Adventures in Para Surfing Land

I’m delighted to bring you Hannah’s Adventures in Para Surfing Land in this exciting 2023 update from Hannah Dines.

Bader Grant Recipient Hannah is a Para Surfer competing in the Prone Assist category. This means that she generally needs to travel to competitions with a team of two supporters, a “pusher” and a “catcher” or, as Hannah’s teammate Andy referred to them, a “launcher” and “dragger” – perhaps more fitting descriptions! (See link to previous post below.)

We love keeping in touch with our Bader Grant Recipients and are so grateful when they go to the trouble to send in updates especially when accompanied by some great images like Hannah’s. She writes wonderfully – you almost feel that you are there with her. You can read her great first post for us, shortly after receiving her grant, by following the link at the bottom of this page.

This time Hannah’s article covers the progress of Para Surfing, a sport which is currently hoping to be included in the LA2028 Paralympic Games and a relatively unknown sport for many of us; sharks; travelling with a disability; sharks; the sometimes unexpected ways that friendships, contacts and support can arise between competitors and, of course…sharks! It is a thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting read and as you’ll see, accompanied by some beautiful images.

You’ll find links beneath the post for more reading if you’d like further information on Hannah’s journey.

In the meantime, please enjoy sharing Hannah’s Adventures in Para surfing land…

Hannah’s Adventures in Para surfing land 2023 – part 1 – South Africa

Adventures in Para Surfing Land

These experiences would not be possible thanks to the generous donations of the Douglas Bader Foundation Hannah Dines – Para Surfer

I want to preface this next instalment of Hannah’s Adventures in Para surfing land, thanks to generous donations by the Douglas Bader Foundation, with an announcement. History will soon be forgotten in my outlandish and ridiculous tales of treasure and shark alarms so: 

It’s 2023 and a historical year for Para surfing. This is the year the LA2028 Paralympic Games Organising Committee decides if we get a spot on the world’s largest sporting stage. They didn’t announce a decision exactly, more the promise of a decision. First, they must decide between us and the other sport of para-climbing. Still, this was enough of a breeze to get things shifting in the right direction. To quote the national oceanic and atmospheric administration “wind blows across the surface of the ocean or a lake and the continual disturbance creates a wave crest”.

For the first time ever, our surf league spanned the globe. We had one before, but the official, professional competitions were exclusively in the Americas. Then, suddenly the season kicked off in Japan and the other international competitions (I omit the nationals in England which decided to opt out of the open, professional format) went as follows: Hawaii, South Africa, the Canary Islands, Costa Rica, Spain, Spain, Wales, France, another one in Spain, USA and back to the USA for the World Championships. 

Adventures in Para Surfing Land Adventures in Para Surfing Land

Okay announcement over, you have a world surf league we get it. Now, what about the shark alarms?

All but one of the amputees on South Africa’s Adaptive surf team are amputees because sharks had a little nibble on them, thinking they were seals. So, when you go to a competition in South Africa you will more than likely be surfing with sharks. Here in the UK we have sharks but they just eat krill, not seals. Sharks really don’t like the taste of humans but our surfboards look like seal bellies so it can get confusing.

To defend against shark incidents in False Bay, Muizenberg, where I was surfing, they have shark spotters up in the Cape Peninsula and a shark alarm along the beach. If you hear the alarm you calmly exit the sea and let the sharks be sharks. It’s an ecologically friendly approach and seems wise. However, said local surfer and my friend Michele, of course when the electricity goes down, which is four to eight hours every day (a government policy to “prevent the collapse of the national power grid”), the electrically powered shark alarm doesn’t go off. 

How Did I Do?

Anyway, nobody got nibbled on and I got the highest combo out of any surfer in that competition, winning my division of prone assist women. 

This result was crazy but confirmed by one of the judges who I know well. He’s a para surfer himself and French with the capacity known in that region to be brutally honest. “Hannah, if you surf like that in the World Championships, you’ll win it”, he said. Okay Laurent, I’ll take that.

Adventures often start with friendships and the first of many this year started with an international Whatsapp message from a Para surfer I met once in a bar in America. I thought this was a perfectly good basis from which to travel to Cape Town and share accommodation when she suggested it.

Everything in me screamed yes but life immediately screamed no in the form of physical assistance. My main pusher and friend Tom Barber had a very bad ear infection, out the water till November the doctor said or else it might eat his brain. There’s no fighting that. I went to our Team England manager and asked if any of their nine adapted coaches were keen for a trip to surf in Muizenberg, Cape Town. No, nobody could take time out of their day jobs. My sports funding can just about cover flights and accommodation but it is still a financial loss for those who aren’t able to work remotely or have passive sources of income. 

The biggest female discipline in Para surfing is mine; prone assist. Without fail we all come to contests with our pusher catchers. It triples costs but somehow we make it work. The best prone assist surfers train as a team all year round, like the three musketeers. Still, that wasn’t going to be a possibility for me this season. I took a deep breath and booked my flights as a solo traveller.

 It became a proper women’s mission for Katherine (of the bar in America) and myself to travel alone from opposites sides of the hemisphere to attend the only competition this year organised and run by a woman. Here’s a shout out to Roxy Davis and the foundation she runs to support Adaptive Surfing in South Africa, she found me a pusher and catcher for the contest days and made me part of the Western Province team when I had none of my own. 

A note on travelling to Cape Town with a disability:

Mostly things went smoothly: one person, one electric wheelchair and a board bag for my adapted surfboard through Manchester airport, then Heathrow to Cape Town. There was seamless disability assistance throughout. I’d say Cape Town airport was probably better than Heathrow for assistance! I was glad I had pre-booked an extra big airport taxi for my 7ft board bag and prepared the driver for my needs. She easily lifted my wheelchair and luggage in. I’d recommend my taxi company, Airport Hopper because immediately after we had loaded me in I realised I desperately needed a wee. While South Africa is a beautiful, diverse and welcoming nation it is too dangerous to stop at a service station on the outskirts of the airport and ask for a loo, even if Man United and Liverpool FC football murals are painted on the outside of the nearest shantytown. 

By the time I got to the competition hotel, the situation was serious especially as I was greeted by two flights of stairs to access the lift that would get me to my room. Um, I asked my taxi driver, sweating… are you sure this is right? Oh yes, she said. So, with the taxi hazard lights on she waited with all my worldly possessions, including my wheelchair while I made it to staff bathroom thankfully very near to the entrance. It became customary for the porters to lift mine and Katherine’s chairs up and down the stairs. While everything was possible thanks to consistently friendly and helpful citizens of Muizenberg, I was never happier to see a ramp on my return to the UK. 

The focal point of the Para Surfing Community in Cape Town

Local Para surfer and queer activist Michele MacFarlane gave us as big an accessible tour of Cape Town as she could, drafting in her mum, Minnie and partner Dee. The organisation was phenomenal too, providing me with an almost mystical pusher when it was contest time. It turned out Seth had started the adapted surf school in Muizenberg and had also been a pro surfer. He came for one day only and he and I scored the highest combo of all the athletes in the competition after which he dematerialised as if he’d never been there. I won the competition in the highly competitive women’s prone division and flew home with a confidence I never knew existed both for my level of surfing, my ability to travel and the sport itself alive and thriving in South Africa. 

…and medals in Para Surfing Land!

Adventures in Para Surfing Land

All at DBF congratulate Hannah on her wonderful achievements in Para Surfing Land in SA. She has really grafted at her sport and achieved phenomenal results in such a short time. She is a true inspiration and we are very proud to have been able to support her on this exciting journey to the peak of her wave!

Heartfelt congratulations, Hannah, from all at DBF!

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