Below is the full transcript of this interesting talk to give it a listen click HERE
John: Let's go to something that I've no idea about. So, I'm gonna enjoy this one. Chris Schmidt is an SA handboarder. Now I need to understand what a handboarder is Chris?
Chris: Hi, John. Handboarding is basically with a set of flippers, your wet suit, and a device on your hand. And, you know, it has evolved from apparently serving trays and Frisbees. You are the board basically, that's handboarding. It's body surfing taken to the next level. And there are a lot of companies that basically are currently making these devices here in South Africa as well as overseas.
John: So let me understand this. I go bodysurfing when I go to the beach and Chris. It's one of the oldest forms of surfing. And then I see swimmers and they’ve got those like hand extensions when they're doing training. You've put the two of those things together?
Chris: Not quite. It's basically a paddle on your hand. You go sideways in the waves rather than straight forward. That is the fascinating thing. You get into the barrel like the surf board, but you haven't got the trouble of dragging the board around with you. You are the board. That's the beauty of the sport.
John: How do you win a competition?
Chris: How do you win a competition? I mean, there are competitions. They have even gone as far as doing forward flips and underwater takeoffs and riding those waves out as far as you can. I mean, the sport is old but it's also new and especially on the competitive side. And I can't say for myself that I have won in competitions, but I have taken part in two of them. And in South Africa we don't have so many but if you look overseas, in the States for example, it's quite a big thing. And if you go to Hawaii and even in Peru…if you look around on Instagram or Facebook, you'll find that there are more and more people actually doing this.
John: Now the reason we got a hold of you is that you are disabled or you have a disability. Talk us through your story.
Chris: My story, that was 1997. I made an unfortunate encounter with a vehicle and that left me with a paralyzed left arm and seven days in coma, oxygen and rehab and so forth. Basically it's a Paralysis and it’s three of the nerves that feed the arm or basically pull over the spine. So it's not mendable, but you can work with it and you can do actually everything with it. If you want…you know, like one arm, two arm, to me it doesn't really make a difference at all. And people that meet me don't even realize it.
It's not actually a disability or anything. I perceive it to an extent as an advantage. Like I gotta think outside of the box and it is somewhat an edge I find at times.
John: Why would you pick of all sports, something in water, where you need to be a good swimmer and you need two strong arms to be able to compete against some of those waves?
Chris: I gotta be honest. I think of that sometimes myself, you know, why the ocean. But quite frankly, the fascinating thing is the arm without muscles is somewhat heavy, it weighs down because the muscles don't hold it in place. So in the water it's weightless. In the water I don't feel the phantom pain because with paralysis, as anybody with a paralysis will be able to tell you you got phantom pain, loss of limb. And all that doesn't matter out there in the cold water. In a way, I guess it makes me feel a little bit more complete even though that's not necessarily what I'm looking for. But it's an added benefit of it.
Just like a month and a half ago, a friend of mine unfortunately, lost about half of his fingers and struggled to move. And he struggled to move the hand normally as if it was completely there. And the fascinating thing, when he comes out of the cold water, it’s, number one, pain free and number two, it gives him like the more flex on the fingers the weightlessness in the water because there's so much joy and positivity in catching waves, which I always knew I just couldn't access. But with a handboard, I can. With flippers, I can. You know, it's about equipment, about the right equipment for the job.
The ocean will teach you also to an extent where your limits are and that's good. But you also can have a hell of a fun in small ways.
John: Had you always been a sea person, a beach person?
Chris: Yes, definitely. But I couldn't access it. With the handboard, I can because the surface area of the handboard also allows me to have more torque combined with two strong legs which you eventually develop. I'm okay out there. I can get myself out of a rip, and also understanding the ocean as to what are the do's, what are the don'ts. How to manage a rip and so forth, speak to locals before going into the water and appreciate our friends that are out there with me as well at times. Being out there by yourself is always a risky business, but you never are because most of the surf spots have other people in.
You’re all right and you’re just gotta ask for help if you get into a situation where you're not feeling comfortable. It has also happened to me. That's also a lesson to be learned. You know, ask for help when you can't keep yourself a float anymore.
John: You mentioned it’s a good sport for people with leg disabilities.
Chris: Yes, of course. There was the doctors’ surfing championship. And there were people in the water that had never ever been in the water, on stand up paddle boards basically, lying flat and just catching waves, small waves, towards the shore. And the joy, happiness, smiles and stoke, as it's called, that I could see in those faces, it's priceless.
And I understand it. I fully, fully, fully relate to it. And I missed it for so long to be able to go in the water and not be afraid to lose touch with the ground and overcoming that as well and finding my way back into the ocean. One of the better things I've done in the last three, four, five years. I guess it took some swallowing some fear down and it still takes that sometimes but it's all worth it at the end. That's how I feel about it.
John: Have you been back on a bike since?
Chris: Yeah, I actually started commuting to town in Cape Town again. Most people don't think it's a smart idea, but I choose it over standing still in traffic and going nowhere. Seven K to work will take me can take up to an hour and a half. Seven Ks on a bus it can take you up 15 minutes. And I enjoy that sensation, almost equally to being out in the ocean. It just gives me a lot of joy. Even skateboard, I've been doing that since 1984 and I'm not planning on stopping that any time soon.
John: How do you overcome that fear? What is it that keeps you going? I imagine two accidents, at what point do you go, "No, I'm just gonna look after myself."
Chris: I'm looking after myself. The funny thing is, the other day I was riding home, from work riding home, and somebody opened the truck door. A passenger got out and I had to duck and dive, not dive completely but duck nicked me on the arm. And I would always thought if that happens I'm just gonna leave it. But, you know, you adapt and you just carry on. I just enjoy it too much. And it's also logical.
Standing an hour and a half in traffic, is illogical and going out there and doing things that you love and that gives you happiness, really. Like being out in the water, something that I observe with kids, adults alike, just catching waves, without a handboard, without flippers, straight towards the shore, it's somewhat I think childlike happiness that you can get out of it.
I've been riding bicycle my entire life. Yes, I had bad accidents on a bicycle but it's still the sensation that I enjoy very, very much. And this is something that we all should do. If you love something and gives you joy and happiness, do it.
Sure, do it with care. And you can't control what other people are doing, obviously, but don't shy away from it. You know, and I adapted my bicycle to accommodate my disability. And, you know, there are ways to get out there and are people that will help you. You just gotta find them.
John: Inspirational story. Chris Smith, thanks very much for joining us and good luck to you in the future.
Chris: Thank you. My pleasure.