The ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships were held in California this past December. This was the fourth year for this amazing competition. Over a hundred surfers from twenty-four nations put on a show in the epic SoCal waves. The inaugural event, in 2015, created a platform for the adaptive surfing communities from all around the world to compete and share ideas together, creating a massive push for adaptive surfing development. The progression in adaptive surfing has gone from catching white water to shredding overhead waves. Definitely a sport to watch in the upcoming Paralympics!
And Canada is definitely riding this wonderful wave of development, progression, and accessibility!
For three years now, a team of talented and inspiring surfers has been representing Canada at the World Championships. This year’s team included two men, two women along with their team managers. The four surfers put all their heart into their heats placing their country in 10th place for international team rankings and brought home a gold and a silver medal!
Victoria Feige has been on the team since the very beginning. She is from BC and works as a physiotherapist. She had a spinal cord injury due to a fall in snowboarding. Her injury is incomplete so she uses a wheelchair but she is able to walk a short distance with walking sticks and she surfs laying on her knees. She is surfing in the AS2 division which is the standing/kneeling position and she surfs both open and women divisions. In the past three years, she has always had amazing performances at all competitions she attempted but this year was particularly exciting for her, and all of us, because she won the gold medal in the women’s division!
Ling Pai is a brand new addition to Team Canada. She is in the visually impaired division. She is losing sight gradually because of a degenerative disease. Same as Victoria, she surfs in both open and female divisions. She is allowed to have one helper with her in the water to help position herself at the right place in the line-up and to spot good waves, but once she is on the wave she is on her own. Her helper Nicolas, from Puerto Rico, has been an amazing guide for her and she has developed a graceful style to her surfing. She won the silver in the women’s division in front of her mom (who was seeing her surf for the very first time) and friends who came all the way from Vancouver to cheer her on.
Scott Patterson is a double above knee amputee Paralympian. He has participated in four Paralympic games in three different sports; track, alpine skiing, and swimming. He is still representing his country, but is now shifting gears to surfing to do so. In the past two years, he was in the AS2 division standing/kneeling, but after re-classification, Scott is now surfing where’s he excel’s- in the prone division. Scott is from Vancouver and drove all the way to the competition with his friends, Jane and Jessica (a new adaptive surfer who we hope to see on the team in a few years time).
Nathan Smids is originally from Ontario, but now lives in San Luis Obispo, California. He is a below-knee amputee and surfs with his prosthesis in the AS1 standing division. He surfs in adaptive and non-adaptive competitions. He has won a US national event and often finds himself in finals, but has never quite made the podium at the World Championships…just yet! He works as a recreational therapist and is very involved with non-profit organizations aiming to help kids with disabilities be more active in sports.
As the athletes are training all year for this competition, there are also hard working volunteers and managers who also work all year to help develop the sport, both recreational and competitively. They find sponsors and support, bring new adaptive surf events to the nation and get everything organized for this one week of competition.
Gerry Burns is a C1 incomplete quadriplegic who broke his neck playing hockey. He raced pro motocross and surfed most of his life and is a pioneer of adaptive surfing in Canada. Retired from surfing, he’s been devoted to working on the development of adaptive surfing in Canada and is involved with a few organizations developing other adaptive sports, as well. He competes in adaptive sailing in his hometown of Vancouver and in national events across the country each year too.
Pascale Martineau works in a physical rehabilitation centre in Quebec City. She caught the surfing bug in 2007 while in Tofino. In 2013, she heard about AmpuSurf, a US non-profit running surf clinic for people with disabilities. She volunteered for one clinic, and is now working towards developing this in her home country. She co-founded the Canadian Adaptive Surfing Committee with Gerry and the president of Surf Canada back in 2016 and recently started an adaptive SUP program in her hometown with her three favorite SUP partners.
So that’s the team, our team. It’s so great to see the team move up in world ranking and came back with medals this year, but it’s about a lot more than medals and ranking. It’s about pushing yourself, encouraging others and also pushing the development of an emerging sport. There’s such a great camaraderie between all the international athletes (even if we live far away from each other). Coming from such diverse surf backgrounds and with diverse disabilities and sharing our passion to make our sport grow globally. This is just the beginning…we can’t wait to see what the next set of waves will bring!
For more info on adaptive surfing in Canada, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Words – Gerry Burns and Pascale Martineau