Surf School

Fully Accessible Surf School Opens In Bristol

The Wave is a new advanced wave pool in Bristol (located in the South of England) that allows equal opportunity for anyone with a real passion for surfing and a desire to learn. What sets this specific establishment apart from others is that it is the first wave pool in the UK that was designed with people with disabilities in mind. 

Nick Hounsfield is the former osteopathic physician behind the entire project. An osteopathic physician mainly focuses on joints, muscles and the spine, and their therapies are non-invasive. The overall goal is to help improve upon the body’s nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic systems without medicine or medical procedures; however, it’s meant to be in addition to traditional medicine practices as well. Many osteopathics are also medical doctors, although it’s not a requirement. 

“From day one, our aim was to make sure the space was accessible physically and in terms of culture, to make sure that all people have the same opportunities on site as each other and to normalize being around people who have physical or mental health issues,” Hounsfield said in an interview.

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The Wave is completed with access ramps, handicap restrooms, wheelchairs made specifically for beach terrain, and most importantly specialized surf trainers/coaches who are professionally trained to work with individuals who have physical/mental restrictions. 

In general the surfing culture in the UK is rather limited, due to an overall lack of beach access. The beaches have quick and passing seasons that are ideal for any water sports, but it also depends on the weather on a given day, and how close you are in relation to the beach. Man-made water structures for sporting have always been the best bet in the UK, however, none really had handicap access until now. 

There have been countless studies on the positive effects of playing water-sports for those with any sort of physical, mental, visual, or learning impediments. Doctor Easky Britton is a marine social scientist who studied over 33 studies involving over 2,000 individuals with some sort of disability, and how “water-based healthcare” affected their overall well-being. 

“In the context of a physical disability, it’s the sense of freedom from gravity which takes the pressure off joints. For some amputees it really reduces the dependency on narcotics and pain medication. And mentally, psychologically, it has a huge effect on mood and wellbeing,” Britton said.

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The Wave really is focused on delivering that same sense of freedom mentioned by Britton. Safety is obviously their number one priority, but after that the staff wants every individual who comes to The Wave to feel normal and excited about the new experiences they’re about to embark on. It’s for that reason that Hounsfield ensures that every group and every training session has at least four lifeguards on duty at all times. 

Again, the guards and trainers working at The Wave are all specially trained to work with individuals with specific physical and mental restrictions as well. No one ever asks to be limited in their physical or mental capabilities, so they shouldn’t have to compromise doing something just because it seems impossible. Hounsfield applied this logic to his establishment, and is now allowing a whole new world of possibilities for those who have been told they “can’t” surf or go in the water because of an uncontrollable restriction. 

“I love stuff when it’s ‘on’ the water – it’s my happy place. At first [after the accident] I was very wobbly but skiing and wakeboarding has given me strength. Most of all it’s helped me mentally, emotionally and with confidence. Having these kinds of experiences is a total gift,” says 31-year-old Sophie Elwes, who’s paralysed from the chest down. 

“It was truly an inclusive experience. I wish the whole world was designed [accessibly] like this.”