Ashtan reaches his greatest wave crest

The South African Adaptive Surf Championships was held in Muizenberg for the first time on Saturday October 15, and local surf star Ashtan Davids earned himself both a silver; and a place to compete in the World Adaptive Surfing Championship in Los Angeles in December this year.

Ashtan, 19, a Muizenberg resident, will be making history as the first person with Cerebral Palsy to compete in the world championship.

He has been a consistent fighter for inclusive access for those who have disabilities, or as his friends and family now say, “diffabilities” – different abilities. In this instances, access refers to wheelchair, pram, walker friendly sidewalks, traffic crossings and buildings; specifically in Muizenberg.

Megan Cross, Ashtan’s sister, best friend, mentor and therapist, says that even though rights and laws are in the constitution and the building code SANS10400-S-1 exists, very few wheelchairs are seen about in public. “Without universal access many people in wheelchairs are housebound, which means they can’t work: they want to, but have no access in our public transport system or along the routes that others can walk. Many people are kept as prisoners in communities simply because of lack of access,” Megan said.

“We invite the broader community to take the initiative in freeing them, through actions and pressuring the government to insist that laws they passed, are now acted upon,” she said.

Ashtan and his family have also fought tirelessly for wheelchair access to the beach, to ensure that the natural beauties and amenities are truly available to everyone. And still, Megan has to carry Ashtan from his seat to the sea. Their bond is beautiful, and Megan remains bouyant, saying her brother is her best friend and greatest inspiration.

“I believe that is directly because of Ashtan’s work on universal access in Muizenberg that we were able to host the SAA Surf Championships here; and we are aiming even higher next year, we want the World Adaptive Surfing Championship to be hosted here,” said Kevin Rack, a member of the Believe in Schatzi team.

Believe in Schatzi Organisation (BISO) is a registered NPO, which helps young adults and children with special needs develop greater independence, social confidence and the skills required to live self-driven lives. Part of those skills is adaptive surfing.

One aspect of BISO is the Smile and Wave project, which is breaking new ground all the time for adaptive surfing in South Africa. Megan said that with the assistance of experienced coaches and volunteers, BISO surfers adapt to the water – and then take to the ocean. Because of what she has seen Ashtan achieve, Megan is expanding her adaptive surf services to people with Autism and Downs Syndrome: she has just had Chrisjan Bredenkamp bring his surfing expertise to her team.

For adaptive surfing and especially for people on the Autistic Spectrum, she has included a sensory integration aspect which uses the natural elements available to help calm them and also introduce different experiences to them.

Ashtan was diagnosed with Spastic Quadropareisis Cerebral Palsy when he was just six months old. At 15, he developed Epilepsy.

But neither of these were labels he or his family put much stock in. Yes, he has physical challenges, but Ashtan believes we all have challenges – and is entirely focused on his abilities, instead.

He plays chess, he operates a tablet and computer, he is a Western Province ballroom dancer – he dances in his chair – and now he is representing his country in adaptive surfing – in the very event he has dreamed to be part of. The idea of travelling to Los Angeles to do this surfaced while he was very young. For many it would have remained an idea, but Ashtan is determined. His commitment saw him train throughout winter, no less than three times a week – often four or five days – and for on average, two hours a time.

His condition restricts his abilities to move his arms legs, making him reliant on a wheelchair. So he did what he has learned to do: he asked for help to overcome this. And Titch Paul, a surfing coach, designed a velcro-adapted board which Ashtan adjusts according to the day’s surfing conditions. He takes part in what is called the Prone Assisted category in the competition because he lies prone on the board and needs some assistance. This means that he will be competing in a class that doesn’t yet acknowledge Cerebral Palsy as a division on its own; some of his competitors have Downs Syndrome, i.e. are far more mobile than he is.

And Ashtan remains undeterred. On the morning of the SA champs his mother, Shireen, suddenly became concerned and asked if he felt pressured or if he was ready. His response? “Oh mom, they are old school. I am new school. I am ready!” He started properly surfing only four years ago. He grew up in a surfer’s utopia and decided one day that he wanted in on the fun; surfing was not, he insisted, a spectator sport. From this fun, he developed what seemed an unlikely dream, but once again Ashtan has proven he is more capable than he is perceived to be. He has earned his place in the World Adaptive Surfing Championship in La Jolla Bay, California, this December.

All he needs now is to raise R200 000 for the tickets, visas and expenses of this trip. Believe in Schatzi is not funded by any government or corporate sponsorship.

Ashtan will be travelling with his coach, assistant coach and one facilitator. Support Ashtan’s opportunity to represent South Africa and make history by being the first Cerebral Palsy adaptive surfer, and follow his journey on www.believeinschatzi.org or on Facebook.