OPINION: Meet three time Paralympic surfing world champion Melissa Reid

North Devon Gazette

The South West is home to some of the best waves in the UK, so it seems natural that Devon and Cornwall would be home to some of the most well-known names in surfing, like Melissa Reid. She’s an athlete that has made history as the first ever Visually Impaired Women's world champion. Â

This past December, she earned her third world title at the International Surfing Association World Para Surfing Championships. Â She also received a paralympic Bronze medal for triathlon in Brazil 2016. As a multi-hyphenate sporting powerhouse, Reid still only has 1,084 Instagram followers and no brand sponsorships. Everything that she has earned, came from sheer determination and grit.Â

“To come away winning the world championships for the third year in a row was just - words can't even describe it,” says Reid. The International Surfing Association (ISA) is the world governing body for surfing, and has held world adaptive surfing competitions since 2015.Â

“It takes it from a solo sport to a team sport,” says Reid. Reid is blind in one eye, and partially sighted in the other. Visually impaired athletes like Reid are permitted to choose a surf guide to give verbal cues in the water. The surfer must relinquish their trust to their guide to be able to surf at an optimum level. Reid’s surf guide is Matt Harwood, a top surfer from the Isle of Wight, who has worked with Reid since 2020.Â

“Your whole contest is in his hands,” says Reid. “He is really close to me, and that’s more so that no one else can hear what our tactics are, because everyone speaks English in the water. We paddle out together, he will tell me how far out a wave is, will give a countdown, tell me how it is breaking, whether it's steep or not. On the day, he picked the best waves and it was mentioned several times that his wave selection was brilliant.”Â

Adaptive surfing has gained momentum in recent years, and the UK has pioneered surfing projects for people with disabilities, with organizations like the Wave Project, providing easily-accessible opportunities for budding surfers with disabilities. But when Reid was growing up, the same opportunities didn’t exist.Â

“When I had my first lesson, my parents just lied and said that I could see and I’d be fine. Not having to lie nowadays, I think, is the biggest step forward. But just because someone has some sort of disability or condition doesn’t mean that they should not be able to try it, and I think surfing is one of the few sports at the moment which is really open to allowing everyone to try.Â

“I would love to see more support in adaptive surfing. I mean, everyone who went out to California from the English team did it self-funded. There’s no sponsorship at the moment. I’m going to be funding two sports self-funded next year, which is going to be a huge challenge. If I was an able-bodied athlete with three world titles in surfing, I would have no end of sponsorship.”Â

With three world championships under her belt, Reid hopes to continue the momentum. Â

“The next goal is to become fourth time world champion,” said Reid. “I would love to be able to make a career out of surfing. But I also want to do the Commonwealth Games triathlon this summer.”Â

Reid is also in the beginning stages of setting up a charity that supports athletes who are out of sight. “I want to help support anyone whatever their desires are who have an out of sight condition,” says Reid.Â

“Because I never had support in triathlon or surfing because it’s not visible what’s wrong with me. So funding, grants and sponsorships were always way more challenging. It’s just to get rid of that stereotype that you have to see someone’s disability for it to be there.”