Snowdonia, the trip of the first times

They were 3, they had already gone together the previous year to England for a parasurf competition.
This year I’m joining the team. The team therefore consists of 4 people, all with disabilities:

  • Laurent: tibial amputee and opposite hip arthrodesis
  • Benoit: amputated arm with associated brachial plexus
  • Maxime: incomplete D12
  • Katell: incomplete tetra C5C6.


When Laurent offered to join the team for this surf trip… I said to myself ok, they are a little crazy… or they don’t know the constraints of my disabilities at all… but it’s a crazy opportunity for me , it can be fun! So I said yes !

A trip is always full of surprises; this one will be an edifying example of unforeseen events that are all the more complex to manage when you have mobility constraints !

Landing in Bristol. 

The necessary time for the subsequent delivery procedure, since only our cabin luggage followed us… the board bags remained on the tarmac in Bordeaux! 

So we are leaving the airport… weightless.

We had rented a van, the vehicle best suited to transport the boards, the suitcases and the two wheelchairs.
First surprise: no more van, so we are upgraded … and we find ourselves in front of a superb Mercedes 450GLS SUV, new … of unequaled comfort, but … absolutely not adapted to our surf trip constraints!

We will have to play TETRIS several times a day to get everything in! 

Because with each movement it is disassembly / reassembly of the chairs! 

Good news: it’s an automatic shifter… otherwise impossible to get behind the steering wheel. 

Each of us usually has adaptations on our personal vehicles, not always possible by rental car, Ben will be the driver on most trips, and he will manage it seriously !


First observation: learn to manage transfers. 

Until then I make my transfers alone to my car thanks to a board that I place between the seat of my wheelchair and the driver’s seat, here the passenger seat is very high, impossible for me to manage the handling alone. 

We’re testing some different ways, it’s not really that, but I end up settle down, we will work on the technique every day to find the best method for all. 

Max can do it alone, meaning that having functional arms can change everything !


And then begin the explanations on the armchairs: yes the backrest is withdrawn, but it also folds back, it’s faster … is that okay? or not ? 

No these are Max’s wheels, yes it looks the same … the cushion is mine! 

A first phase of mutual learning, I learn to become more precise, to have the right vocabulary to be more fluid and understandable, and thus weigh less on the group. 

In this configuration, we are installed in the car while the 2 “walking” disabled people disassemble, carry, store. 

It’s tiring, especially when it’s recurring. 

I know from experience that, after the first days, it can become a major constraint for caregivers and without blaming the less mobile, tensions can arise. 

This is my first concern: are they really aware of the help I need on a daily basis? 

I’m pretty dynamic, I’ve been traveling alone, I’ve already slept in my car, I’m pretty autonomous and rootsy, but there are some things I really can’t do alone.

Ok: GPS on, bottles of water and cereal bars for the road: it’s off to the North West! We drive across Wales, the roads are narrow, we tighten the buttocks several times … there is a big deposit on our luxurious coach !

 
After a stopover in Newquay (Fistral) for a competition, we hit the road to snowdonia’s wave garden.
Above all, we must collect our boards finally arrived at Bristol Airport! 

4H journey later Laurent and Ben are back, time is running out, we will check the boards on the next accommodation, a budget hotel which has the advantage of having a huge parking lot to unpack everything! 

Arriving late we take 2 rooms: a king size RMP (Reduced Mobility Person) for me and a classic room where the 3 boys will pile up … privilege of being the only girl, I feel a bit spoiled! 

The bathtub unfortunately has nothing RMP, but ok, borders become a seat and I would shower as best I can, largely flooding the bathroom, no guilt … they only had to make accessible showers!


Goal of the morning: inspect our equipment delivered 3 days later… we will not be disappointed !!! All the boards have been damaged, but the palm will return to mine, which was simply crushed in the upper third! The rails are pushed in, the board bag is torn. 

We take the time to make a maximum of photos and a complaint email for compensation to Easy jet.

Makeshift repair with ducktape, we came here to surf: we’re going to surf !!!

Préparation


We each have specific boards, adapted, shaped according to our needs, indeed with our constraints, it is very complex or even impossible to surf with a rental board.

We repack the goods, everything is fixed on the roof, a small meal to recover from our emotions and we left for the next step: Way to Manchester!


