We’re honoured to introduce you to Hannah Dines, 1st Featured Grant Recipient of 2023.
Hannah has cerebral palsy and surfs for the Team England Adaptive Squad. Sadly, as it is not yet a Paralympic sport, there is no UK Sport funding meaning that competitors have to fund themselves if they want to compete at the highest level internationally. Hannah recognises the need to train the next generation of support staff / adaptive surf coaches and we were delighted to be able to award her a grant towards funding for herself and 2 support staff to attend the Para-surfing World Championships in the USA.
We’re sure that with her determination and humour, Hannah will not only succeed in the sport she loves but is also exactly the right sort of person to be a positive influence on the sport, its popularity and its future ongoing.
Read on for a wonderful first hand account of taking part in these World Championships. You’re sure to find her story inspiring and we hope it may encourage more people to apply to the Bader Grant Scheme when, reading these accounts, they realise the diversity of personal goals that can be supported.
A launcher, a dragger, an emotional fishtank and the Para-Surfing World Champs
I’m Hannah Dines and I compete for Team England in the prone assist division of Para-surfing. Prone surfers do it like that one kid who goes headfirst down the waterslide, on our fronts. I compete with two other able-bodied athletes alongside me. I have someone who pushes me into decent looking waves (human jetski?). Then I ride the wave, that’s all me and back to a person who guides me in, at the shoreline. Like bodyboarders but our boards are hard, support our legs and can go much faster. The sports’ terminology is pushers and catchers but my teammate Andy, who’s new to surfing, forgot that and referred to them as “my launcher and dragger…or whatever they’re called” and it was brilliant and what they should have been called all along.
My aim for 2022 was to qualify for the World Championships in Pismo Beach, California. The twin aim (I always have two, if one fails you always have the other to fall back on) was developing young pushers and catchers who had never been to an international competition before. The basic barrier for me to participate in this sport is a lack of trained surf coaches and a belief that anyone can step in to assist. It’s a dangerous illusion. Your pusher and catcher become extensions of your own body and if you’ve only just met them or don’t work well together, or they’re not fit enough, it can be a frightening experience.
Working with a team consistently to build trust and coping strategies, as well as that one body feel means you can take on almost any type of surf. I’ve surfed huge sets and challenged myself beyond belief and it has felt so natural.
Through my Douglas Bader grant I was able to cover most of the costs of my pusher and catcher so we could cover the cost of the World Champs, like the dream team we are.
I had spent January messaging every surfer I knew, hitting up old contacts and laying my dreams out at the feet of expert surfers and begging. Two people were able to commit their time and energy to my goals and so we set about working together every month. I took them to two international competitions to prepare, to understand what would be involved and to make an informed decision about competing with me at the World Champs. July was English nationals and I came out 2nd place in the mixed division of maybe twelve competitors and first woman and knew I’d qualified.
Despite securing my spot, plans will never run smoothly. Finn my catcher decided he wanted to change careers entirely, stop focusing on surfing and change to more land-based therapies. It was a loss but he let us know with plenty of time to go before Worlds and that’s what first competitions are for. Tom became laser focused and really started coming into his own. Seren, who is the head coordinator at my surf school, Surfability, who had been a firm no to competition due to anxiety, started to train. So, we took her along to a small international meet in Brittany. She was incredible. Carefully, keeping her brain and reaction response in mind she upped the stress while surfing. Out sea swimming one day an old man, strolling through the dawn with his dog, yelped in surprise. “Sorry,” he said “I thought you were a mermaid”.
I got very ill, twice, with COVID. My health got so bad I worried I might not make it, surfing or anywhere at all. Tom aggravated an existing shoulder injury while working a month before we were meant to fly out and couldn’t train with me. Seren just kept getting stronger. I never once doubted I’d make it to California.
