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.

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