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Adaptive Surfer Alana Nichols: The Ocean Was There When I Needed it Most

Jason Lock

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Updated 43d ago

The momentum behind adaptive surfing is continuing a positive drive forward. Perhaps it's the well-documented healing nature of the sea that is drawing more people to its embrace? Perhaps it's the likes of hit docu Resurface, that tells the story of injured war vets getting in the ocean and letting its restorative powers wash over them, which recently hit the mainstream on Netflix that is exposing more people to the curative impacts of our big blue.

Over the past few months, national and international headlines have also been relaying the benefits of the ocean as a way for less-abled people to get active, while connecting to something....unexplainable. And this year, the ISA has reported a record number of adaptive surfers entered into the 2018 Stance World Adaptive Surfing Championship, which kicks off this week at La Jolla beach in California.

Whatever the case, the ISA has a passionate team on board who are keen to help raise awareness of the important health benefits that come with taking a dip in the sea, all the while promoting and growing a community of adaptive ocean farers, no matter what your water craft. And one of the event's world champs, Alana Nichols, is at the forefront of pushing for more women to break into the scene.

Alana moved into the adaptive surf scene after competing as a wheelchair basketball player and alpine skier. We caught up with Alana to talk the momentum behind adaptive sports and her plans this year for the 2018 Stance World Adaptive Surfing Championship.

When we spoke last year, adaptive surfing seemed to have gotten quite a bit of momentum, how's that changed over the  past 12 months?
Yes, thankfully a lot has changed. As a general movement, more and more people are seeing what’s happening on social media and getting out in the water.

There are more programs for wounded warriors and kids with disabilities through various organisations including the Challenged Athletes Foundation. The ISA world adaptive surf championships has announced that there will be 122 athletes (including 37 women)  from 24 countries this year. These are all time numbers, and we're all hyped.

What do you think can change to help adaptive surfing push forward?
Coverage, sponsorship dollars, Paralympic status. The sooner we can support this movement, the sooner we can spread the adaptive surf love to countries that need that support more than anyone.

Basically, it’s hard to find the appropriate equipment; prosthetic legs for stand up surfing, a wave ski for a paraplegic, or the right custom shaped board for someone that lays down prone because of quadriplegia.

When we are able to provide the necessary adaptations to the equipment, we can then talk about best practices for teaching someone with a disability how to surf.

There’s a docu on Netflix right now called Resurfaced, about military vets getting in the water and having the calming nature of the sea aid their afflictions, incapacitated from explosions, PTSD – it’s showing the benefit of the sea in a positive light. Do you think this publicity has had any impact on how people view the sea?
Yes! Gosh, Resurfaced is an incredible documentary that left me in tears and so relating to the healing power of the ocean. I do think people are generally coming around to nature being the best medicine for whatever ails you

I do think people are generally coming around to nature being the best medicine for whatever ails you. The ocean has been prescribed (literally) by doctors for wounded warriors and their recovery because it has that power. 

In terms of the mainstream media, do you think more can be done to highlight the issues and benefits around the sea? We all know it’s a natural curative, right? And everyone feels…something…when they get in the water.
I don’t think mainstream media “gets it” and yes I do think more can be done to highlight the positive bi-products of getting submerged in the ocean. It’s a heart, mind and soul cleansing experience. I really wish more people knew that.

What’s your relationship with the sea? Is there a spiritual connection, or do you see it as a huge playground of opportunity, or a mix of both?
I have a deep reverence for the sea. I call her momma ocean and respect her immensely. I know she’s not out to hurt me, but she’s powerful enough to end my life.

I know she provides fun and enjoyment and creativity and brings pure joy to my life so I try to protect her in every way possible. I also came to know the ocean at a time in my life when I needed her the most.

I needed physical, emotional and spiritual healing and with that salty embrace, every time I got out of the ocean, I felt new in some way. Healed. So yeah, I guess you could say I have a spiritual connection with the ocean.

What are your goals at this year’s ISA games?
I am still dealing with a nagging hip dislocation injury that happened in July while surfing Del Mar.

I needed surgery but didn’t do it so now I’m just in a lot of pain, mostly. So I haven’t surfed a lot since July. Last week, I surfed Santa Cruz for a week and feel like my overall endurance is lacking but skills are still intact.

My overall goal is to defend my world championship title. Outside of that, I’m working diligently to help grown the number of women participating in the ISA worlds.

Feeling any pressure?
Not a ton. I’m coming back from that injury and feel like if I’m doing my absolute best, that is all I can really do.

How about any trips, have you been getting away much?
This summer I spent a good month and a half in Maui recovering from an injury. Then I took a trip with The Highfives Foundation to Salulita/Punta mita, Mexico for an all adaptive surf trip and then just basically up and down the coast of California. I also came to know the ocean at a time in my life when I needed her the most

What is it that shines bright about the ISA games?
The stoke level, hands down! These athletes with disabilities have already had to overcome so much just to get from the land to the sea.

Imagine how difficult it might be to get you, you crew and all your equipment to La Jolla California from Chile or Puerto Rico or Argentina, Australia... I mean, It’s no small task. So when the ISA World Adaptive Surf Champs kicks of, you better believe this stoke is high.

Keep up to date with the 2018 Stance World Adaptive Surfing Championship by going HERE.