I’d been invited to go on a bit of an ‘adventure weekend’ by Cleo, the one-woman powerhouse behind a business she lives and breathes – Celtic Quest Coasteering. Having not heard much about coasteering previously, I agreed blindly, simply thinking ‘yes, I love water!’ Little did I know, I was about to get much more acquainted with it than I had previously thought…
Being a wheelchair user and a pretty good swimmer has always been a real bonus for me; I’ve been able to feel weightless and free in the water, walking around without putting pressure on my legs nor feeling any pain. Any water activity seems to really strike a chord with me as I immediately feel as though I’ll achieve something new, although scrambling around in the water is usually tiring and tough. In both cases, coasteering proved to be no different.
Coasteering, in the most basic sense, involves getting into the water, finding amazing things like rock surfaces, slides and currents that nature has created, and getting involved with them, whether that be jumping off a ledge from a height of 20ft and crashing into the water face-first (like I did), giving your backside a good workout as it slides down a pretty vertical rock-face to plunge you straight under (I did that too) or facing the current of what Cleo and her team call ‘the washing machine’ (yep, you guessed it!)
Cleo and I had met eighteen months prior to my crazy water adventure, at a small ‘accessibility expo’ in Pembrokeshire. She blatantly adored her job and immediately told me that I had to try coasteering – she wasn’t wrong! Celtic Quest Coasteering has won numerous awards, including recognition for their dedication to making coasteering as inclusive and accessible as possible. Don’t get me wrong, coasteering isn’t for you if you don’t get on with water and struggle to feel confident in it. For those of us with disabilities, I’d be lying if I said that it is 100% accessible for everyone; it is hard work and you have to put your trust in others, whilst accepting that you’re going to be chucked around by the water and ache for a few days after. But is it worth it? Abso-bloody-lutely.
It all started with wetsuits – which was arguably one of the hardest parts! Once you’ve got all your kit on, you’ll think the rest is a doddle! The lovely Cleo helped me shuffle into everything and provided me with all the equipment I would need, including head protection and a pair of old trainers to scramble around in. All I had to do was bring a swimming costume, a couple of towels and a willing attitude. Top tip: ladies, cut your nails before you start wriggling into a wetsuit; I learnt the hard way… Then, Cleo and her team (four amazing guys with the strength and banter needed for an enjoyable day) dragged me and my chair across the beach and into the water. So far, so good. It was recommended that I held onto the guys and the floats provided rather than swimming all the way around this watery playground by myself, and I happily accepted! Looking back, it was a blessing that I saved all my energy for what was to come.
First, we used the current and strength of the water to ‘body surf’ over small rocks – a euphoric feeling of weightlessness and I couldn’t stop giggling! Next was a backwards dive off a small ledge into the water with the guys there to support me. More squeals. I was having SO MUCH FUN. After that: the washing machine – a challenge for me as I can’t cope with being on my back in the water; there’s something about the lack of control that really scares me. Again, the whole team supported and encouraged me to let the current take me and the waves wash over me as I entered the human washing machine. And that they did, going all up my nose! But I did it! The two real challenges started after my wash – I had to clamber up a rock face to slide down the other side of it. I was determined to do it, but had lost all strength in my body by this point. I tried and tried, but my legs just kept slipping off any ledges and my arms couldn’t hold me up anymore. No matter, the lads spun me into a seated position and literally slid me up the rock face to the top. A long way to look down, but with a huge scream I skidded down the face on my back and plunged into the water feet-first – an amazing feeling. I suddenly felt so capable. I can’t walk but I can definitely slide into the water! Then the last but biggest task; jumping off a 20ft ledge into the water. Again, the guys lifted me up with some amazing team work, constantly making sure I was comfortable and happy. I can’t stand or jump, so I sat on the ledge, wriggled right to the edge so I was nearly hanging off, and I went for it. My dive turned into more of a belly-flop and my face crashed into the water, stinging and then going numb for a while… but I did it again so it can’t have been that bad. In fact, it was pretty incredible. The adrenaline of the whole three hours in the water was amazing, and I’m getting all giddy just writing about it!
In short, if you like a challenge, want to do something exciting, know your limits and capabilities and don’t mind getting lifted around by some pretty hot men: go coasteering, you’ll flipping love it. Able-bodied or not.