It's a beautiful day in La Jolla, California. As the opening ceremony and parade of nations for the 2020 ISA World Para Surfing Championship unfold in the bucolic San Diego hamlet, the skies are blue, the surf is glassy and the vibes are epic.
This year, a record-breaking 131 athletes from 22 countries will represent their respective nations at the World Para Surfing Championship. Since 2015, the event has continued to not only elevated para and adaptive surfing, but it's been paramount in uniting the global surfing community around the idea that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the ocean.
"The first championship in 2015 was special. We were all so stoked to finally meet other adaptive surfers in person," recalled Dani Burt, who lost her right leg above the knee after a motorcycle accident and is now a world adaptive surfing champion and a doctor of physical therapy.
"We've been sharing ideas and tips through social media in the past, but this event vastly grew our network and along with that came sharing of knowledge about modifications to equipment and ideas to allow us to charge even harder," Burt continued. "Each year this group grows and with that comes even more improvements in prosthetic legs, wheelchairs, you name it. It is an amazing thing to just be around. It's an event over flowing with heart and determination to shred."
To get the stoke level elevated for this year's championship yesterday, the AmpSurf ISA Para Surf Clinic went down at La Jolla Shores. Despite stormy weather, 13 aspiring athletes showed up for coaching, tips and support from other athletes and instructors.
"These participants are learning and experiencing what surf therapy is like," said Dana Cummings, the founder and president of AmpSurf. "There is a great thrill in riding a wave for the first time. Our goal is to let people know that they can do anything they set their mind to and focus on their abilities."
"Surfing for me is just a sense of freedom," explained Lisa Franks, who participated in the clinic. "I get to leave my wheelchair on the beach and I'm out there in the ocean catching a wave just like anyone else. I don't see the disability."
In his mission to bring surfing to the world, ISA President Fernando Aguerre not only spearheaded the modern Olympic movement, but in the last five years the World Para Surfing Championship has provided a much needed platform to celebrate these surfers and athletes, as well as let the rest of the surfing world cheer on their accomplishments, commitment and dedication.
"The ISA is fully committed to empowering people with physical challenges to experience the healing effects of the ocean," said Aguerre. "Surfing has proven to be life-changing for so many of these athletes, we want to continuing spreading its joy. The clinic helps set the foundation for the next generation of para surfers, a generation that we hope can have the honor to compete for a slot at the Paralympic Games."
Competition for the ISA World Para Surfing Championship officially gets underway today and will run through Sunday. If you're in the area, drop by the beach and cheer everyone on. And if you're somewhere else in the world, you can tune in on ISASurf.org.