The first ever ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship took place September 24-27 at La Jolla Shores, San Diego with sixty-nine competitors from eighteen different countries participating in the event. ISA president, Fernando Aguerre, said, “This is history in the making . . . I know many of [the athletes] and I’ve surfed with some of them . . . For them, this is the best thing that’s ever happened because they have overcome a lot of challenges and, on top of that, surfing’s
a very challenging sport.” Many surfers had to raise their own money to participate in the event with some even selling their own cars to be able to afford the travel expenses.
Surfers of varying abilities were broken into four different divisions: Stand, surfers that can ride standing; Upright, surfers that ride sitting or kneeling; Prone, surfers who ride in a laying position; and Assist, surfers that require help catching waves. Gold medalists from the event were Mark “Mono” Stewart (AUS) in Stand, Fellipe Lima (BRA)
in Upright, Bruno Hansen (DEN) in Prone, and Jesse Billauer (USA) in Assist. Team Hawai‘i, coached by Rainos Hayes, had success at the event with Darian Haynes placing fourth in the Assist division and Mike Coots placing fourth in the Stand division.
Excitement and stoke at the event was palpable for both competitors and the thousands of spectators on hand. Jess Billauer commented after his win, “After I got injured, competition was not something that I thought about, and now I am the ISA World Champion. It’s amazing to be a part of this and have all of the countries involved.”
Mark Stewart, the Stand division winner, was equally as excited as Jesse saying, “It’s a dream come true. I think every day I’ve had a tear in my eye seeing people who are so dedicated and love the ocean as much as I do. I’ve been waiting 35 years for this event, but I now know that the sky is the limit with Adaptive Surfing. 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.”
Surfing is such an uplifting and grounding activity in many people’s lives and seeing the adaptive athletes overcome such challenges was heartwarming and inspiring to say the least. Bruno Hansen from Denmark, who won the Prone division, echoed this sentiment after winning. “I’ve been training hard for ten years, trying to get my mind in the right place. I lost my way completely and surfing brought me back to where I am.”
Kauai’s Mike Coots, who lost part of his right leg from a shark attack, had an interesting perspective at the competition, using the event as an opportunity to study other competitors surfing technique. Coots told the Huffington Post, “In Hawai‘i, we don’t see many people walking around with a prosthetic, let alone surfing with one. You can try to look on the Internet to see other people, but to actually see things up close and ask questions . . . it’s really neat. Everybody here has their own way of doing things.”
In summation the event was a great success that will certainly grow and inspire people the world over. ISA president, Fernando Aguerre reiterated this notion after the event. “This is an ISA World Championship that will be talked about for years to come. Adaptive Surfing history has been made in La Jolla. I would like to congratulate the four athletes that received Gold Medals, but also at all 69 competitors who took part in this historic competition. All of the athletes will return home as ambassadors of Adaptive Surfing. This is only the start of something much bigger and wider reaching that we will see grow and develop in the years to come.”