On a sunny
Monday afternoon, Nuno Vitorino is driving me to the place that is very special to him:
Cascais beach. It takes some 30 minutes to drive thereto from Lisbon. He chose
this place with reason. Whenever he finds the time, Nuno can be found at the
beach. Surfing. Every time Im at the beach, I feel butterflies in my belly,
he tells me. Surfing is his life and he wants to offer all Portuguese disabled
people the possibility to experience the same sensation.
Nuno Vitorino got paralysed at the age of 18 by a
shooting accident. He and his friend had found a gun that suddenly went off in
the hands of his friend. Although he has been sitting in a wheelchair since then, he still
is a very active sporter. I was a Portuguese Paralympic swimmer until the age
of 29, but already before my accident I had surfed. That sport has my real passion.
Out of this passion he founded Associacao Portugeasa de Surf Adapto (the
Portuguese Association for Adapted Surfing) in 2009.
everybody is able to surf
Whether one has a physical disability, a visual
impairment or an intellectual disability: almost all people with a disability
who like to can learn to surf. Young and old. Thats the starting-point of
Nuno. He tells me even I could learn it. Me? I cant swim. I have a bad
balance. Cant use my right arm. Yes, I can. He tells me how. The surfboard
should have an extra device which I can grab with my left hand and a support for
my chin. Four volunteers of the association would make sure I wouldn't fall into
the water by holding me tight.
As long as you can go into the water, youre able to
surf somehow. Our association has got experience with many different kinds of
disabilities. Blind people for instance who feel the sea, experience a special
sensation. But, most people who come here are paraplegics, more men than women.
One has to have strong muscles to manage big waves. I do a lot of physical
training myself. Surfing is possible throughout the year. Summertime is the
best period for most people with a disability. The waves are not too big then. You can surf one time during an event or follow individual lessons. For the
lessons, one has to pay a small contribution.
Is it easy talk of Nuno? You can see Nuno in action himself
in this YouTube video. Images start after some 20 seconds.
Most disabled people in Portugal are familiar with the
association that works with volunteers only. Nuno is one of those volunteers
who instruct surfing teachers how disabled people can surf. The volunteers also
visit institutions for disabled children to inform them about the possibility
of adapted surfing. During the already mentioned events 250 disabled people in
total surf each year. They are being supported by 100 volunteers. Organising
these events asks a lot of preparation and money.
We do have six events a year, throughout the whole
country: Alentejo, Madeira, Tocha, Lourinha, Porto, Carcavelos (Cascais). One
single event costs around 10,000 euro. We only accept sponsor money, so we hold
everything in our own hands. Should we accept money from the government or
municipalities, they would set conditions on how to organise the events. Thats
something we dont want.
The Associacao Portuguesa de Surf Adapto is the only
association for adapted surfing in Europe. In other parts of the world there
are similar organisations present. For instance in the USA, Brasil and
Australia. Nuno has contact with those other organisations and also receives
interested surfing teachers from European countries like Spain, Germany and The
Netherlands. To make sure the association can continue its work, Nuno hopes to
be able to employ one or two paid persons at the end of the year. Their main
job to be done is to consolidate all the work that comes along with being able
to organise events. The free supply of the right materials (adapted surfboards,
wetsuits), the participation of sponsors with regard to other necessities and
facilities. At the moment, my most important partner in taking care of this is
Marta Restolho in her role of partnership manager. Martha works in Lisbon as
Adapted Sports Coordinator. Her work for the association is also on a strictly
volunteering basis. Another thing I hope to realise is a competition for
disabled surfers in Portugal. We are cooperating with the Portuguese Surfing
Association to see whether we can realise this.
The sea is
everything for Nuno
Nuno cant give all his time to the association. To
make a living, he works part-time for the Lisbon municipality. As soon as he
has the chance, he drives to the beach where many people know him (he was being
stopped several times the hours I spent with him in Cascais) and where he feels
at ease the most. During our talk, he keeps on repeating theres nothing more
beautiful than being at the beach on a sunny day. Surfing on the waves. The
bigger they are, the better he likes them. Nuno has two sons, but has never
been married. The mother of his sons told him he spent too much time on
surfing. Something he cant deny. I dont earn a big income, but Im happy in
Lisbon. As long as I can surf, can go to the sea, I have enough. Surfing means
mental therapy for me, a mental rehabilitation. I will continue my work for the
association as long as they want me to.
More could be said about the association and
especially about adapted surfing. But, with regard to the latter images say
more than words. In case you have become interested in adapted surfing and wish
to know more how it could be done, you can always look at the social media of
the association. First theres the website Surf Adaptado At the
moment, its only in Portuguese, but it will be translated into English soon.
Furthermore, theres the Facebook pageIt
keeps you updated with the latest upcoming events and projects, in Portuguese,
and also videos of those events can be watched. Im curious who will have the
guts to take the challenge of adapted surfing him or herself. Let me know when
As always with all the people I interviewed, I asked
Nuno which music he likes most. Johnny Cash is one of his favourite artists.
Mine as well. Nuno had no special preference for a song. With his approval I
chose for a song from the beginning of his long career, Walk the line.
Copyright text and pic: Johan Peters, May 27th 2017 - ...