Fistral Beach in Newquay was brought to a standstill this weekend as a group of autistic surfers took to the water in the Wave Project’s Surf Challenge for autism 2013
Top-level surfers including former UK champion Russell Winter and 2012 English national champion Hannah Harding were left speechless as they watched as 32 autistic competitors dazzle on the clean 3ft waves.
They were joined by around 1500 spectators who gathered in glorious sunshine at Britain’s most famous surfing beach to watch the display.
Pro surfer Hannah Harding commented: “People watching just couldn’t believe that these competitors had a disability. They were surfing to such a high standard, it was really great to watch!”
The event was funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and delivered almost entirely by volunteers. Around 70 people helped support the event, including celebrity couple Andy Jordan and Louise Thompson, from E4 show Made In Chelsea, and 16 serving Royal Navy officers and junior ratings from RNAS Culdrose.
The judges, the contest director and all the paid competition staff waived their fees, while Fistral Surf Hire Company gave out wetsuits free of charge. The event was also supported by Newquay Surf Lifesaving Club, which offered free use of its club house and surf boards.
Contest organiser Joe Taylor said: “It was just amazing that so many people came to help support this event to ensure that these young people with autism had their chance to shine.It was wonderful to see so much goodwill from local people, organisations and businesses.”
The contest was a truly international event, with competitors coming from Wales and even the Netherlands to take part alongside surfers from the UK. The overall winner of the contest was 13-year old Thomas Koppelaars, from Zaltbommel, in the Netherlands.
Speaking on his behalf, his mother Marjolijn Koppelaars said: “We’re just so delighted. This has been the best experience of his life.”
Second place went to 18-year old Robert Parton, from Swansea. The other two finalists were last year’s winner Robbie Turner, 16, from St Just and Joe Scammell, 10, from Liskeard in Cornwall.
Wave Project director Terry Stanton said: “This event shows just how relevant surfing is to disability sport. We really want to take the Surf Challenge forward now and make it even bigger and better next year.”
Big Lottery Fund’s Helen Bullough said: “Events like this are so important, not only in creating opportunities for people with disabilities, but also in challenging people’s perceptions of disability and what’s possible.
“It is wonderful that so many spectators came out to enjoy the event and make it such a success. Congratulations and thanks to all involved.”