'Feel that freedom': People with disabilities catch waves at surfing event

Dozens of people with disabilities gathered at Martinique Beach in East Petpeswick, N.S., on Saturday to take part in a surfing event.

Event at Martinique Beach attracts about 50 people with disabilities, 150 volunteers

Volunteers help a person ride a surfboard on Saturday at Martinique Beach in East Petpeswick, N.S. (Radio-Canada)

While her first time surfing left her a little cold, Veronica Coombes only wanted to stay in the water a little longer.

"I can't feel my hands right now, but it was so fun, like you have the adrenaline rushing," she said.

Born with spina bifida, the Shediac, N.B., resident travelled three hours to take part in a surfing event for people with disabilities at Martinique Beach in East Petpeswick, N.S., on Saturday.

Coombes was one of about 50 people who took part in the event, aided by 150 volunteers.

"I've never been on the water before. They put you on a surfboard and it's great because there's so many people in wheelchairs that want to come out and do this kind of thing," said Coombes.

The athlete, who won three gold medals at the recent Canada Games in wheelchair racing, said she liked the thrill of trying something new.

Veronica Coombes travelled from Shediac, N.B., to surf for the first time. (Radio-Canada)

The event is put on by a non-profit organization called Life Rolls On and it puts on these events across the continent, although a news release noted this was the only Canadian stop.

Chrissy Merrigan is one of the event's organizers. Now in its third year, she got involved after she watched her brother take part in the first event.

"For someone who grew up and spent his life on the water in the navy, getting back in the ocean was a huge thing," she said.

"For a lot of our participants, they don't get out of their chair or out of their bed. This is an opportunity for them to float, to feel the water, to feel that freedom."

Out-of-province participants

Merrigan said the event attracted people mostly from the Halifax area, but also people from as far away as New Brunswick and P.E.I.

Martinique Beach was chosen to host the event because it has an accessible change room and washrooms, as well as a ramp to the beach.

Merrigan said the event has grown each year, initially attracting 14 people, almost 40 year last year and about 50 this year.

Chrissy Merrigan said the event is important because it gives people with disabilities an opportunity to feel what it's like to be in the ocean. (Radio-Canada)

"They deserve to have as much fun as we do. We're all the same. They just have different challenges, so it's all about making it adaptive," she said.

For April Hubbard, it was her first time surfing.

"I think I'm more courageous now that I'm in a wheelchair. I don't have a lot to lose now, so I want to try everything I can," she said.

With files from Stephanie Blanchet