Limb different surfers take to the waves in Bristol
New surfing prosthetic proves an instant hit on the water
A new type of prosthetic arm – the first of its kind in the world – which has been designed to help surfers with upper body limb differences to ‘pop-up’ on their board, has proven to be an instant hit in the water.
A group of limb different surfers from across the UK were invited to put the new prosthetic through its paces at a special launch event held at inland-surfing destination, The Wave, in Bristol.
Named ‘Nicole’ after the individual who inspired its design, the prosthetic has been developed by UK startup Koalaa, which is on a mission to make prosthetics comfortable, affordable and accessible for anyone on the planet. After months of development and a successful trial, the tool is now available for surf fans of all ages around the world.
Koalaa’s patented design sees a soft fabric sleeve being worn that can be fitted with different tool attachments, depending on the task the user would like to do. Knowing that surfing was something many people within the limb difference community were keen to try and that ‘popping-up’ onto the board was a key challenge, they set about creating a solution.
Amongst the surfers taking to the waves in Bristol was Nicole Brennan, age 30, from Chichester who was born with a congenital limb difference meaning that her right arm did not fully develop before birth. She has worked closely with the team at Koalaa on the design of the new prosthetic, which has been named in her honour.
Nicole is founder of The IAMPOSSIBLE Foundation, one of the only disabled-led charities for those with limb differences in the UK and which aims to create a world where ability is not defined by an individual’s form or physical appearance.
“I spend as much time on the beach as I can and have always wanted to try surfing but never felt like it was a sport that was available to me.
“Being able to push up from the board to a standing position was always a barrier and it’s been amazing to work with the team at Koalaa to create a prosthetic that can make surfing accessible for those with limb differences like mine. It’s a dream come true.”
“Growing up, I struggled a lot and a big part of that was a lack of representation. I just kind of went through life hiding my arm. I’d always wear jumpers to cover it and would also disguise it in the ways I would position my body. It got to the point that when I got married, I asked the photographer not to take photos of my arm.
“But that all changed when I had my first child. After years of hiding my arm, I was done with it. I’d had enough! I decided I was not going to be that person anymore and that I would do all I can to fight for a world where ability is not defined by an individuals’ form or physical appearance.
“Projects like this, which give people the confidence and tools they need to go out there and try new things, such as surfing, show that anything is possible, and that’s a huge step.”
Nick Hounsfield, Founder of The Wave, said:
“We have always been passionate about making surfing accessible to all. Our whole space has been designed to be truly accessible, our surf coaches are trained to provide specific adaptive surf training for those with different needs and we have been huge supporters of Team England Adaptive for a number of years. We jumped at the chance to enable the testing and launch of this brilliant innovation from Koalaa, which we hope will break down even more barriers, so everyone can share in the joy of surfing.”
Nate Macabuag, founder of Koalaa, added:
“It’s been so amazing to see members of the limb different community having so much fun trying out the new prosthetic on the water! Enabling people to go for it and to try new things, or even just helping to make everyday tasks a little easier, is why we do what we do. All of our designs are driven by our users, their ideas and feedback and they remain closely involved at every stage of the design process. Naming our prosthetics and tools after the people who inspired them is something we always love to do.”
A further collaboration between Koalaa and The Wave has seen the creation of a special limited edition sleeve cover which can be purchased with the Nicole tool, a percentage of each sale going towards The Wave’s adaptive surf club.