Vision for the Ocean – Melissa Reid, Paralympic Medalist and Surfing World Champion

This blog part of our ‘Vision for the Ocean’ series.

Launched on World Ocean Day, the series showcases inspirational stories of people and organisations who are seeking to protect the ocean and all it makes possible. We’re proud to call all these ocean lovers our friends and our partners in the fight for our blue planet.

By working together, we can achieve a thriving ocean, thriving people.

Melissa Reid is a decorated Paralympian, surfing world champion and a passionate Ocean Activist. Melissa was an inspirational speaker at our #EndSewagePollution protest in April where she spoke of how her connection to the ocean goes way beyond simply being a water lover. Melissa is visually impaired and she says the ocean provides a place for her to feel freedom and independence.

We caught up with Melissa to ask her a few questions.

What does the ocean mean to you?

It has technically given me a livelihood for the last ten years. Without the ocean, I wouldn’t have been able to compete in the countries I’ve competed in.

It’s the only place where I get independence and freedom. Where you are the same as everyone else.

As soon as I’m on land, to get anywhere, I become very dependent on others because I don’t drive. As soon as I hit the water all of that disappears.

What is it about being in the ocean that’s so much more special than having feet on the ground?

For me, it resets me, makes me feel again – normal, independent, happy. There’s something about being in the water that just makes you feel good no matter what. Whatever mood you’re in, you can channel that into a positive. Put me in the sea over land any day.

Tell us about your move to Cornwall when you were younger?

Our lives were the ocean when we moved down. There was nothing else really.

It was surf, surf lifesaving, come back get some food and then off you go. Everyone would stay for the weekend but not go home. We were in the sea all day.

It was the best decision my parents ever made. I had surf lessons on holiday when we used to come down here every year. It was more and more frequent and eventually we ended up just not going home.

What your vision is for the ocean: what you want to see happen and what it could look like if we get things right?

I think the most important change is everyone looking after what they have. It doesn’t matter if it’s ocean or green space. We need to look after what we have because it’s not going to be here forever, we’re not going to be here forever, so we should just cherish everything we have.

If everyone does their bit, the simple things like recycling, picking up rubbish, it makes a huge difference to the ocean. I just think, would you chuck plastic bottles and cigarettes in your bedroom? The answer is no – so why would you do it outside?

What do you see when you think of a healthy ocean?

I think it’s the sealife more than anything– the sealife coming back, having more nature and wildlife around.

I’ll tell you about the best thing I’ve seen in England in the sea.

I remember one year a seal came up to me every day when I went into the water, for a whole summer. It was the same seal every time.

We nicknamed him splodge. He was really close to everybody, it was amazing. They’re such a rarity now that you so excited when see one. Like oh my god! Seal!

And then another time when I was swimming with another visually impaired friend in California and she just pushed me and was like what is that – and I was like I don’t know! I can’t see that far away! She said there was fins up ahead – and then we ended up swimming with dolphins. It wasn’t like they were jumping out of the water, that was why she was petrified. My friend has no peripheral vision and she thought maybe they were sharks. It turned out they were dolphins, floating on their backs, chilling, and then eventually jumping out of the water. It was surreal.

 What’s the work that you want to celebrate that’s moving us in this direction?

I guess it links into a healthier ocean, but also a healthier mindset of using the ocean as medication, for antidepressant and PTSD. It’s killing two birds with one stone – less plastic waste from medication, and people are using the ocean to heal themselves.

Doctors are prescribing going in the ocean as a medication and it’s one of the best cures.

I know a lot of people who have used the ocean to get over things, especially out in the States. They take veterans in the sea instead of medicating them, letting them float and feel weightless. For a lot of them it has been lifesaving. If you can do that without medication – that’s the best option.

In June Melissa is going for the first time to compete in the adapted surfing contest – the first part is in Hawaii and the next part is in California in September. Then she’s flying out Indonesia to do blind surfing documentary.

You can follow Melissa’s work at @the_sightless_surfer on Instagram and via her website.  

Adapted surfing is for anyone who has a disability.