Making surfing accessible for disabled young people

Last updated: 28 May 2015 Topics: Deaf and disabled children

Surfability UK CIC has been working to make surfing accessible for children and young people. 

We chatted to Ben Clifford, founder of Surfability UK CIC, about the work they do to make surfing accessible for children and young people. 

Here’s what Ben had to say in response to our questions:

What is Surfability?

Surfability UK CIC is a Community Interest Company that provides surfing lessons and experiences for people with disabilities and learning difficulties.

We use equipment such as tandem surfboards and beach-access wheelchairs to include people who wouldn't otherwise be able to surf. We adapt our sessions to the needs of our participants to make them truly inclusive.

Why did you set up Surfability?

I started a surfing club for young people with autism spectrum conditions through a mainstream surf school around 8 years ago. This group grew and grew, and the needs of the participants varied a lot.

I was also working at a local special-education school, where I learnt a lot about working with people with all kinds of disabilities. My job at the school was temporary. As it was coming to an end, I thought: surfing is so great for people with autism conditions, why not combine the best practice from special education to making surfing inclusive for people with all kinds of disability.

My group for people with autism had got so big by this point, a specialist service was required. I founded Surfability UK CIC in July 2013 and it has been a huge success. 

Who does Surfability work with?

Surfability is licenced as a beach operator by the City and County of Swansea. Surfing GB is currently in the process of becoming the NGB for surfing and we will join when it does.

Our Coaches are qualified as lifeguards through the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS). Local trainers from the RLSS have helped us in risk assessing and developing adapted rescue techniques for disabled people.

Who are typical Surfability participants?

We have found surfing to be an activity that engages and challenges people with a huge variety of additional needs. Over the last year, Surfability participants’ disabilities have included:

  • autistic spectrum conditions and asperger's syndrome
  • angelmans syndrome
  • cerebral palsy
  • downs syndrome
  • dyslexia
  • dyspraxia and ADHD
  • dwarfism
  • visual impairments
  • amputees
  • athrogryposis 
  • kyphoscoliosis 
  • diplegia 
  • hemiplegia 
  • quadriplegia 

Feedback from users

David Smith, a teacher from Ysgol Pen-Y-Bryn, said:

"Surfability UK has created opportunities for young people with disabilities to engage in a pursuit that was previously inaccessible to them. The students from Ysgol Pen-y-Bryn who have accessed the services offered by Surfability have gained confidence, self-esteem, fitness and resilience. 

"Participation in surfing has also encouraged teamwork and improved the communication skills of students who have difficulties interacting with others. Through his remarkable commitment, Ben has enthused and engaged young people in a pastime they would have never before considered as an option open to them."

Further information

For more on this subject, see our topic page on safeguarding deaf and disabled children.

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