Benefits of Surfing for Children with Disabilities: A Pilot Study
Armitano, C. N., Clapham, E. D., Lamont, L. S., & Audette, J. G. (2015). Benefits of surfing for children with disabilities: A pilot study. Palaestra, 29(3), 31-34.
Summary: Alex X. Martínez
Children are recommended to engage in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity throughout each day (World Health Organization, 2012; ACSM, 2010). Sports and recreational activities provide inclusive opportunities to children with disabilities to minimize deconditioning, optimize physical functioning, and enhance overall well-being. Lack of physical activity could result in an increased risk for chronic conditions. Physical activity or exercise programs for children with disabilities are limited. There is evidence suggesting that water programs are beneficial for psychosocial, cognitive development and physical fitness. This study was designed to assess the effectiveness of surfing intervention on children with disabilities.
Over an eight-week period, 16 children with different types of disabilities participated in a surfing program. The intervention consisted of one-hour surfing sessions, twice a week, with a 1:1 instructor-participant ratio. During the sessions the participants practiced progressions from 1) paddling; 2) balancing on a surfboard while sitting, laying, kneeling, or standing; 3) catching a wave and riding it into shore in the prone, sitting, kneeling, or standing position; and 4) paddling back out through the wave unassisted.
Pre- and post-intervention measurements showed improvements in grip strength in both hands (handgrip dynamometer), flexibility of the right arm (Apley’s scratch test), core body muscle strength (modified curl-up), and aerobic capacity (20-m PACER test). Trunk lift, balance, and isometric strength (push up) did not show an improvement post-intervention. Other outcomes observed from this study include increased self-confidence, gains in social development by interacting with the volunteer surf instructors and other participants, and decreased anxiety.
The surfing intervention is a unique approach on this field. To my knowledge, this is the first study using this physical activity modality. Future research in this area should focus on determining the impact of cardiovascular fitness improvements in secondary health problems. It appears that a surfing intervention program is feasible and beneficial to improve cardiorespiratory endurance, muscle strength, flexibility and range of motion, and quality of life of children with disabilities.