Ability Surf is delivered as Occupational Therapy

By Emma Bracken

Posted on 16 Jan 2020

Upon observing a session at Ability Surf you may perceive, on the surface, for the session to look like a “typical one on one surf lesson”. It is highly likely if this is the case though, you will most definitely be curious about specific strategies, activities and adaptations which take place in the session to make you think otherwise.

Ability Surf is significantly different from a typical one on one surf lesson, in that it is programmed and delivered by an Occupational Therapist, such that essentially, Occupational Therapy is being provided in the ocean. We provide goal measured therapy, ongoing documentation, implement appropriate teaching strategies within sessions to develop skills. We adapt and grade skills and the environment to promote success for our surfers.

Let’s dive a little deeper… The Canadian Model of Occupational Performance and Engagement (CMOP-E) can be used to encompass the OT essence of Ability Surf. Ability Surf views the performance and participation of an individual in occupational tasks, such as surfing, to be a result of an intricate interaction and interdependence of the person, occupation and environment.

The Canadian Model of Occupational Performance*

1. The Person

The approach of Ability Surf is a client/person-centred practice, in which the person is viewed holistically and all developmental domains are considered. This is evident through initial assessment, rapport building, observations and understanding an individuals’ strengths and goal setting.

2. The Occupation

The approach of Ability surf is to utilise the occupation component of ‘leisure’ and specifically the activity of ‘surfing’. Surfing is considered the meaningful occupation to the person in therapy. ‘Play’ is also another occupation used in sessions to provide therapy.

3. Performance

The approach of Ability surf is to align with understanding and developing skill performance in the follow areas:

  • affective (feeling) eg. Addressing emotional regulation during sessions (the client identifying/labelling emotions, self-regulation), social skills e.g. eye contact, imitation, body language, social skills groups
  • physical (doing) : for e.g motor planning to complete various steps and sequences of movement on the board, core strength, upper limb strength, bilateral coordination, sensory regulation: desensitizing to overwhelming ocean environments, proprioceptive input (pushing/pulling movements), tactile feedback, vestibular and balance, full sensory experience.
  • cognitive (thinking): concentration on tasks, memory of sequences and various skills, judgement of waves, promoting flexible thinking and coping with unexpected changes.

*Please note this is a brief overview of the intricate performance areas which are addressed in therapy sessions.

4. The Environment

The approach of Ability Surf is to utilise the natural environment of the ocean or bodies of water and beach, to facilitate therapy. Whilst there is a focus on using a surfboard in sessions, the therapy session also takes place in the ocean without a board and on sand. The social and sensory environment is also taken into consideration for sessions.

The essence of Ability Surf from an OT approach is for an individual with a disability to increase their independence and participation in an occupation which is meaningful to them (surfing) and to develop skills across all developmental areas using this occupation (surfing) as a vehicle to do so, in an environment which is motivating to them (natural environment- ocean and beach).

There is also an emphasis at Ability Surf of skill development and capacity building, in which parent involvement is required and in which there are opportunities for the person to transition to community groups or social skills surf therapy.

Ready to Share The Stoke? Get in touch with Emma and the team.

*Source: Enabling Occupation: An Occupational Perspective (1997; 2002) by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, with permission of CAOT Publications ACE, Ottawa, Ontario.



    We acknowledge the Bundjalung people of the Bundjalung Nation who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.
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