Bringing the ocean to all: The Adaptive Surf Project’s mission to empower

By Gene Galin

Atlantic Beach, NC – Christine Chadwick stands at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by enthusiastic volunteers and participants, each preparing for a day on the waves. The sun shines brightly, reflecting off the water and creating an atmosphere of pure excitement and joy. Chadwick, a key figure in the Adaptive Surf Project of North Carolina, is more than just an organizer; she’s a passionate advocate for inclusion, using surfing to bring a unique sense of freedom and exhilaration to individuals of all abilities.

“We just like to come out here and have fun and share some waves with good friends,” says Chadwick. “It’s for folks of any and all abilities. We have people from all walks of life, and we’re just happy to share the beautiful ocean and the waves.”

A Mission Born from Personal Experience

The Adaptive Surf Project was founded in 2016 by Christine Chadwick, inspired by personal tragedy and a desire to give back. Chadwick’s older brother was paralyzed in an accident at the age of 17 and eventually passed away. This profound experience shaped her commitment to the adaptive sports community.

“I had an older brother who got injured when he was 17 and was paralyzed. After the accident, he ended up passing away. I was so involved; it was such a big part of my life. I had to give back and stay involved in that community in whatever way I could,” explains Chadwick.

With roots going back to 2009, when they first began assisting with adaptive surfing events, the Chadwicks decided to establish a dedicated project in their home area. What started as a modest initiative for a friend in a wheelchair has grown into a significant community event, drawing in numerous volunteers and participants.

The Heart of the Operation: Volunteers and Community

The Adaptive Surf Project thrives on the dedication and enthusiasm of its volunteers. Every event sees a diverse group of individuals coming together, from seasoned surfers to skilled watermen and women, all united by a common goal: to make the ocean accessible to everyone.

“Our volunteers are phenomenal. They come out here and have more fun, I think, than half of everybody out here,” Chadwick notes with a smile. The volunteers’ roles are crucial, not just for the logistics of getting participants into the water, but also for ensuring safety and providing a supportive, encouraging environment.

Lauren Goodwin, one of the surfers, shared her initial apprehensions and how they were quickly dispelled by the supportive network around her. “The first time I went out, I was real excited but felt purely safe because I was surrounded by volunteers and surfboard experts,” she recalls.

Navigating the Waves: Safety and Techniques

Safety is paramount at the Adaptive Surf Project. Volunteers are not only experienced in water sports but are also CPR certified and regularly update their skills to ensure they can handle any situation that arises. The process of getting a participant from the shore to the surf is methodical and well-organized.

“We create a line of volunteers on one side and another line on the other. The surfer sits out in the deeper water and gets pushed in, falling through that line. If they fall off, there are volunteers ready to help them back on the board and out for more waves,” Chadwick describes.

This structured approach ensures that each participant can enjoy the experience fully, with minimal risk and maximum support. The camaraderie and teamwork among volunteers and participants alike create a family-like atmosphere that is both welcoming and exhilarating.

Emotional Impact: Stories of Triumph and Joy

The impact of the Adaptive Surf Project extends beyond the physical activity of surfing. It touches the hearts of participants and volunteers alike, creating lasting memories and profound emotional experiences. Chadwick recounts several touching stories, including those of individuals who have found renewed joy and freedom through surfing.

“We’ve taken folks out who were on their last leg in life and just wanted to get into the ocean one last time. We’ve had the honor of taking them out and letting them experience the ocean, whether it’s surfing or just sitting in the water. It’s a huge moment to be part of that,” she shares.

For many, the project provides a chance to reclaim a part of their lives they thought was lost forever. Whether due to injury or illness, the ability to engage with the ocean again brings a profound sense of joy and accomplishment.

The Gear and the Grit: Equipment and Resources

Adaptive surfing requires specialized equipment, from modified surfboards to floating chairs. These resources are essential but come with a significant cost. The project relies heavily on donations and sponsorships to maintain and update their gear.

“Our gear isn’t cheap. The boards are expensive, the chairs are expensive, and just having everyone out here costs a bit,” Chadwick admits. The support from the community and beyond is crucial in keeping the project afloat and ensuring that it can continue to serve those who benefit most.

Growing the Family: Expanding the Reach

Since its inception, the Adaptive Surf Project has seen significant growth, with numbers swelling to 45-50 surfers at each event. Despite this growth, the project has retained its intimate, community-focused atmosphere.

“We wanted it to stay a small community thing, and even as we’re growing, it still feels like a small community. Everybody knows everybody, everybody’s hanging out with everybody. It’s just like a big family day at the beach,” says Chadwick.

This sense of belonging and mutual support is a cornerstone of the project, fostering an environment where participants feel safe, supported, and part of something special.

How to Get Involved: Volunteering and Donations

The Adaptive Surf Project thrives on community involvement. Volunteers are always welcome, whether they have water skills or can assist with logistics and support on land. Additionally, donations are crucial to maintaining the quality and availability of equipment.

“We’re always looking for donations. Our gear is expensive, and having everyone out costs a bit. If anybody feels inclined to donate, we appreciate that,” Chadwick urges. Interested individuals can find more information and contact details on the Adaptive Surf Project’s website and social media platforms.

Riding the Waves of Change

The Adaptive Surf Project is more than just a surfing initiative; it’s a beacon of hope, inclusion, and community. Through the dedication of Christine Chadwick, her team, and a legion of volunteers, the project has transformed the lives of many, proving that with support and determination, the ocean’s waves are accessible to all.


Watch on YouTube – Christine Chadwick on Adaptive Surf Project of North Carolina – 6.15.24

00:13 Christine Chapman leads Adaptive Surf Project for people of all abilities

  • Project aims to bring people together to have fun and share waves regardless of abilities and backgrounds
  • Emphasis on volunteers who play a crucial role in making the experience enjoyable for all

01:13 Started Adaptive Surf Project in 2016

  • Got involved due to brother’s accident and passing away
  • Engaged surf community, volunteers, and professional surfers

02:12 Community-focused adaptive surf project in North Carolina

  • Started as a small initiative for wheelchair-bound individuals like Josh
  • Grew into a close-knit community with 45-50 surfers enjoying a family-like atmosphere

03:08 Experienced volunteers ensure safety and comfort in the water

  • Volunteers undergo CPR certification and regular training for safety measures
  • Process of helping surfers in and out of the water is compared to a bowling lane

03:56 Volunteers helping surfers and fostering camaraderie

  • Surfers returning with big smiles, appreciating support and camaraderie
  • Project’s positive impact seen through smiles and community support

04:57 Helping individuals find joy and healing through ocean experiences

  • Providing opportunities for individuals with disabilities to enjoy the ocean
  • Bringing together a supportive community to help individuals overcome challenges

05:54 Adaptive Surf Project NC welcomes donations for expensive gear

  • Contact info available on their website for inquiries and donations
  • Chairs used in the project are expensive but beneficial for participants

06:42 Adaptive surf project equipment and photography

  • The equipment includes floating chairs for the ocean
  • Today Christine is a photographer with a GoPro camera