San Diego, California, was the site of an athletic event quite unlike any other last weekend as over 70 adaptive surfers took to the waves to compete in the International Surfing Association’s first World Adaptive Surfing Championship.
Teams from 18 different countries came together at the event, presented by Challenged Athletes Foundation, Hurley, Stance and the City of San Diego at Balboa Park to kick off the event with a Parade of Nations. International Surfing Association (ISA) President Fernando Aguerre and ISA officials led the parade as teams proudly carried their national flags to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion for opening ceremonies.
“Surf culture is San Diego culture, which makes our city the perfect spot to host the very first ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “Surfers and San Diegans may seem laid-back, but beneath the surface, have the passion and drive to do some incredible things. This competition is about celebrating those who have overcome physical challenges to perform amazing feats in the water. The athletes in the ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship are proof that physical challenges don’t mean physical limitations.”
Two members of each team presented sand from their home beaches, where each type of sand was combined in a glass container to symbolize the peaceful, yet competitive, gathering.
Once they hit the water, nothing stood in the way of the surfers. They paddled across the waves of La Jolla Shores or rode with their surf therapy dogs. Some wowed crowds with headstands, while others were impressive simply because of their abilities at such a young age. The surfers represented the epitome of athletes with disabilities.
Surfers competed in four divisions: Stand, Upright, Prone and Assist. Those in the Stand division rode in standing or kneeling positions. The Upright division included surfers who rode while seated. Surfers who competed while lying down were in the Prone division. The Assist division included competitors who surfed independently but required assistance getting onto their boards or catching a wave.
According to the ISA’s release, the goal of the event was “to unify global efforts for the advancement of Adaptive Surfing by creating an event that serves as the preeminent platform for physically challenged surfers to display their talents in competition.”
The weekend’s events included a symposium on Saturday where speakers revealed plans and development for adaptive surfing programs. A live webcast of competition finals was broadcast on Sunday so friends and fans of the competitors could share in the excitement from locations across the globe.
Sunday also marked the day that the winners received their medals. “I couldn’t be happier than I am now,” said Fellipe Lima of Brazil, who won gold in the Upright division. “It’s amazing to see this ISA World Championship happen. It has always been my dream, not just to be a World Champion, but also to see the sport grow. This is just the start.”
Other gold medalists included Bruno Hansen from Denmark in the Prone division, Jesse Billauer from the U.S. in the Assist division, and Australia’s Mark “Mono” Stewart for the Stand division.
“I’ve been waiting 35 years for this event, but now I know that the sky is the limit with Adaptive Surfing,” said Stand division gold medalist Stewart. “The future is in the hands of all the young people you’ve seen here this week. I can’t wait to see what happens next.” We couldn’t agree more!
What other adaptive sports competitions would you like to see in the future?
Megan Winkler is an author, historian, Neurosculpting® meditation coach, certified nutritional consultant and DIY diva. When she’s not writing or teaching a class, Megan can be found in the water, on a yoga mat, learning a new instrument or singing karaoke. Her passion for a healthy mind-body-spirit relationship motivates her to explore all the natural world has to offer.