Inclusive surfing – allowing those with different abilities to get stoked

” 20 years in the water between us, bra!” Laughs Megan, giving her brother a high five. Megan has been surfing with her brother since she was 8 years old.“ Ashtan smiles his winning smile. He had a stroke when he was in his mother’s womb and born with Cerebral Palsy. At age 15, he developed epilepsy. Last year he was selected to surf in the World Adaptive Surf Championships in La Jolla, San Diego California. Megan went with him as an assistant. Despite a very difficult competition against all odds, he placed 10th in the finals.


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Ashtan getting Stoked.


Ashtan’s mother Shireen and sister started “Inclusive Surfing SA in 2013. The aim of NPO is to allow those trapped by poverty and different abilities the opportunity to experience the freedom of riding the waves as a form of therapy. Surfing stimulates all the senses naturally, teaches balance, determination, strengthens muscle tone and sparks self-empowerment through achievement.


“We started off with Ashtan’s friends from school and their informal social club.” Says Shireen, “Now we gather special needs children from Ocean View, Lavender Hill, Vrygrond and beyond. (All very tough neighborhoods on the Cape flats, where gangsterism is rife.} This sometimes required up to three trips in Megan’s car (recently stolen) back and forth to Steenberg and Lavender Hill to transport the children to the beach. “ The club has grown to 87 members. (Including street kids.) They have arrangements with special needs schools who bring the children to Surfers Corner in Muizenberg, but the organization is still desperately in need of a vehicle to assist with transport.


Groote Schuur Hospitals Occupational therapy department advises them on adaptive surf boards. (Made up by local shaper Linden Green and assisted at times by Megan and Ashtan- who donate their elbow grease with some sanding here and there.)

Volunteers are recruited from African Soul Surfer, the local backpackers on the beach- after being briefed on a simple training program, developed by experts on how to assist persons with disabilities.

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Freedom and victory

“No matter what unique “differability”, they have, we adapt to their needs.” Says Megan.   “Creating access to the Stoke.” Is the slogan of Inclusive Surfing SA, which is self-funded by Shireen and Megan. “It’s worth it.” Says Shireen. “ The ocean wakes them up.”   She describes how the autistic children love the tactile experience of the sand slipping through their fingers. “We do not rush them into the water, we watch their reactions.”   One child, who had never spoken in his life, said his first word in the water. “Go!” he exclaimed to his coach as he anticipated riding the wave.

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Big Wave surfer Caz Collier assisting Ashton on a wave.

When they go home after their beach day, they are calm.” Shireen explains, they do their best to behave well at school, so that they can come back and do it again. They love it.” Doing this work is so rewarding. You will never see such pure innocent joy as these children express in the water.”

The healing power of the ocean to calm and soothe are not to be under estimated.  although the ocean is so close to where they live,  many of these children would not have access to it due to both their physical limitations and the fact that they live in extreme poverty and lack transport and resources.

Members of an old age home in Muizenberg were also included on Mandela day.  They were immensely grateful for the opportunity to get out and join in.

“Our goal is to reach as many individuals in South Africa who would like to the waves of our beautiful South African coasts and experience the stoke of surf therapy. Inclusive Surfing South Africa’s  initiative Smile and Wave creates access to surfing for all individuals regardless of their differability. Differabilty is a word that is used by ISSA and created by Co-Founder and Adaptive Surf Champion Ashtan Davids to describe ones unique Different Ability.”  Says Megan. She explains that Smile and wave Surf therapy plays an important role in the healing and rehabilitation process for all. It promotes  physical well-being, combats social discrimination and builds self-confidence and a sense of security.”

The organization welcomes any one who would like to contribute time as a volunteer helping on the beach or in the water, a vehicle for transporting the children, fruit, water, beach toys or a gazebo.

The next “Smile and Wave” event is tomorrow the 12th of August from 10am till 1pm.  Find them at the Shark Spotters building on Muizenberg beach.

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If you are able to contribute in any way to the regular “Smile and Wave” surf therapy experiences, please contact: Megan Cross : 073 859 3778

Images by Justin Sholk


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