The original inspiration behind our adaptive Wetsuit Project, we caught up with Andrew Birkett two years on from our first Blue Friday weekend. With over 100 wetsuits now adapted for individuals and surf schools, we asked Andrew about the impact his story has had and how access to the water continues to give him freedom and respite.
Andrew Birkett: The Freedom It Gives Me
3 min read
Film by Greg Dennis
Photography by Abbi Hughes
Interview by Zak Rayment
It's been a couple of years since we last spoke, how have things have changed for you in that time?
Two years ago we were beginning our journey of moving southwards from Bristol. It wasn’t easy, but we're here now and lucky enough to have Praa Sands just 5-10 minutes from our house. It’s a dream to be that close to the sea and to have access to it whenever we want. We can be out of work in the evening and then down to the beach and straight in the sea.
Does having the adapted wetsuit add to that? It’s one less barrier for you…
Yeah, totally! To have that option to go in a moment, rather than it be a complex planned trip, is huge. You’re able to just do it and enjoy it – which is absolutely how it should be for as many people as possible! I think what people get out of the water is different for everyone, but by adapting these suits and taking those barriers away, hopefully that’s allowing people to explore it. It might still not be for some, but others could discover something they never thought was possible.
Since that initial Blue Friday, we’ve adapted over 100 wetsuits for individuals, surf schools and charities. How does it feel to know that you’ve had a hand in inspiring that?
Yeah it's pretty cool! It was a brief conversation, an off-chance discussion that's grown into something really special. For kids specifically, I think it helps break the stereotypes and preconceptions around who can do what. We are in a freer world in some ways, but we haven't reached equality from a disability point of view. There’s sometimes still this preconception that disabled people “can’t” or “shouldn’t” do certain things, but I think this allows people to see something that they maybe weren't expecting, and to broaden their thought on it.
When you're a kid, you think you can do whatever you want! And to an extent, you can… but when there's other people telling you you can't, that's the barrier a lot of the time. Or it could be the world and environment around you - it's not that you can't do it, it's just not set up for you, and the facilities around you are not conducive to it.
Now that you’re living in Cornwall and you’re spending more time in the water, do you find those benefits carry through to your everyday life?
Well, I can be a bit grouchy at times and my wife Laura always says, if I’ve had the hump or whatever, if I can be in or around the sea there is always a marked difference. It’s like my outlook has been… lightened. It just has that ability to wash away the day and allow me to be in the moment. Not a lot of life is like that, so that’s what I really like about the sea.
There's a line in the original film where you say, “I don't consider myself a surfer”… Would you say that's changed?
Haha! No, I still don't consider myself a surfer. I just enjoy and continue to enjoy being in the sea. It's the whole package really – the smell, the sound, the feel… And, like I said in that video, that sense of freedom that I just don't have when I'm moving around on land. That ability to let go and let the sea hold me up. It’s always, still to this day, a transformative experience.