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Meet the Coastal Crusaders

Aiden Coxhead holding a surfboard looking out to sea
Aiden Coxhead holding a surfboard looking out to sea Image credit: theguardian.com

Great Western beach in Newquay is one of the jewels in Cornwall’s crown of ideal surfing hotspots, with its vast stretch of golden sand and idyllic coastal views - it is a paradise for surfers. 

Recently, the beach has seen a sharp increase in the number of disabled people participating in surfing. 

This is due to a local inclusive surfing school called Coastal Crusaders, who have equipped and taught disabled people the key aquatic skills they need to know when venturing into open water. 

The ideology of the Community Interest Company is “inspiring lives through sports, friendships and the oceans” and this has made a profound impact both socially and physically on disabled surfers. 

Coastal Crusaders was coined in 2019 by Tom Butler, an avid surfer who sustained a bad injury after falling off his surfboard due to a large wave in Portugal. This resulted in Tom spending time in hospital where he developed the idea of using an aquatic discipline as a mechanism to support individuals with a disability.  

A key example of how surfing is transforming lives can be highlighted by Brody Walters.

Walters is twelve years old and was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Some individuals may perceive Brody’s disability as a factor that may deplitate his life. 

Brody’s family perceive the marvels of the Cornish Crusaders to have allowed Brody to have fun, flourish and participate in a sporting venture that is currently not widely available to the mass number of disabled people in the UK. 

His mother, Kelly Walters  has noticed a profound effect on her son since he enrolled at the surfing school. She told The Guardian:  “I never thought we would see Brody on a surfboard. After he’s been in the water we notice a huge difference. He absolutely loves it - the smile says it all.”

Aiden Coxhead (pictured above), who has cystic fibrosis, also benefited from the organisation after he signed up to become a lifeguard.

Coxhead, 22, said: “The surf community can be quite closed off for certain people. I know most of the surfers now, because this is a community where everyone knows everyone. It’s a friendly and happy community.” 

His mum, Vicky, has seen her son’s confidence grow after he signed up to the project. She said: “He still has massive anxieties about so many things in the real world, but as soon as he steps into the water they’re all gone, which is why it’s so liberating.”

Projects like the Coastal Crusaders have given disabled people the confidence, determination and resilience to tackle new activities; as well as subverting the negative stigma around disabled people and their livelihoods. 

Story by Aimee Hudson

The first major surf contest was held all the way back in 1928 in California.