The Wave: Promoting Accessibility in Surfing

The English Adaptive Surfing Open competition takes place at The Wave in Bristol

Surfers are often portrayed as mavericks – almost stock characters – obsessed with the ‘perfect wave’, lithely hopping on their board to paddle out into the surf and drop in. 

But I think that this portrayal is outdated – and to be frank (which I am), it’s paddling against the undertow. 

I’m in agreement with The Wave, who have been working tirelessly to make surfing inclusive and accessible for any surfer. Only an hour or two from the excellent beaches of Devon, The Wave Bristol is one of a new generation of wavepools leveraging advances in tech to create an inclusive, artificial- but-realistic surfing experience for all.

Their drive is more than just words, though. This week, they hosted the English Adaptive Surfing Team on their way to the Para Surfing Championships in California on the 7th. The Wave has also hosted the English Adaptive Surfing Open for two years running, committing to creating a space for disabled and marginalized groups to access surfing.

Getting ready to compete

Its founder, Nick Hounsfield, grew up uniquely. A native of Barbados, Nick was very involved in the growth of surfing on the island from ‘freesurfing’ – solo, non-competitive surfing – to local competitions, then eventually going on to take the national team to the International Surfing Association (ISA) Championships. 

“I think surfing in my part of the world is a place where you don’t see anything other than another human being,” Nick said in a recent interview. “There’s no colour, there’s no country, it’s nothing other than, ‘Come let’s get into the water, roast some breadfruits, have a drink, be outdoors.’” 

I would note that there’s a long history of this pragmatic, inclusive passion in surfing – the famous case of Bethany Hamilton is one of the best examples this. After losing her left arm at 13 years old to a tiger shark off Kauai, she returned to surfing just 26 days after the accident and continues to surf professionally to this day.

The Wave fosters a similar pragmatism. First, they operate with a ‘person first’ policy. Those with special needs have a dedicated section on The Wave’s website to communicate their condition and requirements prior to a visit. An equal contributor is the tech behind The Wave, though. A long process of research and development has allowed for predictable, adjustable, and sustainable wave generation. 

Not everyone can safely access the ocean, and not everyone can get on a board without help – so why not help? 

The Wave has taken a refreshing step in the direction of a more equitable and inclusive future for surfing. We should all be taking notes. 

Francis Menassa is the CEO of JAR Capital.