Blind surfer Matt Formston aiming for gold in 2028 Paralympics – Ausnew Home Care

Blind surfer Matt Formston aiming for gold in 2028 Paralympics

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Matt Formston makes surfing look easy, despite the fact that he does it legally blind.

The former Paralympic cyclist lost 95 per cent of his vision at age five when he was diagnosed with Macular Dystrophy.

But the diagnosis didn't deter him from pursuing an incredibly active life.

One that would eventually lead to gold and silver in the 2014 and 2015 Para-cycling World Champions and a top spot representing Australia in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

Since then, Mr Formston has turned his ambitions to surfing, notching up an impressive three consecutive titles at the ISA Para Surfing World Championships.

He said the ultimate goal was to represent Australia in the green and gold at the 2028 Paralympics for surfing.

A man in a black wetsuit surfing a wave
Matt Formston has three consecutive world titles for adaptive surfing and is aiming to represent Australia in the Paralympics.(

ABC North Coast: Catherine Marciniak


Sound, swell and sun — navigating waves in the dark

Mr Formston described his vision as "big black dots in the centre" with extremely blurry peripheral vision.

"A lot of people would know what tunnel vision is. Mine's basically the opposite of that," he said.

"I've got nothing in the centre at all, and then the outside's really blurry."

That means when he's in the surf, he relies on sound and feel to navigate and pick the right wave.

An underwater image of a hand half-submerged. Part of surfer sitting on board in background
Pro surfer Matt Formston is legally blind and relies on sound and feel to ride waves.(

ABC North Coast: Leah White


"As you go up and down, there's a period between each wave," he said.

"When a bigger wave that you want to catch comes … you'll drop further down.

Mr Formston said he also uses the warmth of the sun on his skin to orientate himself in the surf, from north to south and east to west.

He is also constantly listening to the sounds around him – from the splash of other surfers padding in a particular direction to the crash of waves breaking on the shore.

"If I'm surfing a point break, I can actually hear when a bigger wave hits the rocks out from where I'm surfing," he said.

A man in a black wetsuit next to a surf board with coastal trees in the background
Matt Formston is a world champion Para-cyclist and adaptive surfer.(

ABC North Coast: Leah White


When he's paddled onto a wave, Mr Formston said he feels the steepness and listens to the white water to know where he needs to be on the wave to do certain manoeuvres.

"Floating across the water, I can feel the little ripples going chink, chink, chink across the bottom of my board," he said.

"And then, as I do a turn, I can feel my rail just slicing through the water.

"Apart from spending time with my kids and being with my family, it's the most amazing thing in my life."

Love of surf runs deep

For Mr Formston, who grew up in Narrabeen on the northern beaches of Sydney, the ocean has always been a part of life, as far back as he can remember.

His mum surfed in Narrabeen in the 1960s, towing her 9'6 timber board to the beach behind her bike at a time when there were few female surfers.

His Dad and older brother would take him to the beach and push him onto waves on a bodyboard from about the age of five.

Mr Formston said it wasn't always easy for his parents to let their child go in the surf or onto the sports field — but he's incredibly grateful they did.

A man in a black wetsuit with white words 'Blind Surfer' walking towards waves with a board under his arm
Matt Formston is a legally blind pro surfer(

ABC North Coast: Catherine Marciniak


"They were very courageous, letting me do those things from the point of view that I could get hurt but also from the point of view that they were looked at as not being caring parents because they were putting me in harm's way," he said.

Mr Formston said although sport was a big part of growing up, he never really owned the fact that he had a disability.

Mr Formston said his cycling career began with a 1,200km single-bike ride from Sydney to Melbourne using echolocation.

Six men on a stage in cycling uniforms with medals around their necks.
Matt Formston is a world-champion Para-cyclist. (

Supplied: Matt Formston


Wheels to fins — a transition from elite cycling to surfing

Although Mr Formston reached the highest levels of competitive para-cycling, he said surfing had always been his first love.

"It's been the thing that I would have loved to have gone to the Paralympics for, and probably would have gone as a teenager," he said.

"But there was no competition for people with disabilities, certainly not in Australia and not globally until 2016, which was when I went to the Rio Paralympics for cycling.

Mr Formston has recently relocated to the Far North Coast of New South Wales and is training with surf coach Michael 'Cripsy' Crisp.

Two men in black wetsuits with 'blind surfer' in white print talking on the beach with sand dunes behind
Surf Coach Michael 'Crispy' Crips (right) with adaptive surfer Matt Formston in Byron Bay(

ABC North Coast: Leah White


"When I first saw Matt surf, it was just amazing how in-tune he was with the wave," he said.

Mr Crisp said he was working with Matt to master some big, vertical manoeuvres — with the aim of taking out Gold in the 2028 Paralympics.

"So,  I'm Matt's eyes … but then Matt has to perform still and bring it all together on the wave."

During their training session, Mr Crisp calls Mr Formston onto waves and gives him verbal feedback and direction. 

"It's releasing Matt to do what he does best."

Source: ABC

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