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Background: Few researchers have examined the effects of surf programs on children with disabilities. Due to previous research findings, surfing is being used, as the focus of physical activity intervention due to its numerous health and therapeutic benefits.

Objective/Hypothesis: The purpose of this study was to explore the effects of an eight-week surfing intervention on various physical fitness measures in 71 children with disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, down syndrome, global developmental delays, and cerebral palsy. The study also sought to compare the differences in overall fitness levels between the surf therapy group and an unstructured pool playgroup. Researchers predicted significant differences in the surf therapy group.

Methods: The assessment procedure consisted of pre and post physical fitness measures selected from the Brockport Physical Fitness Test in two groups: surfing (n=71) and an unstructured aquatic program (n=20).

Results: The results demonstrated significant improvements in core strength (p = 0.00), upper body strength (p = 0.00), flexibility (p = 0.01) and cardiorespiratory endurance (p = 0.00) in the surfing group. However, there were no significant differences in overall fitness levels between the surfing and unstructured pool playgroups. Body composition measurements on the surfing group demonstrated a significant reduction in total body fat % (p = 0.016) and fat free mass (p = 0.008) and a significant improvement in bone mineral density (p = 0.004) pre to post surf therapy.

Conclusions: This research demonstrated the effectiveness and physiological benefits of surf therapy for children with selected disabilities.


Emily D. Clapham, Linda S. Lamont and Shabham Lateef are from the Department of Kinesiology.

Minsuk Shim is from the School of Education.