Last month we had the pleasure to meet Oceane Lepatre, coordinator of the Plastic Origins project and winner of the ENOS Award in the category “Green activities for a greener Europe” during EuroMeet 2022 in Silkeborg, Denmark.

This month we are delighted to introduce you to the SOL (Surf, Ondas e Liberdade) project of the Surf Clube de Viana do Castelo in Portugal, winner of the ENOS Award in the category “Welfare and the power of the outdoors” . Its coordinator, Marco Areias, offers us this interview where you can learn more about this excellent project that allows to bring together an outdoor sport such as surfing and social inclusion by working with people with disabilities.

How did this project come about?

Since 2015, Surf Clube de Viana has been promoting adapted surf activities, with the organization of the first Adapted Surf Meeting at Viana HPSC (High Performance Surf Centre) and a second edition in 2016. Following this, were organized in 2017 the first European Adapted Surfing Camp, in 2018, the Adaptive Surfing Meeting and in 2019 the first European Adapted Surfing Championship, which was the first European event certified by STOKE (Sustainable Tourism and Outdoors Kit for Evaluation) for its environmental sustainability, cultural and social, and parallel to the event, the International Adaptive Surf Congress was held. We are currently part of the INCLUSEA project co-financed by the Erasmus + Sport program, an European consortium dedicated to the creation and development of an innovative methodology for adapted surf instruction, that seeks to foster and promote greater inclusion and accessibility for people with physical and/or sensory disabilities in surfing in Europe. During the last 5 years, a Parasurf team was built, fully integrated into the sports development program of the Surf Clube de Viana, established by 4 athletes with a vast sports curriculum (2 gold medals and a silver medal in world championships).

As a result of the consistency of the activities developed, the participation of people with disabilities has increased, promoting inclusion, integration and accessibility to sports practice. The work carried out by the Club with organized events and with technical support for carrying out internships and projects with European teams and other’s clubs, aroused the interest in carrying out a project in partnership with APPACDM (Portuguese Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Disabled Citizens) aimed at its users, to develop participation in the modality on a regular basis. Thus, we decided to create the SOL project – Surf, Ondas e Liberdade – that really began in October 2021.

Can you explain what is the SOL project?

The goal of the SOL project is to increase physical and mental capacity as well as socialization of people with disabilities though a regular practice of surfing.

We worked in partnership with APPACDM to train people with intellectual, physical, mental or neurodevelopmental disabilities, through the practice of regular (weekly) outdoor physical exercise (surfing). The objectives were to stimulate sensory and motor skills and contribute to increase their levels of physical and sensory activity, interpersonal relationships and integration into society. There were surf training sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday during all the year, one group came on Monday every week, and on other days there were other groups with people that alternated every two weeks.

Who are the people that trains the participants? How many people participated in the SOL project?

There was a lot of people working in this project: coaches, that we choose because of their experience with adaptive surfing at the Club; caregivers and sports technicians specialized in adapted sports from APPACDM as well as volunteers from the European Solidary Corps program at Surf Clube de Viana. Before the beginning of the project, we develop training actions with all the technicians and volunteers who guided the sports training sessions.

We’ve counted 156 participants, 38 “staff” with surf coaches, caregivers sports technicians and volunteers in one year. In total, approximately 200 persons were direct beneficiaries of the project and we’ve estimated around 600 indirect beneficiaries: relatives of the participants in particular, young athletes and members from the club.

What are the main outcomes that came out after the first year of the project?

The participants practiced in a natural environment; through the connection with nature: the water, the sand, the waves, the wind, the sun…, they were opened to a lot of stimulations, that have such a great importance for their physical and emotional conditions.

In parallel with sports activities, we carried out a study on the impact of regular surfing on body composition and levels of motor competence in people with intellectual disabilities, published at the end of 2012, which was the winner of the “Know more to include better” award from the Portuguese Federation of Sports for People with Disabilities. Led by a researcher from the Higher School of Sports and Leisure of the Polytechnic of Viana do Castelo, it concluded that the impact of regular surfing “interceded significantly in improving body composition and muscle quality, lower limb strength and levels of stabilizing motor competence”. This is, what we’ve seen through the SOL project.

Indeed, we’ve observed an increase of the resistance and physical condition of the participants. Also, it develops the emotional conditions: motivation, self-confidence, well-being increased week after week.

The participants were totally integrated in the Surf Clube de Viana community: they trained and spoke with the trainers, coaches, athletes, volunteers etc. Through the program they also developed their sociability.

Furthermore, the program did not just impact the participants. In fact, everyone benefited from this project, the participants, coaches, volunteers, Surf Club de Viana athletes and, more broadly, the entire Viana community. The inclusion of people with disabilities in society has increased, trainers have acquired more skills, and everyone’s mind has been opened. Humanly, everyone has grown up.

What are the next steps of the project?

Currently the project is at a standstill because we got funding from the BPI | Fundação “la Caixa” empower awards for one year. The program finished in November 2022, then we took stock of the actions and the results. The next step is now to look for funding to continue what we began and we believe in. Indeed, all the participants are people with intellectual or physical disabilities, mental or neurodevelopmental disorders, from the district of Viana do Castelo, from families with few socio-economic resources, making it impossible for the project to continue on a self-financing basis.

Can you give us once sentence to encourage people to get involved in the project?

Such kind of project “enhance, enrich everybody”: the coaches, the participants, the athletes, the society. It opens the minds. So go for it! You will realize that inclusion is not a difficult issue, especially through outdoor sport program which allows participants not only physical and motor development but also an increase in the quality and diversity of experiences in contact with nature. Improved quality of life, autonomy and sensorimotor competences, which guarantees clear health benefits and increased self-esteem.

Marco Areias (SCV)