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Guest Blog by Zoe Smith - Adaptive Surfing in Sri Lanka

We love sharing Wild & Free Adventures through the eyes or 'words' of our guests and this March Zoe Smith joined us on our Sri Lanka Surf & Yoga Adventure. Here's Zoes story of her Wild & Free Adventures as an Adaptive Surfer and first time yogi... check out these waves!

"I first heard of Wild and Free Adventures and their Surf and Yoga Adventure in Sri Lanka through my best friend Samantha. We were sat chatting one morning after a night out and Sam mentioned that she was considering going on one of Amanda & Joe’s retreats. She had previously met Amanda at a yoga retreat in Goa, India and wondered if I would fancy joining her. I started surfing in September 2021 but have grown up bodyboarding and by the beach. Familiar with the ocean and comfortable in the sea I started my surfing journey at The Wave in early autumn. I was much like every other newcomer in the class, eager to learn and excited. The only difference between myself and them was that I was a left leg amputee. Following a car accident which left my left leg with irreparable damage I lost my left leg below the knee in February 2015. The process of recovery was challenging mentally and physically and learning to walk with a prosthetic takes some getting used to. Your balance and overall manoeuvrability are inexplicably challenged and learning how to navigate that can be frustrating. So therefore when I told my friends and family in the summer of 2021 that I wanted to learn to surf people thought I was probably a bit crazy. The blessing with The Wave is that it offers beginner surfers a safe and gentle introducing to surfing. I found I took to it immediately and using one of their giant 9ft soft tech boards I was up on my feet (foot!) within my first lesson.

Following a few positive sessions I approached the adaptive surf community for further coaching experience. I had seen on instagram that England has an adaptive surf team and locked sights on becoming a member of the squad. I was quickly put in touch with the coaches for the team and after proving my interest in the sport I was offered a place within the English Adaptive Surfing Team. I was thrilled. Even more so when shortly after I was offered a place within the squad who were travelling to Pismo Beach, California to compete in the ISA Para World Surf Championships. What an honour and a privilege. I was to compete in the Para 2 standing division which is categorised as surfers with a below knee amputation or equivalent below limb impairment. I accepted the invite but knew that I had a huge amount of work to do to feel comfortable competiting. I was very much still a beginner and was still surfing the white wash with intrepidation! Over the course of the next few months I trained hard and consistently. I was surfing in every horrendous condition you can imagine and concentrating on my paddle strength. I also had to pay for a new prosthetic to be made which would enable me to move quicker through the water and would be rust and saltwater proof. Prosthetics and surfing are not an easy colloboration. What works well in 2-3ft surf may not fare so well in overhead sizeable stuff. My prosthetist and I have had to think on our feet and adapt to new challenges with an inventive mindset. There are still unknown challenges to overcome but by December I was ready to depart for California and hopefully do my teammates and country proud.

In California I placed 5th in the World at the ISA Para World Surf Championships and was really proud of how I surfed. The England team placed 7th overall with a gold medal being awarded to our first Triple World Champion Melissa Reid in the Visually Impaired Category. As a team we were stoked about our achievement and celebrated hard on our last night together in Pismo. When I returned home in January 2022 my focus was to reset. I had 12 months till the 2022 Worlds and training had to continue in the same vein. My quest to surf both the best and grottiest waves in the world was on. So when Sam mentioned to me a surf and yoga trip in Sri Lanka my interest was spiked. I had never much considered yoga as something I was interested in but Sam talked to me about how the yoga very much complimented the surfing and vis versa. Initially I was cautious in my optimism that I would be allowed to participate in the retreat. Sadly as a disabled athlete I have been turned away from surf schools in the past by instructors who considered me probably too much of a liability to be included within a group. Indeed I have even been turned away from group yoga sessions previously as I was told I would require too much 1-1 time for it to be suitable to a class environment. Right from the get go however Wild and Free Adventures welcomed me with open arms. Amanda & Joe collaborate with Ticket to Ride Group in Sri Lanka and their coaches agreed they would happily accommodate me within the course. My mind was made. I was off to Sri Lanka with my best friend and I couldn’t wait. No more travelling miles for freezing cold basic surf... tropical waves and sunshine were on the menu and the stoke levels were high.

Arriving in Sri Lanka we were met at the airport by Joe. The air was thick and humid and had that wonderful smell of the tropics. The group Sam and I had joined were amazing. Friendly, warm and full of different ages/surfing & yoga experience we had instantly bonded. As we passed through the crazy tuk tuk laboured roads with palm trees adorning each side I started to spot the ocean in the distance. Fat, slow, endless aqua rolls were lining my view from shore to horizon and that was it, I was in love.

We were greeted at our accommodation by Amanda with a coconut refreshment. We had time to chill, eat a little, and get set up in our rooms before we headed onto the rooftop of the complex for a quiet and restorative yin session.

It was my first experience of yoga in a group setting and I was apprehensive. Amanda made me feel comfortable enough though that I ended up taking off my prosthetic and forgetting completely that I was less able bodied than my fellow travellers. Amanda managed to seamlessly cater an adaptive yoga session within her practice and provided me with adapted stretches, movements, blocks and aids throughout. If I was struggling with something Amanda would intuitively recreate a pose to work for me. I was amazed. The movement felt so good, the atmosphere so positive and the experience was a game changer. I suddenly and for the first time understood why yoga and surfing compliment each other so perfectly.

