Adaptive Surfing & the Cultivation of Community
By: Christiaan Bailey Photos: Val Reynolds/CAF
There are moments in everyone’s lives wherevthe concept of what they previously thought was
possible was shattered and a new bar was raised. In Adaptive Surfing, these achievements often have their origins based in something as simple as getting back on one’s board by yourself, or can be as monumental as the desire to surf the world’s most dangerous waves. However, in the end, the unifying feeling we all share is the same... Stoke.
For many, the roots of adaptive surfing history have always been based on the individual struggle. It really was not until the advent of social media that we were all fundamentally drawn together under a common banner, a common objective. Over the ensuing years, the world of adaptive surfing would be profoundly changed. This is largely due to the fact, that for the first time in our history as adaptive surfers, both novice and expert alike were given the opportunity to connect and exchange ideas, technology, experiences, as well as collectively share hopes and dreams for the future. No longer were we relegated to a shadowy corner
of the surfing world to fight our individual battles; we now had a forum in which to share, encourage, and inspire each other and, in that, a platform in which we could grow together as a community.
This bright new future would manifest itself in a multitude of ways, from the progression
of adaptive surfing technology (i.e. surfing specific prosthetics, adaptive surfboard design
& development) to competitions and adaptive surfing programs driven to introduce the sport to an ever-widening population within the disabled community. These initiatives quickly began
to accelerate around 2006 and the growth of the sport and the number of participants and
programs started springing up all over the world.
In 2006, the flame had already been lit and there was a plethora of programs in the U.S. and
Hawaii, everything was starting to snowball hard and it was only getting bigger. This was also when we started Ocean Healing Group in Costa Rica. So at that point, there was a phenomenal amount of support developing for the sport and the community as a whole.
With that being said, when it came to the competitive aspects of adaptive surfing, there wasn’t much.
But, there has always been one person who had faith and ushered in the new era for us as athletes, and that was Greg Cruse at Surfing America. When Ryan Levinson contacted us all to establish the first “US Team” in 2007 for the Surfing America National Championships at Huntington Beach, it was definitely a game changer and even though it was just an expression session at the time, it really served to bring our sport into the light.
From that point on, Greg has always been a constant fixture in the promotion and progression of competitive adaptive surfing, going so far as to include adaptive divisions in all Western Surfing Association (WSA) contests for us.
Fast forward to 2014, at that point I had been traveling on various legs of the ASP/WSL (“WCT” & “WQS”), putting on expression sessions with the boys and rallying as much support for adaptive surfing programs/competitions as I could, when one day I received an interesting
call from the International Surfing Association (ISA). They were reaching out to certain key members of the community, to establish a board dedicated to bringing the sport to the
international competitive level. I knew at that moment, that our time had finally come.
When the ISA got involved, I understood immediately what that meant. After a phone call to a couple connections at the IOC, I learned that surfing was on the short list to be included as a future sport in the Olympic games and was being proposed for Tokyo 2020. I knew if that happened, the next step for the ISA was to have an equal mechanism in place for the eventual inclusion of adaptive surfing into the IPC curriculum as well. It was all just a matter of time at that point.
These initiatives all culminated into the first ever ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships, held in September 2015 in San Diego, California. For the first time in our sport’s history, the entire breadth of the adaptive surfing community would come together as one and be
represented on the global stage.
69 athletes from 18 countries traveled to San Diego, not only to engage in head-to-head competition, but to come together and solidify the fact that now we were no longer crawling
across the sand by ourselves- speaking as individuals, we were speaking with a unified voice.
The headway our sport made that week went far beyond competition, it served to galvanize our resolve and focus as a community and left us resolute in what our goals are as a whole and what our priorities should be for the future.
For me, the real moment of revelation came when I was a speaker at the Adaptive Surfing Symposium during the 2015 ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship. As I rolled
onto the stage and looked over the crowd, I was taken back by the myriad of familiar faces, faces I knew all too well, as they were the same ones I had been engaging with through a
computer screen for the better part of the last decade. The fundamental difference now being, that for the first time in adaptive surfing history, we were all together in the same room. That was a game changer. It was at that moment, that I realized adaptive surfing went far beyond just myself or any one person’s goals or aspirations. It was all about us coming together as
With the tone set, what I would really hope to see moving forward is an international delegation of surfers sent to Tokyo in 2020 to promote adaptive surfing into the Paralympic
games. As a community and a movement, we’re almost to the point where inclusion into the games is almost certain. I’d just really like to do my part, along with many others, to help make that happen.
The next generation of kids have already started progressing at a supersonic pace. Then again, this has really only came about in the last two years, as programs have gone beyond “just getting them into the water”, to focusing more on the progression of skills.
I think that any program that “ditches the training wheels” and focuses on the sheer performance aspects of adaptive surfing are going to be instrumental in the growth of the sport over time. I know it’s easier to just let kids ride the foam to the shore and everyone clap around them. It’s a feel good moment for sure, but personally, I think it’s critical that you allow them to push their limits out the back, on waves with shoulders, steep drops and occasionally getting wrecked, because it’s only then that they get a real picture of what surfing can be.
It allows them to challenge their preconceptions and know what surfing is all about. From that point one of two things will happen, either they will take a step back and return to the foam, or it will ignite a drive and passion in them that requires them to push their limits. And that’s what it’s all about.
Programs like the Junior Seau Foundation’s Adaptive Surfing Program presented by the Challenged Athletes Foundation understand this need and mindset of progression better than anyone.
This progression certainly a push in the right direction, as it gives people a one stop resource to not just athletes, but also that vast wealth of knowledge, experience and connections, that would normally take one years to cultivate on their own. It has the opportunity to galvanize our community in a way that has never happened before and I am really looking forward to seeing how that manifests itself. You know, I’ve had a thought stuck in the back of my head for awhile now, but I really do think it’s important to say:
We’re all on the verge of jumping off this cliff together and in my 27 years of experience in the
professional surf/skate community, I’ve come to learn one immutable, universal fact that I’d like to share. At the end of the day, never let the competitive aspect of what we’re doing take away from the fundamental joy that we ALL share together through surfing.
It becomes easy to allow the pressure of competition and the allegiance to one’s country to influence your outlook and attitude, especially in the rose tinted glasses of simply wanting to win. But we must always remember that the mutual stoke we share for the sport is the glue that binds the adaptive surfing community together.
Be true to yourselves and our community first. Never allow the pressure and politics of competition steal away the love and respect we all have for each other.
Share the stoke friends.
This was said to by me by one of my best friends, Jay Moriarity, shortly before he passed away. While at the time it didn’t hold heavy meaning, a few years later when I got hurt, his words rung true and served to be the mantra in which I choose to live.
“It’s how a person chooses to face challenges, that defines them as who they are.”
To continue reading Adaptive Surfing Magazine Vol.1, click here.