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.
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.
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.
Scott 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.
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.
Bruno 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.
Hansen 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.”
The 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.