock Johnson, the president of Coastal Adaptive Sports, suffered an injury while diving which left him in a wheelchair. Soon after, he took up adaptive surfing and helped to start the clinics. When asked how first-time athletes react to their first surf clinic, Johnson had the following to say:
“It changes their face from totally scared to the best day of their life,” he said. “Once they do it, they’re hooked.”
The first event of the season made use of a brand new wheelchair ramp for beach access, a testimony to the town’s support of adaptive surfing. It wasn’t just the town that showed support, either. As the day progressed, volunteers in bright t-shirts dotted the shoreline, including members of Surfrider Foundation and Ocean Cure.
Most of the surfers who participated in the opening event agree that adaptive surfing instills one common emotion for them: freedom.
Several athletes have said that surfing allows them to forget about the struggles they often face on dry land. Surfing provides a relief from the stress that comes with spending most of your day in a wheelchair or trying to get around on sand. When on the water, the disabilities go away for a while. In most cases, even riders with missing limbs can achieve the same skill as riders with, say, both legs. When it comes to surfing, it’s an even playing field.
The coming summer season is packed with more clinics and Wheel to Surf events. Small clinics will be held in the town of Cherry Grove in June and July, on the first Sundays of the month, as well as August 19th. The next Wheel to Surf event will be at North Myrtle Beach on September 8th.