The surfers came from beaches near and far, waving their country flags with pride as they headed toward the famed Huntington Beach Pier, where for six days they will battle in the waves.
Nearly 200 adaptive surfers from 30 countries joined the Parade of Nations down Main Street on Sunday, Nov. 5, for the International Surfing Association’s World Para Surfing Championship, an Olympic-style event being held for the first time in Surf City.
The competition runs through Nov. 11, with the surf action starting at 7 a.m. Monday, Nov. 6, on the south side of the pier.
“If you look at these athletes, some of them blind or who have lost several limbs, competing at a world-class level in a world-class competition, it’s something to behold in person here in Huntington Beach,” said Kelly Miller, CEO of Visit Huntington Beach.
The event is not only a historic moment for the city’s rich surf history, but also marks a record number of participants, Miller said.
The 2023 World Para Surfing Championship is the eighth major ISA event held in Surf City, with the city hosting four ISA World Surfing Games –1984, 1996, 2006 and 2022 – as well as the ISA World Juniors in 2005, 2018 and 2019.
The Parade of Nations drew spectators and supporters who cheered on the athletes, and there was a sand ceremony at Pier Plaza where athletes poured sand they brought from their home countries into one large clear jar, signifying unity through surfing.
Team USA boasts several Southern California surfers, including Jacob Pacheco, who lives in Long Beach but calls Huntington Beach his home break.
Life Rolls On founder Jesse Billauer, from Pacific Palisades, will be going for another world championship. Billauer, a pro surfer who was paralyzed during a surf accident as a teenager, was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame last summer just across from the pier in front of Jack’s Surfboards.
San Diego has several adaptive athletes in the event, including past world champions Liv Stone, Jose Martinez and Sarah Bettencourt.
Huntington Beach has expressed interest in hosting the surfing portion of the LA2028 Olympic Games when it comes to the region, and competitions like this showcase how the beach town can hold large-scale events with plenty of nearby hotels, sand space for a festival-like arena and accessibility, Miller said.
Surfing has yet to be added to the Paralympics, but athletes and the ISA hope the sport will be added for the games in LA, though it still needs approval by the International Paralympic Committee. And if it does get the green light, Miller said Huntington is hoping to host that surfing event as well.
Huntington Beach in recent years has made an increased effort to add Mobi-Mats, strips of blue mesh material that lay across the sand as beach paths, near the pier so people in wheelchairs or who need a more solid surface can get closer to the water’s edge.
A temporary mat by sponsor Access Trax, based in San Diego, will be set out for this event, but there’s plans to make it a permanent fixture, Miller said.
“We’ve been really focused on accessibility,” Miller said. “We are doing everything we can to inspire residents and visitors who may have physical challenges to come to our beaches, which are becoming more and more accessible for all populations. That’s a big deal for us.”
For more info about the World Para Surfing Championship, go to: isasurf.org/learning/para-surfing.