Oceanside resident pushes for para surfing's inclusion in LA's Paralympic Games
The USA Surfing Championship is back in Oceanside this week and this year, international para surf athletes were invited to compete for the first time.
That's exciting news for Oceanside resident Liv Stone, a three-time para surf world champion. She is among the athletes pushing for para surfing to be included in the Paralympics.
"I really hope that the Paralympics in 2028 take surfing. It's still a long process of getting a sport into the Paralympics," Stone said.
Stone was born with peromelia, a congenital condition where her arms weren't fully formed.
"It basically means that I was born with shorter arms with only two fingers on each hand," she said.
But that didn't deter her. The 20-year-old Oceansider resident was active in multiple sports, and five years ago, after participating in Bethany Hamilton's Surf Camp, she fell in love with surfing.
"It just came very naturally to me, and I really just loved it," Stone said. "I loved the feeling of being out there, catching my first couple of waves and just learning all about the surfing culture, about boards, about equipment, about everything."
She uses specially adapted fins on her hands to help her paddle out to catch the waves. Adapting their needs to sport is what every para surfer in the competition has had to figure out themselves. Stone called it their "style" of surfing.
Stone entered her first competition in 2019 but didn't do as well as she had hoped. When 2020 came, her only expectation was to do better than last year.
"I ended up surfing way better than I ever thought that I could have and ended up getting my first medal right before COVID-19 hit," Stone said.
She said it was one of the best moments of her life.
"That feeling of winning and proving myself wrong and proving (to) others that I can do this because I moved all the way out from Pennsylvania to California," Stone said.
Three medals later, Stone is hoping to take her sport to the 2028 Paralympics in Los Angeles. That's part of the reason why this year's competition was opened to international athletes, said Andrea Swayne, CEO of USA Surfing.
“We're starting to try to ramp up to that and want to showcase para surfing not just what we have here locally, but also open that up to other countries so that our athletes can start facing international competition more often,” Swayne said.
Participating in this year's events are athletes from six countries, including South Africa's Ant Smyth, a two-time world para surfing champion.
“So for para surfing not to be an Olympics would not be great, and I'm glad that there's a push to have it there. It has to be good for the sport,” he said, adding he hopes that it happens before he's too old to compete.
The para surfing competition finals are Wednesday and officials from the LA 2028 Organizing Committee will be on-site to evaluate the sport.
The USA Surfing Championship continues through Saturday at Oceanside Harbor.