His name is Aitor ‘Gallo’ Francesena, he’s a stalwart of the Basque Country surf scene, and he’s coach to several of Europe’s top professional surfers, Aritz Aranburu among them.
He also happens to be completely blind in both eyes, and has been ever since a lifelong genetic disease was compounded by a bad wipeout several years ago. And yet, once he hits his stride, he feels his way along the wave with the preternatural sure-footedness of a Jedi knight. Earlier this year he competed at the inaugural ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship, in training for which he surfed at nighttime in order to eliminate the risk of collision with others.
Recently, he went to surf the Wave Garden in Zarautz. “If you could open up my head,” said Aitor afterwards, “thousands of love hearts would fly away.” And ain’t that just one of the most beautiful things you ever heard?
Have a read of the press release from Wave Garden:
Basque surfer, Aitor ‘Gallo’ Francesena, 44, who is without eyesight, recently tested the waves at Wavegarden’s headquarters in north Spain. In a truly touching moment, this was the first occasion a blind person has surfed in the lagoon, attesting to the level of safety and security for end-users.
Gallo, a well-known personality in the township of Zarautz, Spain, suffers from a serious genetic disease that has impaired his vision all of his life. And, following a wipe-out while surfing a few years back, unfortunately, lost his sight entirely.In spite of his condition, and after only a few minutes of assistance, remarkably, Gallo surfed the open face wave in the expert area with style and flare.
A true inspiration to all that know him, Gallo has never let his disability stand in the way of his passion for surfing. His impressive list of personal achievements include writing a book on surf training, competing in international disabled surf events, establishing a surf school, and coaching some of Europe’s top surfers including World Championship Tour professional, Aritz Aranburu.
Over the past 10 years Wavegarden’s prototypes have been tried and tested by hundreds of surfers from all experience levels – from world champion surfers, to men, women and children who never surfed before. Feedback from each of these surfers provides Wavegarden’s engineers and technicians with valuable information and insights necessary to continually improve the functioning of the lagoon and its safety features.
It was such an incredible experience,” enthused Gallo, who was literally buzzing with joy after his surf session. “Sincerely, this is a really safe place for everyone – handicapped or otherwise – to enjoy the amazing feeling surfing brings, because all the waves are the same, there is minimal current compared to the ocean, and the waves can be stopped whenever necessary.”
Gallo’s zest for life is without boundaries. In preparation for ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship, he practises surfing in the ocean late at night when there’s no chance of colliding with other surfers or swimmers.
“When I hear people say that I inspire them, it fills me with so much pleasure”, added Gallo, with a big smile. “We all need to work with what we have and do our very best every time, it’s that simple.”