From Adaptive Surfing Magazine: Vol. 2
The sun’s first light was busy chasing away the last remnants of the previous night as I walked down to the Cherry Grove Pier carrying my board at 5:50 a.m. The only person on the beach was Ernie Johnson sitting just below the high tide line
in a wheelchair with his adaptive surfboard on the sand next to him. I didn’t need to ask him how he got there. From previous experience, I knew he yelled out the window at some random tourist who came to watch the sunrise, and he or she dragged him and his wheelchair across the sand. I didn’t ask him why he was there. Just like me, he was there for dawn patrol, because the forecast was for three to four feet and glassy.
Seeing Ernie or any other surfers who surf adaptively at our break at the Cherry Grove Pier has become completely normal. The surfers at this break show up to surf, but take breaks to help surfers who need assistance get in the water and on their adaptive surfboards. Sometimes, we have three or four adaptive surfers show up at a time. No one is taking pictures, because surfing adaptively has become just one of the many ways folks ride waves... Shortboard? SUP? Longboard? Adaptive?
California jumped on the adaptive surfing bus years before we started helping surfers who happened to have a disability ride waves. To the best of my knowledge, the first adaptive surfing event on the East Coast was held in Wilmington, North Carolina. In 2007, Kevin Murphy, the Director of Ocean Cure, invited Jesse Billauer to have a Life Rolls an event.
My surfing brothers and sisters at the Cherry Grove Pier started the Adaptive Surf Project after we volunteered at the first “Wheel to Surf “event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. One of our surfing buddies, Brock Johnson, surfed adaptively and started Wheel to Surf with Kevin Murphy. We also convinced the local Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) and Atlantic Surfing Federation (ASF) chapters to add adaptive surfing divisions. This led to us flying surfers out to California to compete, and we discovered that adaptive surfing was well established on America’s West Coast.
Adaptive surfing is spreading along the right side of America too. We now have organizations in Florida, and all over North and South Carolina that facilitate adaptive surfing. Wheel to Surf and Life Rolls On events are larger than before with more than 50 participants and hundreds of volunteers. News crews and photographers show up, and volunteers and participants sometimes become overcome with emotion when stoke levels reach their apex. This is beautiful, but so is the simplicity of a surfer in a wheelchair simply showing up to a break knowing that he will be able to ride waves.
My personal vision for adaptive surfing is for it to become completely normal at every surf break. Hopefully, one day in the future, seeing an individual surfing on an adaptive surfboard will be commonplace. The ultimate evolution of adaptive surfing would be for it to become unexceptionally ordinary.
As Ernie is being carried out of the water, he asked me, “Did you see my left?”
“Which one?” I asked.