Congratulations to our winner, Ben
5 November 2019 | Wales
One inventive surfer and his team are bringing the joy of the waves to people with disabilities
Ben Clifford believes that everyone should be able surf. That’s why he set up Surfability UK, a community interest company which gets people with disabilities and learning difficulties into the waves to experience the freedom of the sea. With his dedication, innovation and infectious enthusiasm, it’s easy to see why Ben is 2019’s Pride of Britain TSB Community Partner award winner.
It all started because Ben, 34, was diagnosed with dyspraxia as a child. “Surfing was perfect because I could learn balance and coordination in a way that if I fell off it didn't hurt.”
He realised that he wanted others to have this same experience and started volunteering, teaching children with autism. Then when that contract finished, he began working with kids with Down’s syndrome. “Their thrill for surfing was so infectious. I knew I needed to be giving kids these opportunities full-time.”
So, Ben launched Surfability UK, Britain’s first fully adaptive and inclusive surf school, in 2013, opting to make it a community interest company rather than a charity in order to access grant funding and help the initiative grow. “The goal was simply surf lessons in a safe, caring, stimulating and inclusive way for all people, and their carers and families, with the plan to reinvest any profits in developing methods and equipment to make surfing more accessible for more people.
These days, Surfability UK provides year-round support for up to 500 disabled people from the local area and around the UK, aged from six to 73. Based in Caswell Bay in the Gower Peninsula, Ben and the team are able to teach all year round using the sea and the nearby LC Leisure Centre. He’s also opened up his centre to the wider community, so elderly and disabled people can take advantage of accessible changing facilities and beach wheelchairs to spend time on the sands.
His team work to make sure that each surfer gets the right level of help to really enjoy the experience. And if Ben encounters someone with a condition he hasn’t worked with before, he just develops a new piece of equipment for them, with both seated and wheelchair-user tandem surfboards in the kit store at the surf school now.
Ben, 34, now works with the Surfing Association to develop international standards for adaptive surfing, helping people with disabilities in surfing hotspots such as California, South Africa and Australia.
If you want to help him and his team continue their work, his answer is simple. “Generally, just spread the stoke. A big thing for us is awareness, because lots of disabled people don’t know that’s surfing something they can do.”
Ben knows the healing power of the sea and witnessing that in others is unforgettable. His words of wisdom to others wanting to start their own community initiative? "Take advice but don’t listen to negativity. You can shape the world and break down barriers."
Find out more at surfabilityukcic.org.