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Years ago, Dean Bushby, a computer network engineer from Leeds, United Kingdom, fell off a motorcycle he was riding in Thailand. Loss of his leg was the consequence. Over the next five years during the healing process, the former rugby enthusiast was unable to do much physical exercise. Simply walking with his new prosthetic was what he had to learn first.

A series of coincidences two years ago while visiting Costa Rica brought him to Tamarindo, where he met Eric Atkinson of Salty Sols Surf School. The instructor was taken with Bushby’s positive attitude and suggested he try surfing by laying on a board.

‘I thought, why not give it a go?’


Eric holding Dean’s board

“I thought I’d give it a whirl,” Bushby said. “Before then I had not been in the ocean for 15 years. I thought, why not give it a go?”

It became clear that the pair could work together to get Bushby up and riding.

Dean Bushby, adaptive surfer

“He had a lot of fun being in the water,” recalled Atkinson. “And we did try and figure out how he could pop up, but the best he could do was get to his hands and put the back foot down.” Bushby has evolved with persistence. Initially, he returned to England and got a prosthetic to use in the water, which he would strap on under his wetsuit shorts. The first few visits to Tamarindo, he popped up on a SUP board because of its floatation.

Since encouraging Dean Bushby to try surfing with a prosthetic, Eric Atkinson of Salty Sols Surf School (left) has continued working with him on adaptive refinements, sometimes with Larry Larson (right) helping in the water.

“It was brand new to both of us,” said Atkinson, explaining the process. “On the first day, Dean put his right foot back, but it was tough with the prosthetic in front because the front leg is the one that does a lot of movement for surfers. So, we switched it up, back leg prosthetic. That actually worked a whole lot better. That’s when he stood up and rode it.”

Yet, it was still not optimum: “There was no bend in the prosthetic,” said Atkinson.

Prosthetic breakthrough

As a result, upon his next return to England, Bushby discovered Fabrizio Passetti, the French adaptive surfer who had worked with Infinite Technologies Orthotics and Prosthetics (ITOP) to create a prosthetic with mountain bike technology. This really helped Passetti surf the big waves like those in Padang Padang, Bali.

Dean Bushby got himself that prosthetic and learned how it worked to control a surfboard. At the same time, he paddled in a pool using a Surfinshape training board and practiced at home on a large balance board. He followed international adaptive surfing for tips to put into play on his next visit to Tamarindo. This time, the Atkinson-Bushby team reversed foot positions again — prosthetic in front. And Dean advanced to a typical 10-foot longboard, started paddling into the waves himself and riding all the way to the shore.

“I moved up to catching green waves south of Playa Grande,” he said. “It blew me away. I found confidence this year.”

Of his “crazy” achievement, he concluded, “I would never have dreamed of this and it’s absolutely amazing. I’m in better shape, physically and mentally, so the sky’s the limit.”

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