The next day we took to the water. Baring in mind this was my first time surfing without a wetsuit the Sri Lankan ocean had a few surprises for me I hadn’t anticipated. The strength of the current and whitewash was such that my prosthetic began falling off. We tried a number of things but it became clear that we had to once again adapt and think on our feet. Given that the air temp was over 30 degrees and the sea not much cooler there is not much of a call for wetsuits in Sri Lanka. However, I knew that I needed something to act as a barrier between the ocean and my prosthetic. I had to find a wetsuit of some kind or else my surfing adventure in Sri Lanka was to end before it had started. I was downhearted a little and like any surfer the idea of missing out on epic waves felt intensely painful. Despite my dwindling enthusiasm, Joe had quietly been working away behind the scenes to obtain the kit I needed. He managed eventually to track down some Billabong 1mm neoprene leggings which I knew would temporarily do the job. Joe managed to not only order these leggings but also arranged a trusted tuk tuk driver he knew to go and collect them. It was an amazing proactive response to my situation and I was incredibly grateful. I was back in the game and my spirits were higher than ever.

Ahangama isn’t just one surf spot it has about 10. The area is all linked by the Matara Road which is hectic and offers you a swift and fast paced introduction to this surf hub. Kabalana Beach is great for complete beginners who need that white water mayhem. Outback there is The Rock, a steep A frame which I admired from the beach! The bottom is sandy and forgiving. The beach offers both a left and a right and a instagram worthy landscape. Sri Lanka is effortlessly beautiful. Marshmallows the spot further down the road for our surf lessons is a very mellow, deep reef which is accessible for all levels. The paddle out is initially intense and fantastic for your fitness. The coaches make sure you’re up to it before you transition from the white wash at Kabalana to the reef. On a morning sunrise session at Marshmallows I saw multiple turtles cruising past my board. The water is crystal clear and warm and safe. The reef is deep but is not a sharky spot. You can feel comfortable and relaxed out in the middle of the ocean with the sunsetting through the palm trees. Marshies has a selection of both good long left and right waves and the spot was never too crowded despite its popularity. The sessions were two hours long (a free afternoon guided session is also available) and every single surfer was well supported in the water. There were almost as many coaches as students out in the ocean and they were able to provide necessary feedback on almost every aspect of your surfing.

Whilst out on the water we were accompanied by Amanda & Joe and mentored by the Ticket to Ride Surf instructors. The Sri Lankan team is headed up by head coach Nikita Robb the best surfer I’ve ever seen. Nikita is an ex WCT competitor and multiple times National South African Champ. Anna Wotton one of the young surf coaches on the team told me proudly that Nikita was the best surfer on the island, man or woman. They were an inspiring set up and Nikita, Anna, Lucy Theobald (a Cornish surfer with an amazing ability to smile whilst totally shredding) were able to push my surfing to a new level.

Anna was both hilarious and cool. Anna could make you laugh whilst never losing an ounce of focus. Lucy was fun, knowledgeable and very approachable. Lucy talked to me a lot about how to adapt my turns to accommodate my leg. Lucy herself overcame a traumatic pelvis fracture 5 years earlier and never allowed it to hold her back. Watching her surfing you would never know doctors did not expect it would be possible. She could glide across water so painlessly it was like poetry in motion. Finally, there’s Nikita Robb who was just a total badass. To sit out in the ocean with a surfer of that experience was a total privilege. A huge personality in a small package, I felt compelled to soak up as much information as I could from Nikita whilst I was there.

This strong and empowering female team are supported by some awesome male coaches who are also top of their game and uniquely fab to hang out with. Charlie, Donncha and a few local Sri Lanka coaches are all world class surf coaches. Ruarid Kidd, a local Perranporth lad was part of the coaching team too. ‘Roo’ took from both the shore and the water incredible photos which Amanda and Joe include within their Wild and Free Package. The video footage Roo takes, along with the expert video analysis provided by the TTR coaches quickly accelerated my surfing knowledge and experience. To be able to watch footage of yourself surfing and have that footage critiqued by those guys was a once in a lifetime opportunity and one I seized every morning.

The trip overall was really a magical experience. The surfing, the yoga, the inclusivity, the food (wow so good) the vibe and the attention to detail were all Spot On. I would highly recommend a trip with Wild and Free Adventures. They go above and beyond to accommodate and support their travellers. Friendly, approachable, knowledgeable and kind, Amanda and Joe went out of their way to ensure each and every one of us had a good holiday. Their standards were impeccably high throughout and I have no doubt each and every adventure organised through Wild and Free would be a bespoke and authentic adventure.

Moving forward in my own personal surfing journey I have returned home to focus on training for my next competition. In June I am travelling to the Access Surf Hawaiian adaptive competition and returning in July for the English International Adaptive Comp at The Wave, I am grateful to Surfing England for their continued support and my coaching team within the England Adaptive squad. For now my training is back to the cold, less favourable surfing conditions of the South West but Sri Lanka, I’ll be back!!

By Zoe Smith (Adaptive Surfer)

You can follow Zoe and her surfing comps on instagram @zoe_smith_adaptivesurfer

Thanks Zoe, it was an absolute pleasure to spend 10 days surfing and yoga-ing with you in paradise! Looking forward to seeing you in Saunton (our mutually favourite North Devon break!) for a surf soon ;0)

Read more about our 2022 Wild & Free Sri Lanka Adventure here and check out our 'up and coming' tab for all the future tropical adventures you could join us on on the website. We are asking YOU to VOTE for where you'd like us to adventure to next in 2023 and 2o24! So check out 'up and coming' on our website (top bar) and vote via our waiting list.

If you are looking for an adventure or retreat this year, check out some spaces left in 2022:

Life's an adventure waiting for you to embrace! x

Amanda & Joe

Wild & Free Adventures


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