After publishing my last post about Surf4All, I got an update from Tommasso with some great news! The Surf4All organization just received funding from the Italian Paralympic Committee for a project that will help four disabled athletes compete internationally in adaptive surfing! Beginning in September (after our August vacations!) there will be an official launch for the entire project to take place at the Bagno degli Americani. I hope I´ll be able to go!
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.
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!