Much more than another surf contest, the first-ever ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships, held last weekend in La Jolla, California, proved to be an inspiring demonstration of talent, sportsmanship and the best that wave riding has to offer.

 Composed of four divisions — Stand, Prone, Upright and Assist — 69 physically challenged athletes from 18 different countries came to surf, represent their respective homelands and demonstrate to the world that when we play in the ocean, we’re capable of great things.

There were no shortage of storylines to illustrate this fact. Nearly 20 years ago, Jesse Billauer was an up-and-coming pro surfer, but after suffering an accident in the water, he was left without the use of his legs and relegated to a wheelchair. Accepting the hand fate dealt him, in 2002, Billauer founded the Life Rolls On Foundation with the goal of improving the quality of life for young people affected by spinal cord injuries. On Sunday, he became America’s first adaptive surfing gold medalist.

2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipMark “Mono” Stewart hops into the ocean for his gold medal performance in the stand up final.

Finishing runner-up to Billauer in the Assist division was 10-year-old Brazilian Davi Teixeira, whose cherubic smile and infectious stoke energized the scene on the beach, and captured the attention of Brazil’s first World Champion, Gabriel Medina, who posted a congratulatory note on Instagram. But the inspirational stories weren’t just found atop the podium. On the first day of competition, Chile’s Lucas Retamales showed exactly what it means to overcome life’s hurdles. Riding without sight, the blind surfer’s board was lost in the tsunami in Chile prior to the Games. Undeterred, he flew to San Diego, borrowed a board and blew minds.

Included in the event’s activities, the ISA also hosted a clinic to help other physically challenged people get in the water, as well as an Adaptive Surfing Symposium that sought to raise awareness, share experiences and discuss the role that surfing can play in the lives of these athletes.

RB7_4380-2The beach scene in La Jolla for the Adaptive Surfing World Championships.

By the time the awards ceremony commenced on Sunday afternoon, it was nothing but good vibes and aloha on the beach at Scripps Pier. The first-ever ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships was in the books. A massive success, this is one contest that’s only going to get bigger and better in the years to come … and for all the right reasons.
RB5_2953-3Eric D’Argent, France.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipD’Argent was a semi finalist in the stand up division.
RB5_2392-3Lucas Retamales is a blind surfer representing Chile in the 2015 ISA Word Adaptive Surfing Championship. Here he heads out to the surf with his coach.
RB5_2492-3Despite losing his surfboard in the recent tsunami in Chile, Retamales travelled to La Jolla to compete, placing second in his heat.
RB5_2357-3Lucas Retamales engages in a pre heat prayer with his mates.
G0196250Alana Nichols has won medals in both summer and winter Paralympics (in basketball and skiing ). She lost the use of her legs in a snowboarding accident.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipZach Tapec of Hawaii in the prone division semis.
RB5_2410-3Laurent Marouf, France, surfs in a modified upright stance.
RB5_2654-3Marouf, celebrates his ride with teammates.
RB5_2579-3Spike Kane gets a bit of help after a surf.
RB5_2897-3Scott Leason has been surfing for about 49 years. 22 years ago, while manning the counter at a Circle K in Palm Desert, he was shot during a robbery attempt. He lost his sight but not his desire to surf. Coach Pat Weber frequently gets him out in the surf and “directs” Scott into the waves.
RB5_3035-3Coach Pat Weber and Scott Leason.
RB5_2811-3Ismael Guilliorit, Norway…..With a headstand!
RB5_2983-3Bruce Campbell, South Africa.
RB5_2947-3Benoit Moreau of France drives down the line.
RB5_3087-3Eric D’Argent, France.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipFreddy Carrillo of the USA.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipSurfer/surfboard valet on the beach.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipElias Valencia of Chile paddling out.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipElias Antonio Briones.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship“Chaka” gets a lift up the beach.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipSilver medalist Chris Oberle of the USA dodges a closeout on his ski.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipJeff Munson of the USA works to get back on his board.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship
Jesse Billauer: “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.” Here Jesse gets a lift to his board prior to the Assist final.

RB6_0620Watching and cheering during the finals.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipElias Valencia, Chile.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipMark “Mono” Stewart with a moment of solitude before heading out to take the stand up finals.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipA prosthetic leg lays on the beach during the finals.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipAssist Division finalist Davi Teixeira gets a kiss from his Mom after the final.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipBruno Hansen from Denmark put on an impressive performance en route to taking the Gold Medal in Prone. Here he is congratulated by Antony Smyth of South Africa.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipHansen explained, “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.”
RB7_4360-2aHansen enjoys the moment.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipTeam Hawaii supports from the beach during the finals.
2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing ChampionshipThe Upright Final was the first of the four Finals to take place, with Brazil’s Fellipe Lima scoring a heat total of 12.93 to earn him the title of the first ISA World Adaptive Surfing Champion. Following Lima were three athletes from the USA: Jeff Munson with Silver, Chris Oberle with Bronze and Freddy Carrillo with Copper.

Surf Central

Lower Trestles in San Clemente, California, is surf central this week, as Hurricane Linda kicks up big swell for the Hurley Pro and Swatch Women's Pro contests. The Players' Tribune hit the shore for a first hand look at the action.Photographs by Robert Beck/The Players' Tribune

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