Imagine trying to get into a wetsuit.
Now imagine trying to get into a wetsuit without the use of your arms or legs.
In 2016, adaptive surfer and Paralympian Ann Yoshida came to the Sports Product Design Program at the University of Oregon in Portland looking for a partner to develop better-performing products for differently abled surfers.
“Athletes like Ann are a great inspiration to our students. They challenge us with real ‘wicked problems’ and push us to think beyond what has already been done in the sports product innovation space,” said Director of the UO’s Sports Product Design Program Susan Sokolowski.
As sports product designers, UO students Natasha Anand, Drew McGrath, and Nick Cantrell see the needs of adaptive athletes largely underrepresented in the sports product industry, so they jumped at the opportunity to work with Yoshida and to help others gain access to the amazing physical and emotional benefits of surfing.
The students shared that Yoshida’s remarkable resilience in the face of losing her mobility inspired them to create products to enable her and other adaptive athletes to surf and enjoy the freedom of being in the ocean.
So, when in January the students learned about the #CREATE4AdaptiveSurfing, the first-ever adaptive wetsuit design competition, the idea of competing fit them like a glove—or a wetsuit.
Sponsored by Adaptive Surfing South Africa and Reef South Africa, the competition was open to international competitors. The UO’s Sports Product Design student team took first place over submissions from around the world, including ones from professionals, academics, and even surfers.
The team’s winning wetsuit design will now be manufactured by Reef South Africa to help adaptive surfers in need. The students are thrilled to be making a real-world impact through their design innovation.