Almost anyone who’s ever learned to surf will attest to the uniqueness of the experience. There’s something about braving a wave—being taken by it, really—and riding one of the earth’s great powers. Experience it and there’s a big chance you want others to do it too: “Dude, you have to try surfing.”
But what if you’re talking to someone who is neurodiverse or has a disability?
If your name is Cyril Cox and you’re the owner of the Big Blue Surf School in Bude, UK, that doesn’t faze you—they too have to try surfing. Better yet, Cyril will make it so. Working with adaptive surfing since the age of 16 and among one of the first to qualify as an ISA Adaptive Surf Instructor, he’s uniquely qualified for the job. And if you ever find yourself on Summerleaze Beach whilst Cyril is teaching one of his adaptive lessons—prepare to be inspired.
First, a little history.
Big Blue Surf School started way back in 1999 when Cyril was only one year old. Suffice it to say, Cyril didn’t always run one of Bude’s premier surf schools. If anything, for most of his life Cyril didn’t even know he wanted to own a surf school.
That Cyril, 20-odd years later, is doing just that is testament to another unique feature of Big Blue: their outstanding Kid’s Club. It’s where Cyril started surfing and nowadays it’s still Big Blue’s biggest recruitment tool, says Cyril: “Over 50% of our instructors started in Kid’s Club. At Big Blue people grow up on the waves right here in Bude. It helps them understand the conditions we get.” Kid’s Club does more than supply instructors, though: “Two of our old members, Beth and Emily, who were also instructors, went on to become British surfing champions.”
After finding his passion for surfing in Kid’s Club, Cyril became an instructor under former owner Matt. Then, in 2018, Matt gave Cyril the first right of refusal to take over Big Blue Surf School and Cyril jumped at the chance.
He wasn’t the only one in his family.
Cyril’s mother, Gill Cox, joined her son to help him run the school day-to-day. She’s the one who manages bookings and makes sure everything’s ready for instructors to do their job. She is, of course, immensely proud of her son, especially how he handles the adaptive lessons for people with disabilities. “That was always a big part of Big Blue,” Gill says, “But Cyril’s really taken it to a new level. Before it was something they did from experience, but now we’re officially qualified. It’s immensely satisfying and just something we love to do.”
To support everyone to try their hand at surfing Big Blue discounts their adaptive lessons. To do so, they depend on their ‘normal’ lessons to run smoothly, “And VIKING helps us do that,” says Gill. “We used to have this clunky system for booking, and, you know, we made do with it—until they tripled their cost overnight and that was the moment we decided to look for something better.”
“I came across VIKING and got a demo from Dirk. He was just brilliant, so helpful. He understood how we ran our school and helped us set up the whole system. That’s why we chose VIKING surfschool management software, they’re a really nice company to work with.”
With a team of amazing instructors that grew up at Big Blue and his mother taking care of bookings, Cyril has his hands free to do what he loves most.
“The student that stands out for me is Frances,” says Cyril, referring to one of his students taking adaptive lessons with him. “”She’s been coming for about five to six years, has autism, and is non-verbal. When I took over her lessons four or five years ago, it was hard to communicate with her. As someone who is nonverbal but very physically able, she relies on sport and physical activity to help her communicate and adjust to her day-to-day life. Through our lessons together we worked on simple things like balance and catching the right wave where it was easy for her to focus and helped her feel comfortable around me and other surfers in the water. She just kept getting better and better and today she’s an amazing surfer, paddling out in the biggest waves with me.”
“That’s what we work for at Big Blue, a sign that everyone can come surf with us.”
And we’re immensely proud that VIKING can play a small part in helping Cyril and Big Blue Surf School show that water sports are for everyone. So, whoever you come across today, whatever their (dis)ability, let them know: “Dude, you have to try surfing.”