Boards made for disabled surfers
Being unable to stand up should be no barrier to surfing, says paraplegic Marcus Thompson who is working on designs to make the sport accessible to the disabled.
The Kapiti man says sports such as wheelchair rugby and basketball have helped disabled people back into recreation but many forms of outdoor activity, particularly watersports, can remain outside their capabilities.
Thompson is working with board manufacturers on two designs to craft a sit-on wave ski, which he hopes to have on the water this summer for testing.
Once a keen river kayaker and windsurfer, Thompson was working as an outdoor education teacher when he had a high-speed skiing accident in 2003 and ‘‘exploded a vertebra’’.
He has found his way back into sport through wheelchair rugby and basketball, but says while they provide pathways for the disabled into sport, everyday recreation can still be a challenge.
As a board member of Parafed Wellington, which supports sporting and recreational activities for physically disabled people, he was hoping to change that.
‘‘Parafed traditionally has been looking after team sports and now that we’re moving into individualbased activities . . . it’s sort of overlapping into that social area for people.
‘‘Opening up the ability for people in chairs to have an adventure, break boundaries, or go beyond their comfort zones, in set- tings that interest them.’’
Parafed was looking to buy adaptive gear to rent out at a nominal fee. The wave ski was a pilot project.
The father of four said he had been inspired by building a surfboard for his son, Pedro, last summer. Being out in the water watching his kids surfing had motivated him to design something so he could join them.
Through Parafed, he was working with Auckland’s Tsunami Boards to develop an 8 foot wave ski. Parafed had secured funding of $4500 for the project.
Wave skis are a short board, have a surfboard hull and the rider paddles out and surfs the wave in.
‘‘ The core movement on the wave is surfing, so once they initiate turns they don’t have to do as much with the paddle . . . for us without much hip movement we’re going to have to rely more on paddle and hull design to work the wave, so that’s part of the shaping experimentation that we are going through now.’’
Alongside the Tsunami experiment, Mr Thompson was working on his own 10 foot design using plans from board manufacturer Roy Stuart, of Future Primitive.
He said Stuart crafted wooden surfboards from lightweight but strong paulownia timber, with a teardrop shape and displacement hull.
‘‘ With the rail shape of the board it means . . . you can essentially stand in one sweet spot in the middle and turn, you don’t have to go up and down the board, and that makes a lot of sense to me to translate that through to seated surfing.’’
The disabled wave ski would need a supportive seat offering hip control, and a quick release strap for when the rider tipped over.
‘‘[On standard wave skis] when they get tipped over in a wave, they normally put one leg down and then do an eskimo roll [to right themselves], but you can’t do that if you haven’t got your legs working.’’
He hoped in time to come up with a design that enabled the disabled rider to roll. Meanwhile, he expected to have the Tsunami prototype ready for testing by February.
Safety will be a big part of the testing and he will have help from keen surfer, fellow Otaki College teacher and surf lifesaver Daniel Riggs. Paraplegic Paul Fallon, who last year swam from Kapiti Island to Waikanae, would also take part.
‘‘The testing, first is about setting something up so I can use it, learn how to use it and develop a system for teaching and getting people of various abilities into this activity. And that’s from getting it down the beach, into the water.
‘‘ I’m picking that in good weather, a strong person in the water will become very independent and some people will always need someone close by.’’
Making a difference: Marcus Thompson is working on a wave ski design for the disabled after crafting a surfboard, right, and wave ski left.