Local adaptive surfers set to compete in California

DSC00354Four local adaptive surfers have been selected to participate in the Surfing America US Surfing Championships in Oceanside, California June 14, and have begun preparing for the journey.

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 will make the trip on June 11 to compete in the adaptive division of the championships, with the winner set to join the US team in the international competition later this year.

The Adaptive Surf Project (ASP) is sponsoring the trip for the athletes, with contributions from Jet Blue and local donors. ASP Director Luke Sharp said the money was raised through several local events including a surf movie showing at Market Commons, a beard and mustache contest, and this past weekend’s Cherry Grove Surfing Championship, which featured all four surfers in the adaptive division.

This will be the third year in a row that the ASP has sent surfers to DSC00428compete in California. Brock Johnson competed as part of Team USA in the world championships two years ago, and then again last year, along with Tario in the US Championships.

“The idea is that the competition gives us an excuse to take our adaptive surfers to California to ride bigger waves, and experience some surf breaks that they might not be able to experience otherwise,” Sharp said.

Jet Blue is providing tickets for the four surfers, 5 caregivers, and 9 volunteers with the ASP providing funds for housing and rental vans while there. “The whole community came together to help us send these athletes out there. We’re so grateful for the love that has been shown,” Sharp said.

Brock Johnson was paralyzed 6 years ago while diving off a boat at Bird Island to catch a football and landing in shallow water. “It’s really exciting. Everyone is getting geared up and urging each other on. I can’t believe that it’s grown like this and that we have more people that want to compete. It’s really great for the sport.”

Brock is also the founder of Wheel to Surf, a local organization that hosts several events for adaptive surfers. “It’s all part of my dream to be able to include other people and help them be happy. We’re able to go out there and represent our hometown and state, it’s really huge.”

DSC00365In preparation for the contest, each surfer has been practicing and competing locally. Conway native Ernie Johnson surfs several times a week. “I haven’t been this excited for anything since I played high school football,” Johnson said. “I’ve been busting my butt getting ready for the National Championships. I hope to make my hometown proud. Stay tuned!,” Johnson, a quadriplegic with limited use of his arms, was paralyzed after an on-the-field football accident while playing for Conway High School in 1997. He recently placed second in the Cherry Grove Surfing Championships, behind Brock Johnson.

Even though the competition is the main focus, Sharp says it’s only part of the deal. “For me, I’m really excited for the experience. The volunteers will get to surf early in the morning, and then the adaptive surfers will surf mid-day. We’re taking a device to be able to transport these adaptive surfers to some really difficult to get to surf breaks.”

The group will have one final competitive tune up this weekend, surfing in the Salt Water Games, before departing June 11th.

For more info, find the Adaptive Surf Project online at facebook.com/Adaptivesurfproject

Photo Credit: Dave Vennell
Terrel Rawson

Adaptive Surf Project 

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