Cerebral Palsy surfer makes waves in South Africa
Ashtan Davids, a familiar face to volunteers at the Projects Abroad Surfing Project in South Africa, made history on October 16th 2016 when he and 14 other surfers competed in the country’s first Adaptive Surfing Championships. The Cape Town-born surfer has cerebral palsy, but it has not stopped him from enjoying and now competing in the sport.
For Ashtan, his love of the ocean and the sport began four years ago when he started surfing with his older brother. “My brother is a surfer. When I was younger, I would get on the surf board with him. I was at the beach with him daily and now I’m making my own dreams a possibility,” says Ashtan.
For the past year and a half, Projects Abroad Surfing Manager Chrisjan Bredenkamp has been working alongside Ashtan to help him reach those dreams. “Ashtan’s practice regime consists of sessions three days a week: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays,” explains Chrisjan. “In each session we cover deep tissue stimulation, massages, and stretches. After that we do a warm up on the board on the beach, where we practice muscle memory. We basically mimic the movements that he will do in the water on the ground.”
A specialized surfing board with four handles was created for Ashtan, allowing him to hold on to the board, and Chrisjan to assist. “Ashtan’s board is one of a kind. It was thinned out and shaped according to his body shape to help him retain his balance and also to get more out of the board. It also has four fins to give speed and maximum control,” said Chrisjan.
Many volunteers on the Surfing Project in South Africa have worked closely with Ashtan. “The volunteers run the sessions with Ashtan. I train them to become surf coaches and then they work hands-on with Ashtan. They manage the physiotherapy sessions and his sister shows the volunteers how to do most of the exercises,” explained Chrisjan.
Volunteers also learn how to assist surfers with Asperger’s syndrome and Down’s syndrome through the Surf Therapy aspect of the project. “The volunteers are supportive, positive, and excited. I enjoy having them because I make new friends,” said Ashtan. The Surfing Project in South Africa also focuses on working with local disadvantaged children, teaching them how to swim and surf.
After a successful first Adaptive Surfing Championship, Ashtan managed to score a silver medal in his category. He has also been chosen as one of the athletes to represent South Africa in La Jolla, San Diego for the Stance World Adaptive Surfing Champs taking place from December 11th-18th 2016. Chrisjan believes this is only the beginning for Ashtan’s surfing career: “If surfing becomes a Paralympic sport, then we’ll try our best to get him there too!”