Adaptation

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.

Mark “Mono” Stewart hops into the ocean for his gold medal performance in the stand up final.
Mark “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.

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

Eric D’Argent, France.
Eric D’Argent, France.
D’Argent was a semi finalist in the stand up division.
D’Argent was a semi finalist in the stand up division.
Lucas 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.
Lucas 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.
Despite losing his surfboard in the recent tsunami in Chile, Retamales travelled to La Jolla to compete, placing second in his heat.
Despite losing his surfboard in the recent tsunami in Chile, Retamales travelled to La Jolla to compete, placing second in his heat.
Lucas Retamales engages in a pre heat prayer with his mates.
Lucas Retamales engages in a pre heat prayer with his mates.
Alana 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
Alana 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
Zach Tapec of Hawaii in the prone division semis.
Zach Tapec of Hawaii in the prone division semis.
Laurent Marouf, France, surfs in a modified upright stance.
Laurent Marouf, France, surfs in a modified upright stance.
Marouf, celebrates his ride with teammates.
Marouf, celebrates his ride with teammates.
Spike Kane gets a bit of help after a surf.
Spike Kane gets a bit of help after a surf.

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.

Coach Pat Weber and Scott Leason.
Coach Pat Weber and Scott Leason.
Ismael Guilliorit, Norway…..With a headstand!
Ismael Guilliorit, Norway…..With a headstand!
Bruce Campbell, South Africa.
Bruce Campbell, South Africa.
Benoit Moreau of France drives down the line.
Benoit Moreau of France drives down the line.
Eric D’Argent, France.
Eric D’Argent, France.
Freddy Carrillo of the USA.
Freddy Carrillo of the USA.
Surfer/surfboard valet on the beach.
Surfer/surfboard valet on the beach.
Elias Valencia of Chile paddling out.
Elias Valencia of Chile paddling out.
Elias Antonio Briones.
Elias Antonio Briones.
“Chaka” gets a lift up the beach.
“Chaka” gets a lift up the beach.
Silver medalist Chris Oberle of the USA dodges a closeout on his ski.
Silver medalist Chris Oberle of the USA dodges a closeout on his ski.
Jeff Munson of the USA works to get back on his board.
Jeff Munson of the USA works to get back on his board.

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.

Watching and cheering during the finals.
Watching and cheering during the finals.
Elias Valencia, Chile.
Elias Valencia, Chile.
Mark “Mono” Stewart with a moment of solitude before heading out to take the stand up finals.
Mark “Mono” Stewart with a moment of solitude before heading out to take the stand up finals.
A prosthetic leg lays on the beach during the finals.
A prosthetic leg lays on the beach during the finals.
Assist Division finalist Davi Teixeira gets a kiss from his Mom after the final.
Assist Division finalist Davi Teixeira gets a kiss from his Mom after the 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.”

Hansen enjoys the moment.
Hansen enjoys the moment.
Team Hawaii supports from the beach during the finals.
Team Hawaii supports from the beach during the finals.

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.

FEATURED STORIES