We lost a lot of time in the morning, Laurent finds us a hotel on Booking … we arrive in front of a gigantic, majestic porch … is the address correct? 

We put the “Merco” (AKA Mercedes) overflowing with surfboards in front of the entrance, Gangsta style… with a little hard to believe that we have booked a luxury hotel resort and spa at this price! That must be the compensation for our broken boards: we sign in!


We take 2 bedrooms with 2 beds, they are queen size, that’s fine, we’re comfortable! RMP standards must really be different in Great Britain because there is still a bathtub … and toilets stuck in a corner .. BUT … to their discharge: a grab bar on the other side of the bathtub! 

Another bathroom for the elderly so …

Early awakening: Here we go! 

We will be lucky the whole journey with sun from morning to evening! 

The landscape is beatiful, rivers, bridges, dry stone walls… we arrive at the end of the afternoon in our rental.


At Snowdonia Laurent booked on Air BnB, specifying accommodation on one level, asking for confirmation because two people in wheelchairs. 

On paper: it’s perfect!

Here we are in front of … the house. 

Typical, pretty, with splendid granite steps in front of the front door! 

Well, it’s only the entrance … Ben and Laurent help me, here we are! 

Good news: the dining room and the sofa are on this level, but … that’s it! the kitchen is below, the bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs.

It means that I have to sleep on a sofa, which doesn’t matter in any way … I just have to be able to get out of it alone to get back to my carriage, first anxiety. 

Of course impossible to wash myself, but especially to go to the toilet! 

Like the vast majority of people with spinal cord injury, elimination is a key point in our daily lives and not only because of wheelchair accessibility! 

During the day we manage the thing by probing to urinate so in the wheelchair, in bed, in a car it’s never too much of a problem (when you have to stop on a rest area in the cold, in the rain to go relieve in filthy toilets, you will think of me who does it warm and in music in my van 😉)!
The problem is that what does not work outside does not work inside either … if your body is paralyzed, the internal organs too, so the intestines ditto, without going into details, we have a relatively long procedure with steps for disposal, and without toilets there is the risk of leaks… I do not draw? 

So at this point in the journey I am expecting, quite frightened … how to manage? 

I’m not saying anything, we just arrived, everyone is tired, I don’t want to put the problem on the carpet … in the end I would find the solution alone the next day!

Another detail: if the kitchen is not accessible, neither to me nor to Max, it’s still Ben and Laurent, who will have to manage all of the meals … it’s starting to do a lot!

After a few quick races, dinner is quickly dispatched, we fall into a bed or a sofa! Max being more mobile and sporty than me, he manages to climb upstairs.

Upon rising and after a toilet with a wipe (we’re on a trip, it’s part of the deal!), A quick tea, we can’t wait to discover the purpose of our trip: Snowdonia!

Snowdonia, the only European wavegarden (we are in July 2019), a wave that any surfer would like to discover for his singularity.

First obstacle: it climbs !!! I’m zigzagging, Max pushes me, Ben and Laurent bring the boards, here we are!


The complex is gigantic, it feels good, the weather is nice … impossible to look up from this unchanging movement of the mechanism which causes a regular wave back and forth, it’s a kind of magic!


We learn that we have to hire a placement on the wave and on only one side of it: advanced, intermediate 1 or 2 then beginner 1 or 2. 

I immediately understand that in my case we risk losing one wave in two, the time to return to the right place on the “line up” is relatively long.


We book a session in intermediate 1, all Advanced locations are already booked for the day. 

But before taking the reservation we had to explain to the staff the need to have people who do not surf in the water, related to my disability and my way of surfing. It’s brand new… they don’t really know… they’re curious, so they say ok !

In my category, I surf in prone (lying down) and pushed to take off by an assistant, my buddy: 

I ​therefore need a good wave power to take off … will it be enough? 

But before any passage to the locker room. I can’t put on my wetsuit alone, it’s impossible. I go anyway and find out, oh great joy! : a bathroom with full accessible toilets! My toilet problem is solved, a chance!


Normally the women’s locker room is therefore not accessible to men… there are few people, I explain to the women that I need help and that it is a friend who will come to help me put my wetsuit… thanks to this huge private bathroom, it’s easier, it does!

