Lauryn Bell, Jimmy Simpson and Nick Jones

Jimmy Simpson is hoping to compete in a major tournament in September


When Jimmy Simpson attacks the bitterly cold waves of the North Sea, he says he is putting his disability behind him and moving a step closer to becoming a surfing champion. The BBC joined him on one of his first training sessions.

Having being born with dyskinetic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, 24-year-old Jimmy Simpson, from Harton in South Shields, admits he "never thought he'd be surfing".

But he is, and has embarked on what will be a gruelling several months of training in all manner of conditions ahead of the English Adaptive Surfing Championship in Bristol in September.

"When I'm out on the water surfing I feel like I don't have a disability...it makes me feel free," said Simpson, who admits he is a "daredevil" and has already completed twelve skydives.

"I love falling off my surfboard, it fills my body with adrenaline. It gives me a great sense of independence because I am controlling and directing the board myself."

Simpson's condition means his mobility is limited and he relies on a wheelchair.

He was inspired by videos of other people surfing, and, desperate to try it, he scoped out the possibility of adapted surfing, which to his delight, takes place in the town.

He is being coached by Nick Jones, who runs the non-profit Surf School in South Shields.

Jimmy on a surf board
Jimmy Simpson recently started training at Sandhaven and Littlehaven beaches

"Jimmy does his thing, the equipment we’ve got is all set up to help Jimmy manage his disability in the water," Mr Jones said.

"That space [the sea] is where his disability is not affecting him as much, it’s a fun space, we’re not thinking about that, we're more about thinking about the waves."

Mr Jones has just finished an hour-long session with Simpson, together tackling waves up to 3ft (0.9m).

"He's a true adrenaline junky, there’s lots of times where I’ll say 'I'm not sure about this Jim' and he says 'no that looks fun'...on goes his suit and off we go," he said.

Adapted surf board

The 24-year-old uses an adapted surf board manufactured by local firm SurfDek

Having the correct equipment is key to making each of the training sessions a success.

Simpson has an adapted surfboard, which has been made by local firm SurfDek and gives him better grip and stability among the waves.

He also uses a sand buggy, which is a type of adapted wheelchair with larger wheels to get him from land to sea via the beach.

'Dream team'

Carer and best friend Lauryn Bell also dons a wet suit alongside the pair.

She helps to "catch" Simpson whenever he falls from the board.

Ms Bell has known Simpson for the past decade, and runs social media accounts which document their adventures together to an audience of more than 80,000 followers.

"He inspires a lot of people, not just other wheelchair users, but people who aren’t disabled because if he can do it, everybody can," she said.

"When he’s [on the water] his disability is not really known – you don’t see it when he’s on the water, people would walk past and not know he’s in a wheelchair."

She adds they are a "dream team" and she will "be there wherever he is, enabling him to do what he wants to do".

Community film

A film documenting Simpson and his journey to the championships is being made by local firm Red Stamp Productions (RSP) in partnership with South Tyneside Council.

RSP director Connor Langley said he has no doubts that he will become the town's "mascot" in years to come.

He said: "It’s a community film named Sand Dancers because the way we see it, this film is about the community of South Tyneside coming together to enable Jimmy to do what he loves.

"So many people [are] involved, community groups and individuals who are passionate about getting him into the water and surf so he can follow his dreams."

'Bring on the competition'

Tackling waves of all shapes and sizes, Simpson will take part in several sessions a month up right until the tournament in September.

"Is anybody ever ready for a competition? I think with more training, I will be ready. I am so looking forward to it," he said.

"Bring on the competition."

He is hoping that once he gets the tournament out of the way, he can carve himself a future in the sport.

"In the near future I am hoping to compete in the disability surfing championships, in the far future I would love to travel the world surfing and competing.

"I never thought I’d be here surfing independently, but here I am," he added.

From BBC




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