Nuno Vitorino lives to surf

The interview with Nuno below was written in 2017 and just a snapshot. I have no idea how he is doing now. 

On a sunny Monday afternoon, Nuno Vitorino is driving me to the place that is very special to him: Cascais beach. It takes some 30 minutes to drive thereto from Lisbon. He chose this place with reason. Whenever he finds the time, Nuno can be found at the beach. Surfing. ‘Every time I’m at the beach, I feel butterflies in my belly’, he tells me. Surfing is his life and he wants to offer all Portuguese disabled people the possibility to experience the same sensation. 


Nuno Vitorino got paralysed at the age of 18 by a shooting accident. He and his friend had found a gun that suddenly went off in the hands of his friend. Although he has been sitting in a wheelchair since then, he still is a very active sporter. ‘I was a Portuguese Paralympic swimmer until the age of 29, but already before my accident I had surfed. That sport has my real passion.’ Out of this passion he founded Associacao Portugeasa de Surf Adapto (the Portuguese Association for Adapted Surfing) in 2009.   

Almost everybody is able to surf

Whether one has a physical disability, a visual impairment or an intellectual disability: almost all people with a disability who like to can learn to surf. Young and old. That’s the starting-point of Nuno. He tells me even I could learn it. Me? I can’t swim. I have a bad balance. Can’t use my right arm. Yes, I can. He tells me how. The surfboard should have an extra device which I can grab with my left hand and a support for my chin. Four volunteers of the association would make sure I wouldn't fall into the water by holding me tight.

‘As long as you can go into the water, you’re able to surf somehow. Our association has got experience with many different kinds of disabilities. Blind people for instance who feel the sea, experience a special sensation. But, most people who come here are paraplegics, more men than women. One has to have strong muscles to manage big waves. I do a lot of physical training myself. Surfing is possible throughout the year. Summertime is the best period for most people with a disability. The waves are not too big then. You can surf one time during an event or follow individual lessons. For the lessons, one has to pay a small contribution.’

Is it easy talk of Nuno? You can see Nuno in action himself in this YouTube video. Images start after some 20 seconds. 

Well known in Portugal
Most disabled people in Portugal are familiar with the association that works with volunteers only. Nuno is one of those volunteers who instruct surfing teachers how disabled people can surf. The volunteers also visit institutions for disabled children to inform them about the possibility of adapted surfing. During the already mentioned events 250 disabled people in total surf each year. They are being supported by 100 volunteers. Organising these events asks a lot of preparation and money.
‘We do have six events a year, throughout the whole country: Alentejo, Madeira, Tocha, Lourinha, Porto, Carcavelos (Cascais). One single event costs around 10,000 euro. We only accept sponsor money, so we hold everything in our own hands. Should we accept money from the government or municipalities, they would set conditions on how to organise the events. That’s something we don’t want.’
The Associacao Portuguesa de Surf Adapto is the only association for adapted surfing in Europe. In other parts of the world there are similar organisations present. For instance in the USA, Brasil and Australia. Nuno has contact with those other organisations and also receives interested surfing teachers from European countries like Spain, Germany and The Netherlands. To make sure the association can continue its work, Nuno hopes to be able to employ one or two paid persons at the end of the year. ‘Their main job to be done is to consolidate all the work that comes along with being able to organise events. The free supply of the right materials (adapted surfboards, wetsuits), the participation of sponsors with regard to other necessities and facilities. At the moment, my most important partner in taking care of this is Marta Restolho in her role of partnership manager. Martha works in Lisbon as Adapted Sports Coordinator. Her work for the association is also on a strictly volunteering basis. Another thing I hope to realise is a competition for disabled surfers in Portugal. We are cooperating with the Portuguese Surfing Association to see whether we can realise this. ’
The sea is everything for Nuno
Nuno can’t give all his time to the association. To make a living, he works part-time for the Lisbon municipality. As soon as he has the chance, he drives to the beach where many people know him (he was being stopped several times the hours I spent with him in Cascais) and where he feels at ease the most. During our talk, he keeps on repeating there’s nothing more beautiful than being at the beach on a sunny day. Surfing on the waves. The bigger they are, the better he likes them. Nuno has two sons, but has never been married. The mother of his sons told him he spent too much time on surfing. Something he can’t deny. ‘I don’t earn a big income, but I’m happy in Lisbon. As long as I can surf, can go to the sea, I have enough. Surfing means mental therapy for me, a mental rehabilitation. I will continue my work for the association as long as they want me to.’
More could be said about the association and especially about adapted surfing. But, with regard to the latter images say more than words. In case you have become interested in adapted surfing and wish to know more how it could be done, you can always look at the social media of the association. First there’s the website Surf Adaptado At the moment, it’s only in Portuguese, but it will be translated into English soon. Furthermore, there’s the Facebook page It keeps you updated with the latest upcoming events and projects, in Portuguese, and also videos of those events can be watched. I’m curious who will have the guts to take the challenge of adapted surfing him or herself. Let me know when you did!
Copyright text and pic: Johan Peters, May 27th 2017 - ...