Back to the pool: It’s up to us, it is necessary to step over a parapet of a good meter high to access the pool, with the help of Ben, Laurent and one of the lifeguards, I am helped pass the obstacle, I find myself sitting on the ground, on a perforated plastic floor.

I crawl down on my buttocks as they pass my board and put it in the water.

For this session Ben will be my pusher and Laurent will receive me.

Now is the time, we are spinning on our pitch between 2 waves, it’s short, big pushing effort for Ben and no respite because the wave never stops!

It’s up to us, Ben pushes: it’s going! I have to move away from the fence, so I quickly lose the power of the wave, I lack speed and I am unable to finish my wave.

At the next I take advantage of the fall of the guy, who had reserved the Advanced location to stick inward: Wow! great sensations, this one I unroll it to the end: I like it !!!
Laurent is at the end of the wave, he has a good visual on the course, he receives me and gives me advice for the following. 

The interest of this artificial wave: it is its regularity, which makes it possible to work its placement, to try maneuvers, to correct, a real substantive work.

30 minutes of pure happiness! Which will be repeated many times!

I realize that this is a first not only for me, but also for my acolytes, it is the first time that a quadri surfs snowdonia … and with assistants with disabilities! We have a big effect on the public!


It was crazy ! Everyone celebrated! And we the four, will celebrate this first success of the adaptive team with a well-deserved beer, in front of a nice sunset on the pool, which calms down with the closure of the complex.

Max, Ben and Laurent will go on a few sessions to train; they will be able to participate the next day in the first Wales Adaptive Surf competition, which for this first edition, unfortunately, does not fit into my category.


We want to discover the area before leaving, so it’s off for a day of walking through the beautiful Snowdonia Natural Park. 

A few stops on the road, Ben and Laurent go out but it is quite inaccessible, Max took his drone, we will discover on the return the incredible landscapes of the plateau, which overlooks the valley from the top of its cliffs.

Stage of midday in Abersoch, where in front of the boats towed in the bay with tractors, we will enjoy pastries, arrived too late for lunch for the country! There are some practices that we have not yet fully integrated!

Back home and preparation of the board bags, fixed on the roof not at all suitable for the car by Ben and Laurent… epic but relatively effective given the necessary compensation for the handicap of one by the other and vice versa !


Arriving at Manchester Airport, Max and I become stewards of the express cargo at the entrance, while the others bring the rental car back. The minutes pass, the timing is short … the two of us are raging at not being able to manage the board bags ourselves while the line in front of the elevators is getting longer, a compulsory passage for checking in luggage…

Ben and Laurent are coming back, we take 2 elevators, people grown, and we take our priority!
Weighing of board bags… the last one do not pass, they stopped the machines: we are out of time!!! 

Negotiations, they reopen the recording for the last oversize. But then you have to take them to the appropriate counter, at the other end of the terminal!

Chance: we asked for assistance, a small team understands the problem, helps us to carry.
Direction security control: A zealous employee makes us pay for our delay… he will take all the time necessary to open our entire cabin luggage. 

He searches and turns over each suitcase … and throws all my probes in the trash on the pretext that they contain a little liquid, it is essential medical equipment: he is not allowed! 

But we are very late, Max kept probes belonging to me in the back of his chair, that is, I do not make trouble and I go through!

When boarding, the door is closed, and for good reason, we embark by a staircase. We are alone with our assistance… Ben and Laurent are taken on foot. Max and I look in the white of our eyes: Ok we are really alone there! The terminal is empty; we hear the engines of our plane… “It stinks”!


A young woman arrives, explains to us that we are lucky: having asked for assistance: they are forced to accompany us to our seats, so we delayed the Easy jet Manchester / Bordeaux by 1H! 

The pilot did not fail to point this out to us with a characteristic English humor when we entered the plane!
At the finish in Bordeaux, the boards are there, managing the cars is not easy, but we are getting there. 

Impossible to leave on the tarmac, we take the time to eat together and discuss this incredible sporting and human adventure … and those to come!


The balance sheet is positive, despite the accommodation stamped accessible, which is not, a van rental, which ends up in luxury car rental on which it is necessary to attach the board bags and return luggage and wheelchairs, using the “R system”, (R for ravel out) , fatigue, music, fun, and especially Surf! 

With a world first runtime: 4 adaptive surfers without any assistance, who have been surfing in Snowdonia.