Adaptive surfers depart for US Surfing Championship

Local surfers, volunteers, and family members gathered at the Charleston Airport this morning with surfboards and luggage in route to San Diego, California to compete in the US Surfing Championships.

The Adaptive Surf Project, a federally recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization based out of Cherry Grove, is sending six adaptive athletes to compete. These athletes qualified for participation after placing in the East Coast Adaptive Surfing Championships held at Cherry Grove Pier on April 21st.

This will be the third year that local adaptive surfers have participated in the Surfing America event.

Myrtle Beach’s Brock Johnson makes his fourth trip to California and his third appearance in the competition. Johnson surfed as part of Team USA at the 2015 ISA Championship held at La Jolla. Participants Ernie Johnson, from Conway and Socastee High School rising senior Terrel Rawson are making their second trip to Oceanside for the competition.

Joining the group for the first time will be Columbia’s Mark Riffle, Carolina Beach’s Carter Hess, and Little River’s Kristopher Angone.

Brock Johnson, Ernie Johnson and Riffle will surf competitively in the prone-assist division. Quadriplegics, the three will be assisted in the water by volunteer watermen Luke Sharp, Brandon Bellegarde, Tyler Watkins, Caleb Reed, Vann Horne, Antwoine Langley and Paul Towers.

Rawson surfs tandem with another waterman and is the current US adaptive champion in that division.

Hess will be surfing unassisted in the AS-1 below-the-knee standup division. The amputee was serving in the 82nd Airborne division of the Army in June of 2012. While in Afghanistan, he stepped on an IED pressure plate, losing the portion of his leg below the knee. Now medically retired, the lifetime surfer has been able to return to the water with the help of a prosthetic.

Kristopher Angone of Little River spent 23 years in the Air Force as a helicopter gunner. The Senior Master Sergeant will surf in the wave ski division of the championships. In 2012, he visited his doctor to complain about knee pain, a common ailment of gunners. A scan of his knee revealed a cancerous tumor that required amputation just above the knee. While being fitted with a prosthetic, he continued to serve before an injury to his remaining knee forced retirement. He is the current east coast adaptive wave ski champion.

In addition to serving as a volunteer waterman, Langley will also surf in the mens shortboard division of the championship. The Pawleys Island surfer is set to compete tomorrow.

The athletes will spend several days surfing around the San Diego area before competing in the championships on Thursday or Friday, based on conditions.

Local donations to the Adaptive Surf Project give the athletes, volunteers, and support team an opportunity to represent the Carolinas nearly cost free. JetBlue donates airfare, including luggage fees to the entire team allowing them to carry their quiver of 13 boards for free.

The total cost of the trip is estimated around $18,000 for the crew, including ground transportation. ASP vice president Brock Johnson is grateful for the opportunity to return, “The community has been so supportive of what we are doing. We’re very thankful for their help and we’re sending our best to represent Team Carolina.”

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

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