Unique surf contest inspires challenged athletes

A unique surf contest unfolded in the waters off Waikiki over the past few days.

The surfers all face challenges, but they don’t let them get in the way.

Alana Nichols has always been an athlete. In fact, the injury she suffered that put her in a wheelchair happened while she was on the slopes.

“I broke my back snowboarding in 2000 and after breaking my back, and I was a three-sport star before my injury, I was pretty lost without what I’ve always known to be true, and that was sports,” she said.

That thirst for sports brought her to the ocean’s edge not long ago.

“It was only two months ago when I learned about AccesSurf, and really wanted to try it for the first time, and AccesSurf made it happen for me,” she said. “Now that I’ve been bitten, I feel like I just might have to move out here.”

Just months removed from her first introduction to surfing, Alana is now in a surf contest run by AccesSurf.

“We’ve been doing this contest with Duke’s OceanFest for eight years,” said Cara Troy of AccesSurf, “and actually (the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation) gave us one of our very first grants and then opened up a platform for us to have a challenged athlete competition. So this is where is started.”

AccesSurf has seen the numbers growing like crazy, double the participants this year, up to 30.

This year, athletes are from Hawaii, California and Australia and have disabilities including paraplegia, quadriplegia, amputee and deafness. This year also marks the first-ever Challenged Women’s Division.

The roster includes a multiple gold-medal-winning Olympian.

“I am happy and very fortunate to say I’m the first female to win gold in both the summer and winner Paralympic or Olympic Games now. That is the transformative power of sport,” Nichols said.

Power that is on display in all its glory at Duke’s OceanFest.

AccesSurf is the only nonprofit organization in Hawaii dedicated to empowering people with disabilities by providing access to the beach and ocean through adaptive equipment and therapeutic instruction such as surfing, swimming, snorkeling and shoreline flotation. Click here for more information.

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