Surfing is a sport enjoyed by many, bringing together people from all walks of life with one simple aim—to ride waves and be one with the ocean. Surfing has so many health benefits, both physical and mental, and so sharing this experience with those less able is really important. It’s therefore inspiring to come across groups of people who do just that—promoting the sport and enabling more people get on a board and feel the thrill of riding waves.
Last summer, a team of designers from Wales, UK invented a Surf Access Vehicle (SAV) which enables disabled children to access the water and experience surfing. We spoke with Ross Head, the Product Design Manager at the Cerebra Innovation Centre about the creation of the SAV, how surfing can be used as a treatment and how we can help promote surfing and get more people involved.
What inspired the creation of the SAV?
Cerebra Innovation Centre is a design team working for the charity Cerebra. We design and make bespoke products for children with brain related conditions, for example cerebral palsy and autism etc. We were approached by a great organisation called Tonic Surf Therapy to see if we could help make a form of transportation to enable people to gain access to the beach and surf—which in an ordinary wheelchair is next to impossible.
We call this the Surf Access Vehicle. The idea is that you can sit in the SAV in the carpark, the big wheels enable you to travel over sand, dunes, and rocks, and then plunge straight into the sea where you can be transferred onto the surfboard and get surfing.
Check out the SAV in action below:
How was it created and how long did it take?
We designed and manufactured the SAV in our studio and workshops in University of Wales Trinity Saint David, in Swansea. It is mostly welded sections of aluminium with stainless steel fixtures. It took around 6 weeks to build.
How have people been responding to it?
Initial feedback has been amazing. There are products which perform a similar task, but none that are as specialist as this. We have designed it, as we do with all of our products, to look cool- just because you rely on a wheel chair for mobility does not mean that you don’t want to look good on the beach!
The surfer can sit on the chair and be transferred once in the water. Or, with the seat back, they can lie down and launch straight from the SAV, onto a surfboard.
Your team have also developed a tandem seated surfboard. Tell us more about its creation. What materials did you use?
Around the same time we designed and made a tandem surfboard for wheelchair reliant people. It is 12 feet long, 32 inches wide and has a racing car bucket seat attached via an angled bracket. The idea is that someone can sit in the seat and be paddled into the wave by the instructor, who can then stand and guide the board from behind the chair. The surfer gets all the thrills, spills and splashes of the wave from relative security of the supportive seat. The board was made in collaboration with Surfability UK and Roger Cooper Surfboards, and is an EPS core with Epoxy, so is surprisingly light but nice and tough. It has carbon fibre reinforcement in high stress areas.
Check out the rad racing-seat fitted board in action below:
There has been a lot of research into how surfing can be used as a treatment. Why is this? What effect have you perceived when put into action?
I am no expert in this field, but as a surfer, kite surfer and general lover of the sea, it seems able to bring fun, inclusion and calmness to people. I have read many books and research papers about the effects of surfing and the sea, the movement, the buzz you feel from gliding along the wave really does seem to have a profound effect. Also the effect that being part of a group or team, call it a “tribe”, the feeling is infectious and helps to make people feel included in something bigger than themselves. Even though Kai is nonverbal, you only have to look at his face in the video when he is surfing on the tandem board to know that he is stoked!
What more can be done to promote surfing and get everyone involved and enjoying the sport?
With organisations such as Cerebra, Surfability UK and Tonic Surf Therapy more people are able to get a taste of the ocean and can be involved in these sports. There are a small but dedicated group of amazing people around the world who devote their time to helping people access the surf who might not be able to without this help.
My team and I aim to keep creating products to help these guys help people to surf and hope that we can all share in our beautiful coastline. If, by making people aware of groups and charities like Cerebra and Surfability, we can encourage more kind hearted people to donate towards these causes, then we can help more people and spread the enjoyment.