Surf Therapy: How Adaptive Surfing in Fuerteventura is Empowering People with Neurodiversity
World Surfing Day Special Report
Meet Pilar Beneito, the dynamic, passionate, and visionary founder of the Fuerteventura based surf school Fuerte Tribu. Not only is the school named Tribu meaning tribe, but since its inception in 2010, it has also created an organic community of highly empathic, professional, and friendly tribe of local volunteers, surfers, children, and parents who believe and practice the philosophy of surf as a way of life and personal evolution.
Having traveled around the world in search of the best waves from Chile to Cape Verde passing through Brazil, Hawaii, Peru, France, Morocco, this Argentinian World Cup represent finally found her heart in the oceanic beauty of Fuerteventura, where today she runs this school with a social difference.
Fuerte Tribu’s mission is to help spread awareness about surfing as an educational, inclusive, and accessible tool for all. The goal of this tribe is to introduce the benefits of surf to school-age children early in their lives- Something it has achieved gallantly by creating young world champions from the academy. Whats further noteworthy is the school´s special focus and in-depth programs throughout the year for children and adults with functional diversity.
“Being a member of Fuerte Tribu Surf Club means being part of a Tribe defending the values of sports, cooperation, respect for the others, and for everything. We initially started as spreading awareness about surf as an educational tool for children for school kids on the island and today are humbled to be one of the leading pioneers of surf camps for kids. Our additional program in adaptive surf is created to adapt the sport to the needs of people with functional diversity and disabilities so that they can improve their overall wellbeing with leisure with therapeutic perspectives”, adds Pilar.
Adaptive surfing, as an aquatic sports activity that takes part in an environment with a wide range of stimuli also has numerous therapeutic benefits. It acts as an important therapeutic instrument for physical rehabilitation especially in the orthopedic and neurological fields.
According to the World Health Organization, children with disabilities have the same activity requirements as all children, who are recommended to accumulate 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity throughout the day. A 2012 study by the University of Rhode Island suggests that participation in sports and recreational activities provide opportunities for these children that promote inclusion, minimize deconditioning, optimize physical functioning, and enhance overall well-being. Despite the benefits, disabled children are more restricted in their participation, because of lower fitness levels and the lack of opportunities for equal participation catered towards their special needs. Therefore the need of having more and more inclusive programs like Fuerte Tribu is the need of the hour.
Sixteen participants were recruited from the University of Rhode Island Adapted Physical Education class in, Special Olympics Rhode Island, for a study on how surfing can bring improvement in children with neurodiversity. The participants were children between ages 5 to 18 years with disabilities which included intellectual and learning disabilities, Down syndrome, several Autism Spectrum disorders, Microcephaly, Global Developmental Delays, Dandy-Walker syndrome, heart defects, and hypothyroidism (Table 1). The purpose of this study was to explore the effectiveness of a surfing intervention for children with disabilities through an assessment of physiological measurements including; balance, strength, endurance, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory endurance. Results indicated that this surf program improved numerous areas of physical fitness and is another activity that can be added to the repertoire of effective adapted aquatic exercise programs.
There were significant improvements in the participants’ upper-body strength, core strength, as well as cardiorespiratory endurance. In the upper extremities, there were increases in grip strength, and in the participants’ range of motion. Researchers, surf instructors, and parents observed increased self-confidence, gains in social development by interacting with the volunteer surf instructors and other participants and decreased anxiety. Some of these improvements included increased virtualization, excitement, and motivation about physical activity, social skills, and improvements in surfing skills and mind-body coordination.
With so many benefits that can help children and adults with disabilities to lead normal and fuller lives with surfing, adaptive surf has become the necessary tool for improvement to those parents and families looking for a long term solution for their children in living a better, healthier, and confident life.
To take advantage of this facility, Fuerte Tribu offers a wide range of activities around the year which are highly recommended by those who have already experienced it. You can access the surf camps by Fuerte Tribu here.
You can follow the club´s updates on their Facebook page and see for yourself the magic and joy that Pilar Beneito and her incredible team is bringing to these children. Not only has the club helped resolve physical disabilities, but it also created champions that are now participating in world championships around the world like Thomas featured in the image below.