Adaptive Surf: Passion for Surfing Makes Anything Possible

I first met Tommasso Pucci on a weekend this summer where I was attending the Outdoor Sports Festival that takes place every year in the Golfo di Baratti, located close to Piombino, just between the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian Seas. I was taking a solo weekend trip to get out of Florence and practice some water sports. In recent years many of my beach vacations had been mostly full of seafood and lounging — la dolce vita for some, and on occasion for me, but this year after attending a conference on the future of maritime policy in the European Union, I had a new reason to be interested in spending time at the beach. I decided to study the laws of the sea and learn about sailing, and at the festival for just €10 I could try everything: sea kayak, catamaran, standup paddle (SUP) — I even tried and failed miserably to kitesurf, but mostly because the guys on the stage were making fun of me — by name over the microphone — the entire time!

While doing some networking at the festival and generally picking the brains of all the athletes manning the booths, I met Tommasso. I had just been out on a SUP board and was pleasantly reminded that surfing, like biking, is not easily forgotten. All those summers watching Blue Crush and balancing on my IndoBoard weren´t a complete waste! Tommasso is a SUP instructor based in Florence, where he founded ToscanaSUP. His enthusiasm for the sport is completely infectious, and he was thrilled to learn that I was interested in water sports in general. We arranged to meet in Florence after the festival so he could tell me more about how his organization operates, and introduce me to an even bigger movement, adaptive surfing.

When he´s not driving around chasing waves in his camper or helping tourists get an amazing photo-op on a surfboard below the ponte vecchio (or elsewhere), Tommasso works with a group called Surf 4 All. The organization, run out of the Bagno degli Americani in Tirrenia states that its mission is to improve the overall enjoyment of life,  psychologically and cognitively through the accessibility of sport activities. With the admission of surfing as an Olympic sport in the 2020 Tokyo games, the project is also part of a larger international movement that aims to allow athletes who engage in adaptive surfing to qualify and compete professionally.

Photo Credit: International Surfing Association

Adaptive surfing is facilitated surfing for an entire range of disabilities in a wide variety of ways, including facilitated surfing with a partner or a customized board depending on the athlete´s needs. A relatively new sport, the International Surf Association has issued guidelines that outline the specific rules and categories for what is and is not permissible in an international competition.

More interesting to me than the competitive adaptive surfing though was the work that groups like Surf4All do with handicapped children. Tommasso spends his time with other surfers flying around the world to run adaptive surf camps in the most beautiful places. When we talked he had just gotten back from Fuerteventura, Canarias and was beginning to get all his photos and videos online. He explained to me that the European Union through the Erasmus + Sport 2017, Play and Train program is now providing funding for more adaptive surf camps for young people in order to foster health, well-being and social cohesion through access to sports that require specific equipment.

I ended up joining Tommasso for a weekend of surfing after our meeting and I can definitely vouch for his awesomeness. He was in touch with friends up and down the coast reporting on waves and weather conditions, and was up at the crack of dawn both days to be out in the water as much as possible. I must confess I did less surfing and more shopping over the weekend, since it was extremely hot weather and I wasn´t feeling so great, but I did get to explore la Marina di Pietrasanta, which hosted a massive outdoor market all day on Saturday, and had live music and family games near the pier in the evening. I learned about the local art scene, and seriously contemplated asking to be left behind!

Are you a surfer? Adaptive surfer? Have questions or want to get involved as a volunteer? Leave a comment or send me a message!



Running Around Florence, Part 1

Running Around Florence, Part 1

I wouldn´t call myself the epitome of health or fitness by any means (I live in Italy and subsist mostly on cheese, bread, wine and chocolate) but one of the more healthy habits I adopted at a young age and am so thankful to be able to continue is running. I´m thankful to continue because when I lace up my shoes and get outside, no matter how much I don´t feel like it, I thank God that I have two working legs that allow me to practice my sport of preference, no matter where in the world I am.

One of the projects I´ve been working on since 2014 is the Firenze Marathon. My relationship with the Firenze Marathon team and organization is something I´m very proud of and happy to have been able to continue consistently. I got started with the Marathon in 2014 when Diego Petrini, the event´s Project Manager, approached Stanford University (where I was working at the time) looking for student volunteers to assist at the event: the marathon and other associated events run with the help of thousands of volunteers, something that is not lost on the organizing committee.

Knowing that American students tend to spend most of their free time traveling I had to tell Diego that I doubted he´d get any volunteers for weekend running events, but that I would be happy to help in any capacity I could. A runner for years, I dreamed (still do) of one day completing a marathon, so what better way than to hang around with the organizers and athletes, and learn as much as I could from them?

I even got so comfortable with the marathon idea that two years ago I decided to begin training for my own. Through the Marathon organization I was set up with Training Consultant Fulvio Massini who gave me a full plan to train for the marathon in one year. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I had a fall after about three months of training – you need to be careful on the Florentine cobblestones — and got completely discouraged from completing the race. I´ll be sure to write if I decide to pursue that dream.

My busted knee.

A lot has changed since my initial meeting with the Firenze Marathon organization. I´ve had different jobs, changed apartments, and traveled a lot. The marathon itself has changed, with new race routes and increased visibility in Florence and the world over, I hope, in part, to my small contribution as a translator during the off season and a volunteer at races when possible during the running season. The Firenze Marathon has remained one of the consistent projects I have come to look forward to, and most definitely one of the reasons I´ve stayed sane during my expatriate experience in Florence. Running literally has kept me sane.

The Firenze Marathon typically takes place over Thanksgiving weekend, a time when Turkey Trots are going on all over the United States. Have you ever dreamed of running the Marathon? Do you want to come to Florence and experience this beautiful race for yourself? Let me know and I can put you in touch with race organization, and help you with planning your visit to Florence! I´ll also continue to update this site with new sports events in Florence and Tuscany, and hopefully elsewhere as I continue my travels. Stay in touch and let me know how you stay fit when you´re on the road! I always need new workouts!

This is just part 1 because, if you know me, I´m frequently literally running around Florence.

Next time I say I want bangs, please remind me I do not.