When Visual Disability Turns to SUP Innovation
Sébastien Le Meaux, former international judoka and now seasoned SUP rider, suffers from an incurable condition that drastically limits his eyesight. In spite of this, Sébastien is an exceptional rider and participates in a number of highly demanding races every year.
His will and desire to push himself to the limit has helped him come up with a new way of SUP riding: Tandem SUP.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience as a SUP rider and perhaps give us some insight into your condition and how it affects you ?
I suffer from a genetic condition called Stargardt’s Disease. I contracted it at the age of 17 following an accident. My eyes are extremely sensitive to light and I am required to wear sunglasses permanently as a result. There is no specific treatment for this condition. I have a a kind of general vision of things, but when I want to focus on something in particular my eyesight simply doesn’t allow me to.
I have to rely on my memory a great deal in order to remember the upcoming obstacles in a given race or circuit. My friend Loic Olivier introduced me to SUP and I very quickly developed a taste for it, despite the difficulties it posed. It’s not an easy thing for me to maintain my balance on the board and to manage the balance of others during the various races I participate in. But I get through it.
You also participated in some tandem races. What can you tell us about these experiences?
Our first experience racing in tandem was at Poissy (France), and what a great experience it was. When doing a race in tandem like this, there are of course two paddlers, one of which acts as guide. The guide remains close-by and actively participates in managing the race in terms of direction and wave control, while I can devote myself entirely to paddling, without having to worry too much about bumping into other competitors or getting lost.
I trust my guide completely, and this partnership allows me to power ahead and just have fun with it!
Recently, a local shop in Brest, Swelladdiction, organised a city race that we participated in and it was another great experience. We plan to take part in such races every time the organizers are willing to allow it.
Do you think Tandem SUP has great potential ?
I do. Today, Tandem SUP is of particular interest to people with disabilities. But it could also be really interesting for couples. For everyone in fact! Two people paddling at once makes it a different experience, so long live tandem I say!
It takes a bit of getting used to at first, but you quickly get the hang of it. I’m working on a new tandem partnership with Patrice Remoiville of 3 Bay Paddle. The board will be slightly wider and it will be hollow, which will grant us more stability on downwinds.
What are your plans going forward as a SUP rider ?
This year, we wish to participate in the French championship (12,6′ and 14′). We’ll begin with the “Dordogne Intégrale” long-distance race down the Dordogne river (130 km) in France at the end of May, before taking on the World Ultra Marathon 24h in Spain, and finally, the 11 City Tour. This will all be done in tandem of course. I’m really looking forward to it and I can’t wait to get out there and push ourselves to the very limit.
I still need these challenges to prove that I am capable and that I’m out there. But I also want to make my daughter proud, as she is everything to me, of course.