Hannah Dines: Former Para-cyclist on her new surfing career

By Sophie HurcomBBC Sport
Hannah Dines surfing
Former Para-cyclist Dines only began solo adaptive surfing last summer

When Para-cyclist Hannah Dines missed out on selection for the Tokyo Paralympics last summer, she assumed that spelled the end of her elite sporting career.

The 29-year-old finished fifth in the T2 Trike event at the Rio Games five years previously and was hoping to challenge for a medal when British Cycling told her she was not part of their plans.

At the end of every racing season, Dines always liked to do something different to switch off and reflect. With her cycling career seemingly over, she saw an opportunity to try surfing, a sport she had long wanted to attempt.

A year on and the Scot has completely swapped tarmac for water. Just months after first hitting the waves, Dines finished fourth in the World Para Surfing Championshipsexternal-link last December and is preparing to compete in the English Adaptive Surfing Championships in Bristol on Thursday.external-link

"I didn't make Tokyo but I managed to commentate on Tokyo as a pundit, it was brilliant, it was such a way to celebrate cycling. But I knew the sport was over for me," Dines told BBC Sport.

"I was expecting myself to be sad about it but it wasn't hitting me."

Dines has cerebral palsy - a condition that affects movement and coordination - and tried tandem surfing once before, where another person lies on the board behind you. This time, she wanted to learn to surf solo and got in touch with Surfability UK, an adaptive surf school in the Gower, Swansea.

She ended up spending two months there last summer living out of her van, surfing constantly and discovered her cycling skillset translated to the water.

"I didn't see it as a sport. I thought 'this is helping me, something physical helping me get over cycling'," Dines said.

"I realised - I did trike racing and trike racing is really wobbly - when you're going downhill you're always off balance, and I'm always off balance because I've got a balance disorder. When you're actually surfing prone like I am, it's kind of the same, except when you fall off you've got water not tarmac.

"So I started to be like, 'wow, I've got a knack because I know what to do when things go pear-shaped, when you're off-balance'. I just had to learn how to read the waves."

'A miracle of engineering'

While the Scottish Surfing Federation do not as yet have a disability surf team due to the newness of the sport, Manchester-based Dines began surfing more and more, linking up with Surfing England and the Wave, an inland surfing lake near Bristol.

Within months she was invited to compete at the World Para Championships in California and finished fourth in her prone 2 assist discipline. The event took advantage of learning from the best.

"Seeing those women surfing, I was studying them. There was really good drone footage, filming us all and filming all the best waves. I was zooming in and watching and trying to do it myself on land and in the sea," Dines said.

Hannah Dines
Dines competes for Team England's adaptive surf squad in international competitions

Dines, who was born in Manchester but grew up in Glasgow, also previously competed as a frame runner. She calls adaptive surfing a "miracle of engineering".

"There's loads of different classifications. Some people just need special legs if they've lost a leg, but people like me who are really wobbly and fall off all the time, we go hard with the adaptations on the board," she said.

"We can do handles on the top of the board, we have fins on the top of the board, to stop the legs sliding off. The fins on the underside are a bit further up to grip the wave in a different way because the pressure you're applying to the board is in a different place. Anybody can do anything they want if they have a good board shaper who's willing to try."

Adaptive surfers also need assistance when they are surfing, in case they end up disorientated in the water.

"You do need two able bodied people in the water, just in case you're upside down or you don't know which way is up," Dines added.

"Somebody helps you paddle and somebody helps push you into the waves as well. That is probably the biggest adaptation and the hardest. People power is really tricky.

"You have to convince really good surfers that they don't want to surf those amazing waves, but you do."

Hannah Dines competing in the WT2 time trial at the 2015 Para-Cycling Road World Championships
Dines competed at the World Championships and in World Cups during her Para-cycling career

Surfing made its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games last year but adaptive surfing does not yet have a place in the Paralympics.

As a burgeoning sport, the programme is still growing and Dines currently competes in mixed gender events as the participation levels grow.

"We need people to turn up, to try it out, to make the body of surfers. You need to hit certain targets in terms of nations, in terms of disabilities and gender to make it to the Paralympics to become that level of sport," Dines said.

On 7 July, Dines will come full circle when she competes at the English Adaptive Surfing Championships, an event she watched as a spectator a year ago.

Among her team-mates competing are Melissa Reid, Pegleg Bennett, David Lewis and Zoe Smith, who all won medals at last month's Hawaii Adaptive Surfing Championships.external-link

Dines says she still has plenty to learn about her new sport alongside balancing a full-time job.

Yet the lure of elite competitive sport, something she thought was behind her a year ago, remains inside and she is enjoying seeing where surfing takes her.

"I actually still can do anything I want to do. I'm not a Paralympian anymore, because I'm not aiming for the Paralympics, but the mindset is definitely still there," Dines added.

"I came fourth at the Worlds - you can never say why. Beginner's luck, maybe? But also, I want to show that it's not beginner's luck. The best thing I love about sport is developing your skills, so wherever I started to one year better, I just want to show those skills.

"I want to show how lovely it is to ride a wave properly. When a wave is your engine that's the best thing ever."

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