Adaptive Surfing for Wheelchair Users

Many sports have been adapted so that people of all abilities can participate and even compete in, including water sports. Whether you live near the ocean or you are looking to do something to get your adrenaline pumping while you are on vacation, surfing may not have been the first sport to come across your mind. However, surfing is one of the many sports that have been adapted for wheelchair users and you can join in. There are a few things to consider when you are learning how to surf.

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Beach Wheelchair

To get to the water, you will need to go across the sand. We do not recommend using your power chair to get to the water, as the sand can damage the controls. Rather, we recommend that you use a beach wheelchair. When planning your trip to the beach, call the public beach ahead of time and ask if they provide beach wheelchairs.

Weather Conditions

The weather isn’t always what it seems when it comes to the ocean. Just like planning ahead with the beach wheelchair, we recommend checking the weather conditions before you go to the beach of your choice. Of course, you will want to go to the beach on a day where there are waves that will be strong enough to get you back to shore. If you are just learning how to surf, it is not recommended that you go on a windy or rainy day because the waves will be rougher than under normal conditions. Even if there are storms further out at sea, that can still affect the waves. Disabled Sports USA recommends that beginners should look for ‘mushy’ waves. These waves are the kind that are slow rolling and have a more gradual bottom contour. They recommend this type of waves because they tend to be more forgiving and allow you to get up and stay up on your board sooner.

Your Board

There are a few options for obtaining a board, including renting from surf shops and buying your own board. If you are taking a lesson, you won’t have to invest in a board, as the board is included as part of the cost of the lesson.

There are different types of boards: soft boards, fiberglass boards, long boards and short boards. If you don’t know which kind of board is best for you, contact the local surf shop from where you are renting or buying and let them know your level of surfing experience. They will be able to help you pick out the right board to meet your needs and skill level.


The International Surfing Association (ISA) has been promoting adaptive surfing through annual competitions since 2015. Like other sports, such as softball and speed sailing, there are different classification categories that athletes can be divided into, including:
AS-1 (Surfers who ride in a standing or kneeling position)
AS-2 (Surfers who ride in a standing or kneeling position)
AS-3 (Surfers who ride in a seated position on a wakeski)
AS-4 (Surfers who ride in a prone position)
AS-5 (Surfers who ride in a non-standing position and need assistance to paddle into waves)
AS-VI (Surfers who have a visual impairment)
For more information on adaptive surfing, competitions, the Adaptive Surfing Classification System and the official rulebook, check out the ISA’s website, as well as the Disabled Sports USA website.