Australian adaptive surfers strike gold as sport makes pro debut in Hawaii

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Australia’s Adaptive Surfing Team won the pool at the inaugural Adaptive Surfing Professionals World Championship Tour event in Hawaii.

Adaptive surfing allows competitors with additional challenges, such as those with physical or visual impairments, to use specialized equipment or a surfing experience tailored to their abilities.

There were nine placings in the event, which took place June 7-11 in Waikiki.

Mark Stewart, Jocelyn Neumeuller, Sam Bloom and Matt Formston each took first place in their respective divisions in light conditions at Queen’s Beach.

Northern Beaches surfer Sam Bloom took down the prone division without assistance.

Bloom said the victory was particularly sweet because it was the first time she had been in the water without her husband Cam pushing her over the waves.

Bloom said she was surprised when competition organizers felt she had the upper body strength to compete without him.

“I was super nervous, but in my head I was like, ‘OK, what have you wanted to do since your accident’, which is to be able to go surfing on your own,” said Bloom.

Adaptive surfing veteran Mark “Mono” Stewart catches a wave.(Provided: Mark Stewart)

The Hawaiian “mana” sets in

Mark “Mono” Stewart of Byron Bay, a veteran of competitive adaptive surfing, won the men’s Any Kneeling Kneel division.

After tube racing with a perfect score in one of his heats, Stewart slipped into the overall win by a 0.04 margin.

Amid treatment for a melanoma tumor in his lung, Stewart said he thought he was heading to Hawaii to say goodbye to his friends.

However, a month before the competition, a scan revealed that the size of the tumor had shrunk by half.

“So I went there with the firm intention of saying, I’ll see you all again.”

Stewart said the positive atmosphere of the competition and the Hawaiian “mana” helped him go from having hair on a water wheel at the start of the competition to walking through water.

First professional tour

Twenty-six-year-old surfer Jocelyn Neumueller from Adelaide has won the women’s recumbent assist division, just two years after taking up the sport.

Nuemueller said she was excited to participate in the inaugural pro event for adaptive surfers.

“It’s so great to be recognized as professional athletes, with a world championship tour to participate in that also offers cash prizes,” she said.

A woman surfing with a blue sky visible in the background
Jocelyn Neumueller says it’s great to be recognized as a professional athlete.(Provided)

Lennox Head surfer Matt Formston won the men’s Partial Vision division, in conditions he described as “challenging” due to a lack of swell.

Formston was assisted by his spotter, trainer and best friend Michael “Crispy” Crisp.

Crisp said Australia’s performance in Hawaii was extraordinary.

“It’s just amazing to see surfers who are often in wheelchairs, have such inspiration and touch and feel the waves.”

A man in a black shirt and kicks a board riding a wave
Matt Formston surfing at Clarkes Beach in Byron Bay.(Provided: Matt Formston)

The team will be ranked first as competitors prepare for the next event to be held in California in September.

Australia is also set to host an event when the tour heads to the Surf Lakes wave pool in Yeppoon in August next year.

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