PHOTOGRAPHY BY AMY MAIDMENT
WORDS BY VICTORIA McINTYRE
Zoe grew up on the south coast, always in and around the ocean. After losing her left leg in a car accident, she saw adaptive surf legend Pegleg Bennett surf with his prosthesis and was inspired to give it a try during the 2020 lockdown.
She now represents Team England and works hard to allow herself the opportunity to travel the world, competing in the Adaptive Surfing Championships.
A determined and strong woman, Zoe talks to us about the competitive world of adaptive surfing, the technical aspects of surfing, and offers some pretty powerful observations on life along the way.
It’s important to you to explain why you had to have your leg amputated, to raise awareness of safety. Can you share your story with us?
I was out on a run and one of my friends was driving by. She tooted her horn and pulled over so I could jump in her car. I sat in the passenger seat and I was taking off my running shoes so I had both of my feet on the dashboard. We were driving along a national speed limit road, somewhere between 50 to 60 miles per hour. There was a left turn ahead of us and a guy travelling in the opposite direction misjudged his timing and crossed to take the turn straight in front of us instead of waiting for us to pass. There was nothing we could do, we hit him side on. As a reflex, I moved my right foot off the dashboard, but my left leg was still on there. The airbag goes off at 250 miles per hour and the resulting trauma to my left leg was the equivalent of a mine explosion or an aviation injury. I was actually really lucky. It did wreak havoc on my leg, but what normally happens if you have your feet on the dashboard and you have an impact like that, is that as you are propelled forward with the momentum of the car, your limbs are forced back towards you by the airbag, so you get a meeting in the middle with the skull and knees. It can kill you. So I was lucky that the end result was that I just lost my left leg below the knee.
How did you get into the world of surfing?
I’ve grown up near the beach and I’ve always been a bit of a water baby. I love body boarding. I’d done a little bit of surfing here and there when I was travelling before my accident, but I’ve never really had the concentrated time that you need to learn a sport as technical as surfing. It was during lockdown that I started looking at The Wave in Bristol. It’s a new-ish facility for surfing and I saw that they did an adaptive surfing competition. One of the lads in the team was an amputee, I couldn’t fathom how he could surf. Bear in mind I’d done a bit before my accident, and I just couldn’t understand how you could surf with a prosthetic. It seemed impossible. I booked a couple of lessons and went along. A few lessons had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 and then the lake froze over, but eventually I got there. I’d only done it a few times and somebody came over and said ‘do you fancy joining the England team? We’re going off to California in December. Get training.’ And that was it really! I’ve been quite lucky that I set up my own business meaning I can work from home, and I’m quite flexible which has allowed me to get involved.
Read Zoe's full interview in Issue 01 of Club71