Surfing with Caitlin Flash: “I believe in surf therapy”
Being a coach means helping people. Read a story of Caitlin Flash, a SPORTSESSION surfing coach, who proves that nothing can stop you from doing sports you like.
What can stop you from doing sports?
Age? Distance? Equipment? Disability? Many people would say these reasons are enough but the truth is that there are no limits to stop you from doing the things you like. There are no obstacles you cannot overcome. And there are always people to help you with that. Sport Session surfing coach Caitlin Flash is one of them.
Caitlin has been surfing for 7 years. She taught herself how to surf at a young age, which was incredibly difficult to do alone, especially as a child. Having a coach back then would’ve been helpful for her. This is why she is helping others to master this sports art. Soothing water, waves and the sea breeze – what is a better way to spend your summer?
Surfing as a therapy
At the age of 18, Caitlin was diagnosed with autism. Many people live with autism and need to find a way to eliminate their anxiety. Caitlin found it in surfing as it helped her to calm down and concentrate. Now she works with children and adults with autism – something not many coaches agree to do. She is also a member of the International Surf Therapy Organization, which helps people with injuries or disabilities using surf therapy.
Surfing – a male-dominated sport?
For Caitlin entering the surfing world was quite challenging. Surfing is still mainly male-dominated sport and it was quite intimidating and scary for her at first. This is what she is trying to change. Caitlin works to increase representation among the surfers and remove the barriers existing to this day.
In public opinion, a typical surfer is a tall handsome young man with a board. A Malibu safeguard type. Many people, who do not fit that image, are afraid to try surfing because they don’t see someone like them doing it. However, a surfer today can be a man, a woman, a child, an old lady, or a person in a wheelchair. And Caitlin wants it to be normal: “Most people think they cannot do surfing before they even think to try it. That needs to change. I want everyone to think: “Yes, I can do it!”
Surfing in a wheelchair
Caitlin gives surfing training sessions for people with disabilities. The main problem, she admits, is finding the equipment for adaptive surfing. A seated surfboard is 12 feet long, takes 6 months to make and the production costs around £4,500 for each board. Together with Surfability organization Caitlin created the safest and the most up to date version of the seated board.
Another challenge for Caitlin’s work is the team. To do adaptive surfing you need a team of volunteers to get a person on a board and to help during the session. “It demands a lot of effort,” says Caitlin, “but we help people do sports they couldn’t even imagine to do. And it is worth all our troubles”.
Before your first lesson
Caitlin works to make surfing available to everyone but every person has to go on their own journey. It won’t be easy and you may fall a lot but Caitlin teaches her clients not to be afraid. You would be surprised how much your positive attitude and a little bit of courage can do.
To be less scared, you have to trust your coach. Caitlin works with people with autism so she knows how important it is to build trusting relationships with someone, who can easily get nervous. Open up to her and she will find the words to calm you down.
Read more: Surfing: first steps to standing up
The other thing to know before your first lesson are the safety rules. This is the first thing Caitlin teaches in her surfing sessions. Number one rule: when you go into the water, wear a leash. This is a special rope the surfers use. The leash should be the same length as your surfing board and it is tied to your board on one side and your ankle on the other side. You need it in order to stay connected to your board and avoid the risk of losing it. They are made from materials that always float on the surface. If you are not a good swimmer and you fall, you can use the leash to pull yourself towards the board and hold on.
Being able to help is the biggest reward
Through surfing Caitlin shows people they can do anything they want, and their age, gender, race or physical condition is not the restriction. She likes to think that she can be a role model for many young girls or people with disabilities who are not sure if they can surf. Because they can. They just don’t know it yet.
“The best thing about being a surfing coach is watching people on their journeys towards their dreams. I really like to see how people progress and overcome their fears.”
This is especially seen during her 6-week courses that Caitlin does for children with autism. In the beginning they are shy, scared and nervous all the time. Sometimes they do not want even to put on their swimming suit. But over time as they continue to do Caitlin’s course, they become calmer and more eager to get on the board and follow the instructions. “That excitement and happiness I see in their eyes is the biggest reward for me”, says Caitlin.