Cranking Para Surf
A chunky 4-6ft swell at Huntington Beach in California yesterday brought testing conditions for the 2023 ISA World Para Surfing Championships as the world's best para surfers battled it out on Day 3.
A surprise increase in swell introduced an exciting element as the world’s best para surfers took the challenge head-on, posting large scores in the sizable four-to-six foot surf. The event features 184 of the world’s best para surfers, representing 27 national teams across nine Para Surfing sport classes.
The South Africans have enjoyed mixed fortunes, with standouts Antony Smyth, JP Vaudery and Douglas Hendrix looking good for a place in the quarterfinals. The format is slightly different to surfing competitions in that they take the best of two waves from two heats and the top eight make it to the quarter finals.
There is no repercharge, but you do get to surf a minimum of two heats at a world championship. Women’s action was front and center as Round 1 in each of the three women’s Stand classifications was run, along with Prone 1 and Kneel. Round 2 in men’s Stand 2 & 3, Prone 1, and Kneel rounded out the day. JP Andrew and Tyler Pike were knocked out of the event in the latter, with Similo Dlamini looking to her second heat to boost her low scores in Women's Kneel that still managed to put her into 6th place so far.
Team captain Tracy McKay is also looking to improve on 6th place in the Women Prone 1. Natasha Siebert is currently 12th in the competitive Women's Prone 2, and is also looking to get two higher scores in her upcoming 2nd heat. Partially sighted surfer Michele McFarlane is also 6th in Women's VI2, with another heat to go.
Japan’s newest team member, Nagisa Ikegami (JPN), provided a highlight in Women’s Stand 3. Coming up against three-time World Champion Liv Stone (USA), Ikegami found two solid scores, a 7.67 and a 6.00, to earn a 13.67 heat total, the highest of the day in the women’s field. Ikegami was undaunted by her fellow competitors, and enjoying her first taste of international para surfing competition.
“I had no idea I was surfing against a world champion,” Ikegami said. “It was all up to me and my own challenge of what I could achieve. Japan has a more reserved culture. Here it’s a lot more warm, a lot more friendly and a lot more free feeling. I love the mix of the cultures and the color that contrast brings.”
Returning gold medalists María Martín-Granizo (ESP), Emma Dieters (AUS), and Victoria Feige (CAN) earned heat wins as they sought to boost their medal counts. Solid scores from Audrey Pascaul (ESP) and Vera Quaresma (BRA) will push Feige’s performance as she seeks to maintain her dominance of the Women’s Kneel classification. The Canadian is pursuing her fifth gold medal and has not lost since her 2018 debut.
Dieters dropped into one of the biggest waves of the day to mark her debut in the Prone 1 classification. After winning gold in Prone 2 in 2022, her first year of para surfing competition, the 41-year-old is happy to be back representing her nation.
“It’s cool to come back with the Australian team and try and get that vibe going again that we had last year,” Dieters said. “We all did really, really well for Australia, so hopefully we can replicate that again this year.”
The men’s leaderboards established in the first two days of competition didn’t see too much of a shakeup today. The completion of Round 2 in multiple classifications did mean that many eliminations took place, including the shock loss of three-time gold medalist Mark ‘Mono’ Stewart.
Rafael Lueders (BRA), Jean Paul Veaudry (RSA) and Kenjiro Ito (JPN) each improved their totals in Stand 2, as did Llywelyn ‘Sponge’ Williams (WAL), who reclaimed the lead in Men’s Kneel from Ibon Oregi (ESP). Nicolas Gallegos (ARG) and Marcos Tapia (ESP) also found great scores to secure progression in Prone 1.
Barely surviving after being shot through the spine at 13, Jonathan Arias (ESA) was put in a wheelchair and had to spend two years regaining the use of his arms. Prior to taking up surfing three years ago, the 26-year-old could not swim. After training hard and drawing inspiration from previous champions, Arias, who competes in unassisted Prone 1, earned the highest single wave score of the event today, a near-perfect 9.83.
“I was right next to the competitor from Brazil and he looked like he was going to take off,” Arias said. “At the final moment he looked reluctant. My coach had told me to go for a big one and I knew this was my opportunity, so I took it and was able to get a couple good hits. I did what I could, everything I know.”
ABOUT THE ISA
The International Surfing Association (ISA), founded in 1964, is recognised by the International Olympic Committee as the world governing authority for surfing. The ISA governs and defines surfing as shortboard, longboard & bodyboarding, standUp paddle racing and surfing, para surfing, bodysurfing, wakesurfing, and all other wave riding activities on any waves, and flat water using wave riding equipment.