The Wave Project – Changing lives through surfing

We spoke to Ian Bennet, Adaptive Surf Coordinator at The Wave Project, about how the charity is working works to make surfing as accessible and inclusive as possible.

13 October 2023

What is The Wave Project?

The Wave Project is primarily a young person’s mental health charity. We use surf therapy – an NHS-recognised evidenced-based intervention – to help young people improve their confidence, self-esteem, resilience, mental health and wellbeing. From running a one-off pilot project in Newquay in 2010, we now deliver our surf therapy services from 16 locations across the country, and we’ve worked with about 6,000 young people to date. 

More recently, we’ve started to offer adaptive surfing so that people with physical disabilities can also enjoy the sport. 

The Wave Project is growing fast and the number of people we help each year is increasing. The work we do wouldn’t be possible without our incredible volunteers, and we’re fortunate to have approximately 1,800 volunteers across the country, of which 300 support our adaptive surfing services. 

Tell us a bit more about adaptive surfing?

In 2017 I was approached by the mum of George, a young person with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, asking if we’d take him surfing. I of course said yes, without knowing what it would involve.

Although a fantastic experience for both me and George – that first session made me realise how much more we needed to do to help people with a range of physical disabilities to access surfing. We’ve developed new skills and training programs, and invested in specialist equipment (such as specialist surfboards, beach access wheelchairs and adapted wetsuits) so we can deliver adaptive surfing as safely and enjoyably as possible.

Since starting with George, The Wave Project has seen a growing demand for surfing from people with physical disabilities. We work with individuals as well as with groups, including The Silverlining Brain Injury Charity, Tarka Otter Wheelchair Basketball Team and the Devon Stroke Association. We currently help over 100 people a year, aged 5 to 81, access the sea and go surfing. 

Do you work with other organisations? 

I’m proud to say that, with support from Surfing England and Access for All and in partnership with a local surf school, Surf South West, we opened England’s first Adaptive Surfing Hub (the first official surfing centre for people with disabilities) in Croyde, North Devon in April. 

With its highly trained coaches and the best adaptive equipment available, it’s a really vibrant Hub that aims to be a centre of excellence and a blueprint for other services, so more people with disabilities can participate in surfing with greater comfort and confidence. 

As part of this, we also raised funds to install a changing places unit so that people – particularly those with disabilities – can get in and out of their surf gear in a dignified manner. 

How else does The Wave Project support adaptive surfing?

Ultimately, we want as many people as possible to be able to access surfing. It’s great to see how adaptive surfing is growing – it’s even being considered for the Paralympics. Adaptive surf hubs are a fundamental aspect of the sport’s pathway. 

When I first met George in 2017, there was virtually no support or training available for anyone wanting to offer adaptive surfing. Since then, with support from Surfing England and the Activity Alliance, The Wave Project has developed a one-day Adaptive Surfing training course for volunteers. 

Three years ago, the International Surf Association (ISO) started to offer a qualification for adaptive surfing instructors. As ISO is based in the US, Surfing England recently asked for our help to develop a ‘local’ adaptive surfing qualification, which we hope to have up and running in 2024. One of the biggest benefits of this qualification is that any profits will be used to support grass roots surfing in England. 

As a founding member of the International Surf Therapy Organisation, we’ve helped many other surf therapy charities to set up. And we’re doing the same for other adaptive surfing charities – we’re happy to share our knowledge and experience as it means more people will be able to access the sport. 

What are your biggest challenges?

Unfortunately, one of our biggest challenges is funding. Not only is the specialist equipment expensive, but every time we go out with someone on an adaptive board we need two ISO trained instructors and three volunteers. 

So, unlike our surf therapy for young people, there’s a cost involved for adaptive surfing participants. Ideally, we want anyone who wants to try surfing to be able to do so, regardless of needs and costs. 

To find out more about The Wave Project, visit you have any questions about adaptive surfing or would like to speak to someone about supporting The Wave Project, please get in touch with us at