2021 US Open Adaptive Surfing Championships

4th Annual US Open A Huge Success

After taking a year off in 2020, the US Open Adaptive Surfing Championships were once again held in Oceanside, California. Over 70 adaptive surfers competed for a chance to win gold and prize money September 9-12th. The four day event included open surf clinics where athletes surfed together at the competition site and of course the two-day main event. Upon arrival at the event site, one could see all the sponsor pop up tents, hear the announcers calling out the waves caught, and see the surfers and volunteers moving about the beach. There was plenty of sunshine, sunscreen, and stoke to go around. This year’s title sponsor was the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. The host sponsor was the High Fives Foundation. Access Trax was also an official sponsor and has been involved since the event started back in 2017.

A photo from up high overlooking the US Open Adaptive Surf Championships event space on the beach. There are various pop up tents on either side of a tall judging tower in a row and access mats over sand towards the water. There are people under umbrellas in the sand and empty wheelchairs can be seen by the mat.

US Open ASC Background

This world-class event was created by the Stoke for Life Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading the stoke of adaptive water sports to people with physical disabilities. The US Open ASC is unique in that it is created by adaptive surfers, for adaptive surfers. Athletes experience a top notch surf classification system designed to create a level playing field. Trained classifiers go through standardized assessment criteria with each competitor to ensure accuracy. Surfers who are visually impaired do not surf against those who are not, for example. Likewise, a surfer who needs assistance paddling in the water does not compete against someone who does. The classification system was developed by occupational and physical therapists in San Diego in partnership with the Stoke for Life Foundation.

Adaptive Surfing

Adaptive surfing is an important sport that deserves respect and attention. With surfing officially being added to the Olympics in 2020, the fight is now to ensure it will be added as a Paralympic sport for 2028. Many are just now recognizing the benefits of surf therapy and recreation for people with disabilities. Groups like the International Surf Therapy Organization (ISTO) are doing excellent work advocating for surf therapy to be more widely used and recognized. Surfing has been proven through research to have physical, mental, and social benefits for multiple populations including persons with PTSD and physical disabilities. To learn more about adaptive surfing including surf styles and equipment, click here for a short video created by Access Trax CEO Kelly Twichel who is also an occupational therapist.

Bruno, a male adaptive surfer, catches the top of a wave while laying down on his board with his hands gripping the sides. His board is red and he is wearing a wetsuit.

US Open Adaptive Surfing Competition Results

With 70 surfers competing in various categories this year, the stakes were high. While almost every athlete will tell you it’s more about having fun than winning, there’s no denying it feels good to be recognized for your skills and hard work. Here are most of the first place winners from this year:

Victoria Fiege- Gold in Women’s Waveski Division

Jessie Billauer- Gold in Men’s Prone Assist Division

Liv Stone- Gold in Junior Standing Division

Parker Olenick- Gold in Junior Prone Assist Division

Faith Lennox- Gold in Women’s Upper Limb Standing Division

Bruno Hansen- Gold in Men’s Prone Unassisted Division

Ethan Kairer- Gold in Men’s Waveski Division

Henry Martinez- Gold in Blind Division

Shawn Whitaker- Gold in Standing Below Knee Division

Llywelyn “Sponge” Williams- Gold in Kneeling Division

Aaron Paulk- Gold in Partial Vision Division

Martin Martinez- Gold in Standing Above Knee Division

Mike Vaz Richard- Gold in Men’s Standing Upper Limb Division

To see the full list of 2021 results, click here for the US Open Adaptive Surfing Championships website. Don’t miss next year’s event which will take place in September 2022!

Image shows a male adaptive surfer smiling, throwing up the surf "chaka" with his hands while being pushed in a beach wheelchair after his surf heat. It is a sunny day and there is a pier in the background. Volunteers around him are wearing yellow and light blue tops.

A male adaptive surfer is laying on his stomach on a blue board catching a wave. He has a white helmet and is wearing a blue jersey. He is pushing up on his elbows.

A male adaptive surfer catches a wave, leaning to touch his right hand in the water. He is standing on the board and uses a left below the knee prosthetic. He is wearing a black wetsuit and a red surf jersey.