Surf’s up for Julie Andrews as she takes on the biggest indoor waves in Wales.
Being a cautious swimmer, surfing was never really on my to-do list but recently, after meeting Ben Clifford, the man who started Surfability back in 2013, I felt encouraged to feel the fear and have a go anyway. Surfability brings accessible surfing to all, providing indoor and outdoor surfing lessons, on safe, soft surfboards. Everyone can now take part.
Arriving at the waterpark in Swansea, I was looking forward to trialling Ben’s tandem surfboard. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised that this board, is only used in the sea. I was booked-in for ‘bodyboarding’. Tentatively, I agreed to take the plunge.
Going in first, Ben executed a perfect roll off the side, straight into the pool. Then, it was my turn. Laying on my back, clinging to the surfboard on top of me, I teetered on the edge, praying for a ‘beam me up Scotty’ moment. It took two attempts, before I found the nerve, to allow myself to roll in.
When Ben entered, he landed like a leaf on water. When I rolled in it was like Nellie the elephant had slapped down in her trunks and landed with a whack. Dutifully, staff held my board in place, but the undulating waters shocked me. Ever so slowly, with Ben gripping my board, we moved away.
Riding prone, (on my stomach), unable to use my legs, my arms had to do all the work. Ben, a magnificently calm instructor, took my initial alarm at being hurled about in his stride. I couldn’t imagine ever being calm in waters so relentlessly trying to wallop me into submission.
With every swipe across the pool, Ben encouraged me. He also assured me that it normally took people several wipeouts before they were as steady as I was. This thrilled me greatly, but I had yet to discover what a wipeout actually was.
Surfing back and forth across the pool, for the first few runs, Ben kept a firm grip on me. Quite frankly I was horrified by the whole process, especially because it meant getting my face wet. Then Ben asked me to do a manoeuvre which slam-dunked my face right into frothy waters. When I re-emerged, I resembled a water spouting pufferfish with bloodshot eyes. ‘I think I drunk half the pool!’ I spluttered. Ben laughed so hard at this that he nearly fell off his board.
Once recovered, I stopped worrying about getting splashed and changed from cautious paddler, to determined surfer. With my confidence growing, I even managed a few seconds on my own; a proud moment indeed.
Left turns were difficult for me, resulting in Ben being slammed against the wall several times. I didn’t realise this at first, but the second it dawned, I laughed so hard, control was lost, and I went into my first wipeout. Through the mighty wave I dove, somersaulting twice before being released out from the other side.
Against the current
Although instructed to sit up as soon possible, I couldn’t. Blasted by the torrent of water, the best I could manage, was a sideways crab shimmy, all the way to the shallow end. When eventually I sat up, two knights in shining surf shorts, were sat, reassuringly next to me. Also beside me, were my swimming trousers, which had apparently flown off the second I went into wipeout. Thankfully, I was wearing a costume.
I don’t remember what I said to them as they sat encouraging me, but I do know, that two very understanding instructors, made me feel so proud of myself, that I allowed them to carry me back to do it all again.
Rolling back in, I was determined to progress quickly. The waves had other plans and no sooner had we taken a couple of sweeps across the pool, I endured my second wipeout.
Back in the pool, this time, everything clicked. I was a little overzealous in my manoeuvres but without fear spoiling my concentration, I was able to recognise how my physical actions affected my direction. Amazingly, Ben now only needed to hold on with a feather-like touch.
Then came the moment to go it alone. Very gradually, Ben removed his hand. The force of the water on my body was so intense that I feared a millimetre’s wrong move would have me under, but I was doing it! This reluctant water baby was seriously smashing personal boundaries.
The afternoon sun shone in through the windows casting shimmering water diamonds all about me and keeping steady I gloried in the most physically challenging achievement of my life.
Suddenly, an unruly air bubble exploded under my arm pit, toppling me sideways; I was so relieved when Ben grabbed my board. Regrettably, just as I was getting my bearings again our boards collided, throwing both of us into our final, epic, wipeout!
It took me all of my courage to jump in to waters I was fearful of. To actually remain in and succeed at this sport took an extraordinary instructor. With Ben by my side, I discovered a depth of determination I never knew I possessed.
It was one mighty triumphant surfer, who posed with her trusty surfboard for a photo, that afternoon.
Surfability, sessions can be adapted to suit the personal needs of individuals and groups. You tell them your requirements and they will fit an experience to you.
Ben and his team are constantly creating innovative equipment to enhance accessibility. So far they can provide: surfing helmets, buoyancy aids, beach access wheelchairs, a double surfboard and even a tandem surfboard for people with severely restricted mobility.
Whether you choose to surf in the gentle, shallow ripples of the sea or want a more monumental wave challenge, surfing has never been a more safe, fun and inclusive sport to adventure in.
Tel: 07517 230427
Surfability UK CIC operates from Caswell Bay and the LC in Swansea.
Photos: Nigel Andrews