Then, glad I’d held my nerve and my health stable, we were all okay and in America. The surf was so big the first day we couldn’t go in. We tried the next day and had too many wipe outs to count. Throughout Tom and Seren were calm and supportive, thoughtful. They didn’t just compete with me in the sea either, they provided one of the best pre-competition environments I have had. I was recently diagnosed with coeliac disease, along with everything else, so they helped me keep to my new gluten-free diet as well as their vegan one, just a Welsh-English crew of three taking turns to cook and sitting down to eat our highly restrictive dinner every night in the USA. It was tiny, pre-fab apartment with a two-person sofa but we’d squeeze in beside one another with microwave popcorn and pirates of the Caribbean. I never made it more than 15 minutes before drifting off. I think I dribbled on one of them because they started taking in turns to sit on the floor the nights after (it took us 4 tries to finish off the first PoTC).
Competition day came and all the wave energy had died meaning only big, wide boards could catch and hold such weak waves. I have one, high wave power board and it just didn’t cut it. In general athletes need two boards; for high wave power and low. You should never blame your equipment alone. I truly didn’t feel connected to the sea as much as I normally do and I think it was because our training in the lead up took a hit.
We did our best and held 8th place but had to get through an identical second heat, where all athletes got a second chance to improve their scores. There was no wave energy again. Pancake waves. Still, Tom kept smiling at me and keeping my spirits up. Seren, too was poised and ready, she ran like lightening to drag me outback from the shoreline. It went as smoothly and though I improved my wave scores from the first round it wasn’t enough. I was heat 2 of 4 and I watched as I got knocked out of the top eight.
It was frustrating but my love for surfing stayed strong. Surfing as a sport is kind. The next day we got back in for a free surf and I swapped boards with a Swiss girl who didn’t make it either. I had been developing the world’s first deck grip handles and leg stoppers (fenders) with company SurfDek and she loved them. The next day, the brother of one Sarah Almagro, placed top three in the world asked if he could surf with me. Alejandro started to coach me like he does with his sister. He’s nineteen and studying robotics. His sister lost all four limbs to meningitis four years ago and he’s studying to be able to build arms and legs for people like her. He’s also an excellent surfer. I learnt more that day than I had in a year. I kept on having incredibly kind experiences with athletes from around the world and learning everything I could. No, I didn’t bring a medal home for England this year but I was insistent that I’d bring home the shared knowledge of this beautiful, kind surfing community.
An empty fishtank sits on the podium at the opening ceremony. Large empty jars get loaned out to each nation and when filled with wet sand can seem like needless weight to lug halfway round the world. The commitment becomes clear when you see the tank and get to have your local break called out to all. There’s a flag bearer and a sand pourer and layer by layer, flag by flag we map the world. Golden sand from Pinamar in Argentina lays down the first layer, then Umina beach, New South Wales in Australia. Other nations lay down theirs: black from Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica, more volcanic still is El Salvador’s Playa el Cocal, grey from Jamnesia beach in Jamaica. There’s golden and butter and bright white and beige and little bronze pebbles and back to black.
The joke goes that our sand pourer, Team England’s Mark Hagger, took his out his kid’s sandpit, not Bournemouth beach. I wonder at the heritage of the sand from Einsbach, a landlocked part of Germany with no coastline and I suspect it to be from one of the Canary Islands where their sand pourer lives, full-time. The Cheque Republic has sand from Taylor’s Mistake in New Zealand. We may not all be children of the sea but one way or another we’ve been drawn to it, ducks to water or sand to a fishtank in the middle of the concrete parking lot in Pismo Beach California.
It sits there, full, in the closing ceremony after the medals go home with the athletes and the world spins madly on, defined by small slivers of coastline where disabled surfers exist and surf. With twenty-eight layers in the fishtank, it’s the most beautiful symbol of our surfing community that is bigger than ever before. Thanks to the Douglas Bader Foundation I got to be part of it for the second year in a row.
We’re extremely grateful to Hannah for this really interesting and enlightening article and images. We couldn’t think of anyone better to be our first Featured Grant Recipient of 2023 and to kick off this new year for us with such warmth and positivity. A huge thank you, Hannah, we are delighted to have been able to have contributed to your surfing journey!
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- We will be updating the Bader Grants Pages as part of the revised website but please visit the page to find out more about our Bader Grants Scheme.