Being Disabled Won’t Stop Me Having Fun in a Wetsuit

I have written a blog for the Huffington Post without fail since coming back from my last holiday in January, but next week I am having a week off, because I will be windsurfing in Belgium. The holiday or ‘Surfweek’ is organised by Recreas, their national disability sports body, and this year the Surfweek has 20 participants and 30 volunteers, providing teaching and personal support, which means I can have a week off from my own personal assistants! I am the only Brit the project has ever had in its history and I really enjoy getting totally away from being British for a week!


This will be my third time and I am really looking forward to it. Not just the week, but the travel experience since I am simply 2 trains away from Brussels, traveling on the Eurostar. It is a little known fact that wheelchair users always travel first class on the Eurostar, which is always a nice start and finish to my week.

I have always been a water baby, since as long as I can remember, and I have always enjoyed doing anything that involves needing to wear a wetsuit. Over the years I have built up quite a collection of suits and associated gear to meet the specific requirements of different activities. Watersports is probably my one means of true escapism from the stresses and strains of my work, and the never-ending politics of disability.

At this point you may be thinking this is all very well, but if I do not have good balance, how the hell do I manage to windsurf? The answer to that is easy, I do it sitting down! Recreas has designed special boards that are very stable and use garden chairs, without their legs, as seating. It works fantastically and other than these adaptations, the laws and rules of sailing are pretty much the same. And while there is a less greater risk in ending up in the water, everyone wears a wetsuit and a lifejacket just in case! It is also nice when it is really warm to deliberately jump in the water for a swim to cool down!

While Recreas has created an excellent set up, over the years I have tried water sports within more mainstream settings where people were not as experienced in working with people with my level of impairment. My attitude to any new experience is so long as the instructors and organisers have faith in their ability to cater for my needs, I will have faith in them. They need to let me help them understand my limitations and to let me translate what they want to do, such as where to position my feet, into what I am able to do. They also need to accept that I get cold easily and may need a thicker wetsuit and accessories than they would normally suggest, I really hate it when they try to save me from getting wet or just say I can manage in street clothes since for me being anywhere close to cold water means wearing a wetsuit or even drysuit, and a lifejacket! I often want to end up in the water because that’s half the fun!

With an open mind and a degree of trust between myself and the instructors, there is nothing I am not prepared to try, and I am proud that at 40, I have already ticked off many of the things on my bucket list. I have never understood why my impairment, and the difficulties I face, would stop me doing anything I really wanted to do within the limitations of time and money, the limitations we are all bound to. This is why I remain frustrated at the many people, disabled or not, who are limited by their own aspirations.

So next week is going to be a great week, doing one of the things I enjoy the most in a fantastic environment. I feel very fortunate to have found the perfect holiday for me.

from Simon Stevens


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