Last month the first ever Australian Adaptive Surfing Titles were held at Back Beach Cabarita, and it was an inspirational and well attended event. The surfers in the event did not want the title of disabled but rather adaptive, for like all surfers who may have to adapt to their age, fitness, or ability, these guys and girls have adapted to their disability and they rip!
The finalists are off to the second ever World Adaptive Surfing Titles in the US, and none could be more stoked than my old mate since childhood, Dale Taylor, who won his division and is Australian Champion in his division, AS1. He’s a thalidomide baby, whose right leg is five inches shorter than his left, is bent and half-footed thanks to the drug’s effects in his mother’s womb. In two foot waves at Cabarita’s back beach, he won an Australian title.
It’s not something Dale expected. He went in the event to support it and not in his wildest dreams did he think he would be Australian Champion. In fact he hasn’t surfed in a contest for 25 years, when he was in Broadbeach Boardriders where he tied for first place in the club championship, but came third in a countback. In Dale’s division, the AS1, he shared the final with Jake Matthews (missing lower right leg), Jade “Red” Wheatley (both lower legs), and Mark Bell (spinal complications of the lower body). Surfing is where Dale and his fellow surfers feel at home, and on the beach after his win he was rapt.
“I owe surfing so much. All my life, it’s given me an identity and I never had to worry about where I would fit in. I can’t explain the relationship I have with the ocean, but to get up every morning before dawn for 43 years to surf, it’s got to be something special.”
Dale said he was inspired by his fellow competitors in other divisions, “For me, all I do is put on my boardies and go surfing, but what some of these guys do to get out in the water is amazing and inspirational.”
Current World Adaptive Champion Mark “Mono” Stewart is someone who, like Dale, has been competitive against able-bodied surfers. Mono lost his leg to cancer as a 16 year old and ended up taking up kneeboarding. Mono is one of the better kneeboarders I have ever seen. He makes his way to the surf with his board and crutches. He also won his division at Cabarita, and will also be off to the World Titles.
Stewart also has surfing to help him through life, and is also one of the best surfboard airbrush and spray artists in the country.
“When I was 16 I had bone cancer. The prognosis wasn’t good. They told my parents ‘don’t look too far into the future’, but I’m glad they didn’t tell me. Here we are all these years later, still alive and kickin’, surfin’, and lovin’ life.”
Like I said, these guys are out there, and they are disabled, but they just adapt to what they have to deal with. Pretty dam awesome I reckon.