On my third trip to the ISA World Adaptive Games, I had the enviable opportunity to spend a week in warm Californian sunshine with a group of truly exceptional athletes who are part of a developing movement of serious competition, dedication and stoke.
We gathered on the shore at Huntington Beach for the final leg of the Adaptive Surf League season. With perfect surf conditions and light winds to greet us, we had an incredible three-day event of surfing and experiences that left me brimming with positivity, warmth and excitement.
Together we left Huntington to travel south to La Jolla, San Diego, where the World Surfing Games was to be held. Again, favourable conditions greeted us and it took just minutes before coaches, managers and athletes were trading waves, honing skills and making memories.
ISA demonstrated the growth of the sport
Roll on the main event and opening ceremony. As ever, the International Surfing Association put on a great hometown show. The Parade of Nations was a cacophony of whistles, chants, national anthems and tribal chanting. Our team proudly managed a rousing rendition of We Do Like to be Beside the Seaside.
The competition was intense. We had a bigger team than ever before and with a diverse range of help and support, the team were running pretty hot for the whole event.
Our athletes selected to represent Team England were:
- Melissa Reid (AS VI-Visually Impaired) Open and women’s
- Suzanne Edwards (AS4-Prone) Open and Women’s
- Charlotte Banfield (AS1-Standing) Open and Women’s
- Peg Bennett (AS1-Standing) Open
- Spike Kane (AS3-Sitting) Open
All our athletes were on fire and put themselves in some of the most critical parts of the waves on offer. No one held back. Everyone committed and the camaraderie and support was as good as in any team I’ve witnessed
Finals day at the World Surfing Games
Reid (assisted by Matt Harwood) took down a strong field and took off later, deeper and on bigger waves than anyone else. She managed several solid swooping turns on critical waves and blew the competition out of the water to take gold!
Banfield and Edwards both battled really hard in their finals with Edwards leading the field for a large part of the final and securing a bronze medal in her first ever competition. Banfield did her usual tactic of catching three times as many waves as the other athletes and secured a bronze medal.
Pegleg Bennett and Spike Kane were always on hand, supporting and encouraging, and although both felt they could have gone further through the competition, they battled hard. Kane, recently recovered from a broken leg, later found out he had broken the other one in the Huntington competition. Both still contributed valuable points. If the podium eluded them they made up for it with gold-medal banter.
Fully represented in and out of the water
England came seventh out of 24 nations and we can proudly say were fully represented, both in and out of the water.
There are many stories and anecdotes I could share, many tales, many moments of hilarity, but those will be told in years to come. And, some are barely repeatable!
One thing for sure is that the adaptive surfing community has something really special, a group of people who have a comradeship like I’ve never witnessed elsewhere. There's a deep-rooted desire to compete to the best of their ability and a fierce competitive fire burning inside them.
As ever it was a privilege to be a part of the team and to be a part of this story which is unfolding before us. Adaptive surfing is growing fast and growing strong.
As Superman actor Christopher Reeve once said: “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles".
Some might see a man with one leg, a woman with almost no sight, a man paralysed in a wheelchair, a woman in a wheelchair and a woman with cerebral palsy, heart problems and autism. I never saw those people. I only saw surfing legends.
A huge thanks to Surfing England, Matt Harwood, Andy Joyce, Nick Asheshov and the team sponsors including The Wave, Surfdome, Pacsafe, Pukka Herbs, Dryrobe, Caravan and Camping Club, Korev Lager and Jeep UK.