Local adaptive surfers fly out for US Championship

Adaptive Surf ProjectOne by one, the cars arrived at the Charleston International Airport, surfboards on top or stuffed into the back of vans. Four surfers, their caregivers, family, and support team, 18 total, backing up the line at the jetBlue counter as surfboards were pushed over the weight scales to counter employees.

Brock Johnson, the current ESA East Coast Champion, Veronica Tario, the current ASF East Coast Champion, Conway native Ernie Johnson, and Socastee High School rising junior Terrel Rawson left today for Oceanside, California to compete in the Surfing America, US Surfing Championships, adaptive assist division.

Travel for the crew was donated by jetBlue, with the local nonprofit, Adaptive Surf Project filling in the gaps in funding, including housing and on-the-ground transportation in San Diego.

1This is the third year in a row for Brock Johnson. He previously competed in the World Championships as part of Team USA in 2015, and last year finished 3rd in the US Championships held in Oceanside. Johnson competes, as all four athletes do, in the assist division, meaning he has an able bodied surfer out past the breakers with him, pushing him into the waves. A quadriplegic since a boating accident in 2011, Johnson most recently won the adaptive division of both the Cherry Grove Surfing Championship and the Salt Games Pro/Am.

Veronica Tario joined Johnson on his trip out west last year to compete, finishing 5th in the US Surfing Championship. Tario went on to win the Atlantic Surfing Federation East Coast Championship this past summer. She is also a quadriplegic after a similar accident, diving into shallow water in Murrells Inlet.

2.5This will be the first year competing on the national level for Conway’ native Ernie Johnson. Johnson began surfing during a Wheel to Surf event three years ago, riding tandem. He continuously progressed and now surfs in the adaptive assist division. Johnson finished 4th during the ASF East Coast Championships. A quadriplegic as well, he was injured on the football field during a preseason game while playing for Conway High School in 1997. Arriving at the airport in the early morning hours, Johnson was ready, “We’ve worked really hard to get to this point. I’m excited to have the opportunity to compete on the national stage.”

Socastee High School surfer Terrel Rawson will also be making his first leap to national competition. He recently won the tandem division of the Cherry Grove Surfing Championships and is also the reigning Atlantic Surfing Federation East Coast Champion, in the tandem division.

Adaptive Surf Project co-founder Brandon Bellegarde is excited to give the athletes the opportunity to shine, “Without the support of the community, these surfers may not get to experience travel like this,” he said. Rawson has only been on an airplane once before and this will be his first cross country trip. “The competition is just a small part of this. We’ll be in California for a week taking these surfers to different beaches, and other activities.”

ASF Director Luke Sharp estimates the total value of the trip at around $18,000. “With the money the volunteers will spend, our organization and the donations from jetBlue, it’s overwhelming to think about the love that has been shown to these athletes. We’re very grateful.”

Grand Strand Sports Report is traveling with the group this week as they travel, surf, and compete, with the national championship set for Wednesday, June 14th at the North Jetty in Oceanside, California.

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Photos by Tyler Watkins and Luke Sharp

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