Peg Bennett and Melissa Reid Britains World Surfing Champions.

Hannah Dines reports from the US Open Adaptive Surfing Championships where British surfers won two World Titles! 

And then Zoe’s leg snapped…

It happened during the US Open, 8-11th September 2022, Oceanside Pier North. Yes, it was her prosthetic one and no she can’t surf without it. Adaptive surfing brings a touch more excitement to the old surfing manoeuvres and should always make headlines. Carve, off-the-lip…snap!

There are two contests in the Association of Adaptive Surfing Professionals (AASP) World Championship Tour and this was the final one; Zoe’s last chance to claim an AASP World Tour title and an obnoxiously shiny, winner’s wrestling belt.

I’m Hannah, I’m a British adaptive prone-assist surfer and I bring you news of the team and new British World Champions you never knew you needed to invest in, till now. You are being deprived of some of surfing’s greatest victories and tragedies. Deposit hopes and dreams this way, please…

Adaptive surfing, also known as Para-surfing (Para for Paralympic potential not another term for kitesurfing) is split into nine classifications based on your disability and the way you surf. Broadly speaking there’s standing, kneeling, prone, on a wave-ski and charging while visually impaired (VI).

Melissa Reid, whose trip was sponsored by her local pub The Victory Inn, Porthtowan, won the women’s partial vision division and is now a three time world champion.

Results! Starting with our AASP World Tour winners! Melissa Reid (whose trip was sponsored by her local pub The Victory Inn, Porthtowan) won the women’s partial vision division by winning both competitions. She beat Canada’s Ling Pai in the Hawaii Adaptive Surf Championships in June and again at the US Open. Reid brings home the World title for England and for Cornwall and it’s black and white, pirate-adjacent flag.

St Agnes’ Pegleg Bennett World Champion… and pirate…

St Agnes’ Pegleg Bennet (full pirate, and yes he did change his name by deed poll) was sitting in first after winning every heat in the US Open but dropped to fourth in the final. Peg took the overall World Tour title having won the below-knee men’s stand division in Hawaii. So two British World Tour winners!

The crew warming up for Cal at the English Adaptives. Photos by Image Cabin.

Let’s pause for the leg drama you all came here for and more US Open results.

Zoe Smith’s [prosthetic] leg snapped mid heat:

“I think a combination of wipe outs, sand in the blade and too much salt water had damaged it beyond repair. For my first heat I surfed on a snapped blade with around two inches of front foot contact on my board. It was difficult to generate any speed. Luckily, an incredibly kind guy called Cory from Hanger Clinic Prosthetics worked through this with me and sourced me a brand-new prosthetic, for free.”

Thanks to Cory Zoe could continue. “He was down the beach helping amputees with the inevitable issues that arise with our mechanics during comps. Without Cory’s help I wouldn’t have been able to continue in the competition and I will be forever grateful to him!”.

Zoe came third against strong competition from Brazil’s Malu Mendez (1st) Jimena Ruiz Rojas (2nd) from Costa Rica in the below-knee women’s stand up.

“Overall given the issues with my foot I was pleased with my progress and surfing.’ she says ‘I narrowly missed out on a second and feel it puts me in a good position for the upcoming ISA worlds in December. Now back to training in the cold for me!”

Peg accidentally left his surfing leg at home. Fortunately, he could use his use his land-leg, although though I’m pretty sure it steadily fills with water and becomes a lead weight. Despite this, Peg won every single heat of the comp, bar the final, even getting barrelled to win the tour title.

Dave Lewis, finished fourth in the US Open. He has two functional legs but only some vision, but found his knee swollen after his first heat so spent two days in hospital, having it drained. When asked how it happened “No idea, could have tweaked it. They tested the fluid for quite a few things including infection. Draining it and anti-inflammatories sorted it out.”

When I asked how he made the final, his answer was simple: “Travelled too far not to”.

It’s a good point, not all our team could go to these competitions, or fund any sort of accompanying competition support staff.

Dave has to rely on a local water assistant (referred to as “eyes”) who spots waves for him and calls him into position. Obviously there has to be a very close relationship between surfer and spotter.

“The waves were shifty and difficult for my new ‘Eyes’ to get me near.” A blind surfer and their “eyes” should be a team who work and train together, but for athletes who already fund their own expenses, flying another person out to compete with is way too expensive.

Melissa, who is also visually impaired had the same issue, but worked it out.

“I was working with a new set of eyes, so I trained him up the day before competition…”.

Melissa “The Sightless Surfer” Reid gave up her place on the Commonwealth Games Triathlon team, and a funded place on its Paralympic squad, to focus on surfing and has, so far, won every heat she has surfed in. She’s very experienced at working with guides to cycle, run, swim and surf.

Spike, who is paralysed in all four limbs competed in the Wave-ski (6th) and Men’s Prone Assist (13th) divisions. He had his best surfboard was stolen before his first heat in the Hawaii Champs. I believe he appealed to the thieves, saying that they could steal it back afterwards if only he could use his prone-rider-specific board (which has a special chin rest, chest riser and deck handles) to compete. Sadly, it has not returned.

Welshman Llywelyn “Sponge” Williams who surfs in the kneeling division came 2nd to Mark “Mono” Stewart (AUS). Sponge is one of the only British athletes sponsored to attend all events this year thanks to The Mailing Room. However, if you follow Para-surfing as closely as I do, you could say the drama is ongoing. Last year, Sponge was sitting in 1st at the ISA World Championships final. No-one could touch his leading scores and then, in the final minute, he took off and didn’t have priority. Sponge was docked most of his points but still came in 3rd. If the Welsh Dragon holds his cool in December and claims the rightful win, it will be legendary.

So now the swell is building towards the International Surfing Association’s Para-surfing World Championships in Pismo Beach 4-11th December. There will be a live stream, a drone and a commentator that seems to speak every language represented there (around twenty-four).

The nations that can enter are devolved: USA from Hawaii, Britain split into Wales from England as it is only when a sport is announced as included in a Paralympic Games that we will get a British team. Surfing has put in a bid for the 2028 Los Angeles Paralympic Games in July. The British Isles are gathering their athletes; new Paralympic sports are likely to be named in January.

If you like the sheer determination of our surfing world champions and the whole team you can click here to learn how you can support the English Adaptive Surfing Team.

And definitely click about on the ISA website and watch live, in December. I hear Spike will be trying to nail an El Rollo in the men’s wave-ski division. It is on!

The English Adaptive (Para) Surfing Team have launched a Crowdfunder to help get these legends to the World Para Surfing Games in the USA in December. Click here