Adaptive surfing & surf therapy progress spikes

Adaptive surfing and surf therapy programs are gaining momentum in the world’s wave pools. Last Spring WavePoolMag spoke with Adaptive Surf Champion Mark ‘Mono’ Stewart. He said that the whole mojo behind the adaptive surf tour goes beyond the gloss of a corporate blanket. Instead, the system is supported by smaller groups like Ampsurf, Stance and the ISA.

The tour’s main aim is to get people with similar adaptive challenges back into the water or into surfing for the first time. And this is where wave pools come in. Pools help at the surf-entry level. People feel safe in a controlled environment.

As Mono puts it, “The hardest thing after losing a limb is that fear. The ocean is such a big playing field. It’s easier to get someone surfing in a wave pool and then get them into the ocean. The ocean is such a healing place. And wave pools are a great introduction or re-introduction.”

Wavegarden recapped this week some special events held in their wave pools in Wales, Melbourne, Bristol and in the Basque Country.


The Wave Bristol became the world’s first public Wavegarden Cove. Inclusion is a fundamental value of the organisation and founder Nick Hounsfield made sure that the plans catered for people with disabilities – from access through to amenities and tuition. Easy access ramps, dedicated changing rooms and fully trained coaches make it possible for everyone, regardless of ability or experience, to get in the water and ride waves.

The slow moving knee-high waves in the Bay areas of the Wavegarden Cove have seen thousands of beginners catch their first rides, plenty of which have been adaptive surfers. 

Louis Sutton, a 19-year-old who has autism, cerebral atrophy, cerebral palsy and dyspraxia, surfs the zone for experts with flare and style. The positive effects on Louis’ physical and mental state have been so profound that his physiotherapist now recommends surfing as part of his official treatment.

Hounsfield’s desire to see a venue, which is accessible to all, is paying off and come October 3 The Wave Bristol will showcase some top athletes during the English Adaptive Surfing Open. 


Back in 2019, the Welsh Adaptive Surf Championships bought together 24 surfers from 13 different countries at Adventure Parc Snowdonia in North Wales. The event, a first of its kind in a wave pool, saw former world champs Mark ‘Mono’ Stewart and Bruno Hansen mix it up with 24 athletes representing 13 nations.

The surfers competed in three categories, standing (AS1), kneeling (AS2) and prone (AS3). Australia’s Mark ‘Mono’ Stewart edged out hometown favorite Llewelyn Wiliams in the AS2 division. Williams was instrumental in bringing the event to Adventure Parc Snowdonia and the wave pool.

“It ticks all the boxes for us: guaranteed surf, fantastic food and accommodation, and world-class facilities in the most beautiful location,” said Williams. “Competing on consistent and reliable inland waves make for better competition, and the fact that spectators can get so close up to the waves makes it a much more interesting event.”


In the southern Hemisphere, Australia’s Ocean Heroes, a non-profit organization based in Perth, has organised surf sessions for over 3000 children with autism. The objective of Ocean Heroes is to share the thrill and wonder of surfing to enable them to build self-belief in a supportive and fun environment. One recent initiative involved riding waves at Urbnsurf Melbourne, the second public Wavegarden Cove, which opened in January 2020.

“There’s a demographic of our society that miss out on going surfing through no fault of their own, although they are physically capable to do so”, said Luke Hallam, co-founder of Ocean Heroes. 

Julie Baker attended the session at Urbnsurf with her three autistic children. She finished the day with elated children and a strong appreciation for the controlled conditions and close supervision found in the Wavegarden Cove.

“My children said it was much better than the beach because of the clear water and predictable conditions. The environment helped settle their nerves and anxiety, it was truly a perfect session”. 

The experience made such a strong imprint that Julie wrote a message to Adam Lamond, one of several key organizers. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart, from a mother who is currently crying with joy in appreciation of a donation made by strangers that hugely impacts my gorgeous children”.

The Basque Country

adaptive surf wavegarden

Aritz Aranburu is a big believer in the therapeutic effects of surfing. Back in 2012 he partnered with Almudena Fernandez and some close friends to create ‘Kind Surf’, a non-profit organization dedicated to taking disadvantaged kids and young adults surfing. 

To the excitement of the “Kind Surfers”, Aritz teamed up with the crew at Wavegarden in the Basque Country to organize a surprise surf session at their private demo center.

“When they saw the first waves roll through, they didn’t ask how it was possible to have waves breaking amongst the mountains. They just ran into the water,” said Aritz. 

Over the course of the next hour, Aritz and his team of volunteers pushed the surfers into about 8-12 waves each, three to four times more waves than they would catch in the ocean in the same period.

Pro surfers, like Aritz, have long known about the positive impact, both physical and mental, that surfing can provide. Since 2003, Bethany Hamilton has used her love for surfing to overcome many challenges, achieve some unimaginable goals, and inspire millions of people along the way. 

“I think we can all be unstoppable,” said Bethany. “I have faced many challenges in my life, however my passion for surfing, along with my family and faith, has allowed me to overcome everything”.