Surf’s Up! How an inspirational young girl went from feeling like ‘a bit of dirt on the floor’ to winning an international surfing silver medal in California
Charlotte (pictured, left) has autism and cerebral palsy, as well as problems with her heart
From an early age, Charlotte’s life has been beset with problems. But after being introduced to surfing by a referral to The Wave Project, Charlotte's confidence – which once left her feeling 'depressed and useless' – has never been higher.
A Tough Start in Life
All a young child ever wants is to be able to join in with their friends.
But for Charlotte, that wasn’t always the case. Spending many months in and out of hospital as a child, she went on to be diagnosed with high functioning autism and cerebral palsy – as well as suffering from several problems with her heart.
This meant that, unfortunately, she missed out on many of the opportunities her friends had experienced during childhood.
But in 2011, at the age of 13, Charlotte was referred to a charity that was about to change her life: The Wave Project.
The Project, who run therapeutic surf sessions, aim to improve the emotional health of young people who are deemed socially isolated and have experienced mental health difficulties, family problems, disability, or traumatic experiences.
From there, Charlotte completing the Project’s six-week surfing course, soon going on to join the surf club.
"I felt depressed about myself and useless – like I couldn’t achieve anything."
A Real Lifeline
Charlotte says surfing makes her feel 'useful and cooler'
For Charlotte, the friends that she’s made and the confidence she has gained at The Wave Project have been completely transitional to her life, and to her recovery.
‘Before I did The Wave Project I didn’t have any hobbies,' explains Charlotte. 'I felt like a bit of dirt on the floor. I felt depressed about myself and useless – like I couldn’t achieve anything.'
‘The first day I went to The Wave Project, I was quite fragile and scared, but as soon as I set foot into the water it was the first time I properly felt positive and could be myself.'
Although Charlotte continued to have health setbacks and long stints in hospital over the next few years, she always managed to continued her surfing.
In 2013, she even won The Wave Project Courage Award at the charity's annual awards night, where she got to meet pro surfers Ben Skinner and Russell Winter.
The Spirit of a Champion
After winning her award, Charlotte became even more determined to give back to the Project, soon becoming a surf mentor and a volunteer at the Project.
Then, when the Project felt her confidence truly reached new heights, The Wave project put Charlotte forward for the Surfing England Team Adaptive Qualifiers in Cornwall – where she finished a fantastic fourth overall.
As a result, a 19-year-old Charlotte was selected to represent her country at the World ISA Adaptive in La Jolla, California.
After The Wave Project provided her with exclusive 1-to-1 surfing lessons with charity ambassador and former pro surfer Hannah Harding, Charlotte went on to win silver for England at the International surfing competition – Britain’s first such medal for 5 years!
In the space of just 6 years, Charlotte had gone from a quiet and shy young girl, to a confident, silver-medal baring surf champion of England.
Pictured: Former pro surfer Hannah Harding, who gave Charlotte 1-to-1 lessons before she headed to California
"When I put my wetsuit on I just think, 'The ocean’s a classroom and I could learn something new today.'"
Changing a Life
Just what is it that Charlotte enjoys so much about surfing, you ask? 'You just go in and surf a couple of waves and forget about everything,' she says. 'I feel useful and cooler because I can surf. ‘
Even Mum Tanya can't believe the difference the Project has made. ‘When Charlotte joined The Wave Project three years ago, she wasn't confident to do any activities because she found it too stressful fitting in with a group.
'The Wave Project is fantastic. If Charlotte couldn't surf, I don't think she would be quite so emotionally well as she is today.’
It’s clear to see just how much The Wave Project has changed Charlotte’s happiness, confidence and overall satisfaction in life.
‘I don’t think there’s a word that’s been created yet to describe how happy I am here,' says Charlotte. 'But if I didn’t surf with The Wave Project, I don’t think my life would be half as good as it is now.’