The Surfersvillage Interview
Robin and the See Surf project bring stoke to the sight-impaired in France
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 29 December, 2017 - Looking for a way to share the simple, precious moments of surfing, See Surf was created in late 2012 by sight-impaired surfer Claudy Robin.
Robin said he was inspired by Brazilian surfer Derek Rabelo who received global attention a few years ago as the first sight-impaired surfer to catch a wave at Pipeline.
Robin then set out to bring surfing to more people like himself and Rabelo. People who would not normaly have access to surfing. As 99% of the world's surf schools are focused on able-bodied students with full benefit of vision, Robin worked with friends to develop a system.
The system works through a series of verbal commands, like when the wave is approaching and whether to go left or right and much more.
Now based in Lacanau, France his group is busy growing a shared network between those who want to practice surfing but need assistance, and those who wish to help others enjoy surfing. His camps are growing in popularity each year and reaching more sight-impaired would-be surfers.
“People with disabilities can overcome the isolation created by their situation,” says Robin of See Surf's events and ability to reach out to the community and the mantra "With Surfing, everything is possible."
See surf in action on the wave © F&J Pics
What gave you the idea to start See Surf?
See Surf was created in November, 2012. At the beginning it was just a personal project, to meet others in the handicap world and to do a trip exchange in Hawaii, where we intended to meet Derek Rabelo and the association Accessurf.
The project was a big success. In the framework of See surf, here, in France there was no associative structure to allow visually impaired persons to discover surfing. So after the first year, in 2013, I found a great partner - the Lacanau Surf Club. It is the biggest club (in terms of number of members) in the French Federation of surf.
The group welcomed us with open arms and made available to us materials like wetsuits, surfboards and the surf instructors who have state licences and certifications for surfdisability. This year we are in our fifth year of collaboration.
Jérémy florès, Claudy Robin & Derek Rabelo © Hawaii Project 2013
Each year, we organise three main events with the Lacanau Surf Club. The first, at the beginning of June is for children, teenagers and adults who are visually impaired. The second is organized in July, and it is reserved for children and teenagers who come from a center specialized for children and teenagers with visual impairments. And the third event is organized in September where we finish our event with a day dedicated for children, teenagers and adults who are blind or visually impaired persons.
Emilien, a young teenager from Reims comes each summer to holiday in Lacanau for a collective class of surfing with licensed surf instructors. Also, we organize each year another event for visually impaired children, teenagers and adults to ride the “Mascaret” tidal bore in the Dordogne river. Last year we also did a trip in a canoe on a river.
Group see surf initiation days © F&J Pics
What is the biggest challenge for a visually impaired person when surfing?
Each person participating with See Surfer is accompanied by two or three people for security and another one accompanies them in the impact zone. They guide the surfer by voice using short, quick commands.
Once in the impacts zone, the visually impaired or blind surfer with the help of his volunteer spotter wait and “observe” the arrival of a wave. When the wave impact arrives the volunteer spotter gives the signal. It is the moment the See Surfer can paddle and make his take off to catch the wave.
The biggest challenges for the See Surfer is to find their balance as quickly as possible in order not to fall, so good timing with the volunteer spotter is key. Finding the right balance on the board is very important because each wave is different, so it is important they have the balance to surf to the beach.
Most important is balance, quick reflexes and a good analyses of the situation. That's the reason why See Surf puts a places emphasis on supervision, safety and security.
Can you tell where a wave is by listening and position yourself accordingly?
We are systematically accompanied by our guide who provides us with information about the waves. They tell us the arrival of the swell and the height parameter for example. And once the nose of the board is in the direction of the beach, our guides tell us in real time, the arrival of the wave but with our own senses, we get the feeling of the wave and we hear the swell to coming. During this time, we must be in step with our guide to take the wave in the best time.
River in dordogne mascaret © F&J Pics
Have you ever had any bad collisions or wipeouts that really frightened you?
Concerning the bad experiences, as for me, I was never afraid because we are well guided and we put our complete security, safety in the hands of our guides. So it is a matter of trust between them and the surfers.
The most important thing is that everybody comes out of the water with the happiest face possible. The visually impaired or blind person is already frustrated by their disability, so it is unthinkable that a See Surf student would get out of the water with frustration after a day with See Surf.
The most important thing is to go out the water with a smile and with the feeling of having a good session as does everybody else in the world. Surf is not an activity reserved for the disabled person person but thanks to all See Surf volunteers and the Lacanau Surf Club, we have created a big solidarity and humanist spirit! That is the reason why I wanted to create See Surf.
For me, it is a dream that has become reality, in every day of life, to bring to others what I could not have. That is the least that we can do to share with the surfer our passion, hopes and experience.
What are your goals for See Surf?
The purposes of See Surf are:
• To continue our actions here in France.
• To continue to develop our days with the Lacanau Surf Club.
• To continue to develop this network of mutual aid between the blind or visually impaired person and the person with sight. It is the most beautiful message of hope to show that despite the differences between us, it is possible to realise what we wish. See Surf delivers a big message of tolerance, sharing, diversity and humility.