Adaptive Surfing for the Blind and Visually Impaired

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It’s that time of year again! With the Summer solstice coming and going, it is officially summer again. Summer has finally found its way back to us after months of gloomy weather. As tourists and locals alike begin to flood the beaches, one staple of the coastline is the influx of surfers, amateur and professional, taking advantage of the warmer waters and the beautiful waves. One group that has been taking advantage of this sunny weather is the blind and visually impaired community. Surfing, and open water sports in general, are dangerous, depending on where you surf and the wave conditions as well, but that hasn’t stopped those in the visually impaired and blind community from tackling even the most difficult waves! 

Take for example Derek Rabelo, a 27-year-old Brazilian competitive surfer born with congenital glaucoma. Growing up in Brazil, Derek dreamed of surfing the famous Pipeline break on the North shore of Oahu, a dangerous feat for even the most skilled of surfers. After a few years of rigorous training in his hometown, at the age of 20, Derek was able to accomplish his goal. Today Derek, with the help of his coaches and other big wave surfers, is working on tackling even bigger waves. In fact, his new goal is to surf the biggest waves he can find in Tahiti, Hawaii and Portugal. Derek’s determination and passion for surfing has inspired others in the blind and visually impaired community across the world.

Another notable surfer who is making waves is Carmen Lopez, a 21-year old from Spain. Carmen lost her vision as a child due to congenital glaucoma, but that hasn’t stopped her from chasing after the biggest of waves. Carmen, who competes in adaptive surfing competition across the globe, has only been surfing for less than a year. By communicating with her coach through a whistle signaling system, Carmen is able to tell which side a wave is coming from. Just last December Carmen was able to compete in an adaptive surfing competition put on by the International Surfing Association (ISA) in La Jolla, California. 

More and more events such as the ISA competition have been popping up that encourages those with physical impediments such as visual impairments to try surfing and other adventure sports. One amazing event is the Swami’s Annual Blind Surf Event in Northern San Diego. Every year during the first weekend of June, Swami’s Surfing Association has surfing instructors and experienced surfers teach those with visual impairments and blindness to surf. This year there were 57 participants, ranging from young children to seniors, who were able to spend the day in the water learning how to surf. Each participant is paired up with 6 volunteer surfers to make sure they are safe and prepared for the waves. While in the past the event has been exclusive for those with visual impairments and blindness, this year they also allowed those with other physical impairments, such as those with cerebral palsy, to participate in the event.