Ben Clifford runs Surfability, the adaptive surf school in Caswell Bay, Swansea.
He sits on the forefront of a growing section of the surf industry that carries with it a deceptive degree of risk. You don’t have to be surfing monster swells to understand the risks that come with surfing; for many people, their first experience of surfing is their first experience of the power of the ocean. Any decent surfer has had respect brutally administered by the ocean at some point in their career.
Now, remember back to when you first learnt to surf. Remember fighting through the white water. Remember how when you finished you could barely drag yourself up the beach.
Now imagine what that would be like with only one arm, or perhaps no arms, or in the case of Kai, no function in his arms or legs.
Kai is quadriplegic, and the simple fact with Kai is that when he is surfing and comes off his board, he must put his absolute faith in people like Ben to get to him in the water quickly, and lift him back above the surface. The bravery and trust that he shows in his coach every time he catches a wave is simply astounding.
After a chance meeting between Ben Clifford and Mark [C-Skins CEO] on a Welsh beach, a project was put in motion to produce an adaptive wetsuit for a student at Ben’s Surfability surf school in Caswell Bay.
Ben has been involved in developing the adaptive surf community in Swansea since 2013. His experience of working closely alongside the community and facilitating surf workshops for people who would otherwise struggle to gain access to the ocean, makes Ben uniquely well positioned to understanding both the resilience and importance of the disabled surfer community. It’s this knowledge that has allowed him to work with C-Skins and Bodyline [wetsuit repair centre] to develop wetsuits for surfers with physical disabilities.
Even the most able bodied of people can have a hard time getting into wetsuits, and you can imagine the problem may be many times worse for those with special adaptive needs. Ben talks about some of his participants arriving up to an hour before their session just to get into their wetsuits. He recognises that their commitment to surfing, devoting so much time to even just putting on their suits, is matched only by their bravery and capacity for trust when they get in the sea.
Adaptive surfing has come a long way in this past decade; Ben is now looking to run a full service seven days a week, dedicated to helping people with special adaptive needs into the water. In his down time, he is still plugging away on the international scene promoting adaptive surfing internationally. Along with Dan Cummings CEO of Ampsurf (an adaptive surfing organisation operating in North America), Ben put together the basis for the ISA official qualification for adaptive surf coaching.
Now, we want to reiterate here that Ben is no ordinary surf coach. In many ways he is paving the way for differently abled people to get access to the waves, but under far more critical conditions that your average coach. Most coaches don’t have to worry about their student’s ability to swim or hear or sometimes even see. Ben’s relationship with his students can literally be life and death on every wave.
His hard work is now plain for all to see; standing proudly alongside Caswell beach car park is an adaptive surfing centre, complete with toilets and changing rooms built by the BBC’s Nick Knowles as part of the DIY SOS project.
We’re incredibly proud to have witnessed and been involved with Ben’s mission and achievements so far, providing him with wetsuits for the team at Bodyline to adapt for the needs of his students. We look forward to sharing and celebrating more success stories from the UK’s adaptive surfing community and Ben’s students at Surfability as they continue to surf from strength to strength.