Two-time ISA World Para Surfing Champion Victoria Feige is dreaming of bringing home a Paralympic gold for Canada, but it’ll be one heck of a ride before she reaches the podium.
For starters, adaptive surfing needs to get on the list of summer Paralympic sports. While surfing made its Olympic debut in Tokyo 2020, the Paralympic Games (Aug. 24 to Sept. 5, 2021) features 22 sports, and para surfing didn’t make the cut…yet.
Feige thinks the inclusion of para surfing into the Paralympic Games program is a real possibility.
“I’m part of the International Adaptive Surfing organization, which is helping move para surfing slowly towards the Paralympics. Qualification is an arduous process. We have 28 countries involved now, but we need 32. It’s close. We also need more women to fill out the women’s division,” said Feige.
The International Surfing Association (ISA), Surf Canada, Surf USA and other leaders are pushing for adaptive surfing to take its place on the 2028 Paralympic Games stage.
“The Paris 2024 Paralympic Games sadly, but not unexpectedly, doesn’t include surfing,” says Surf Canada president Dom Domic, adding that Tahiti is the approved location for surfing at the 2024 Olympic Games.
To push the limits of her own surfing ability, Feige is uprooting her life in Vancouver and moving to O’ahu, Hawaii in October.
“I wrote myself off way too soon. At first I thought I could just got straight on a longboard, which is super fun, but now being on a shortboard duckdiving and doing cutbacks and working on floaters and air hopefully, I would like to push to see how far I can go,” said Feige, who is a Canadian-American dual citizen.
While Feige worked as a specialized physiotherapist in Vancouver, she would spend all free time and disposable income chasing waves on Vancouver Island in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
“I love surfing in Tofino and Ucluelet, but being somewhere I can train every day will be game changing,” she said, noting it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to change into her wetsuit.
“The biggest obstacle to get back in the water for me was battling the cold of Canadian water. I found that wetsuits like the Rip Curl Flashbomb that have a quick-drying liner with extra stretch and warmth, was easier to get into. Getting into a wet wetsuit with floppy, paralyzed feet and legs can be really challenging.”
She’s stoked to dive into contest mode starting with the US Open Adaptive Surfing Championships on September 9 to 12 at Oceanside Pier, California followed by the Super Girl Surf Pro on Sept. 17 to 19. Then she’ll fly to Hawaii and begin training with surf coach Alcino Pirata or ‘Pirate’, a Brazilian adaptive surfing legend based on the North Shore.
“He’s training me to surf on bigger waves. I can’t wait to see where this all goes. As soon as I get to Hawaii, I’m going to be working on my breath hold training and see if I can handle some big surf,” she said.
ISA World Para Surfing Championships takes place in California in December where Feige will attempt to defend her back-to-back titles in the women’s kneel division.
“Team Canada will be going. Worlds is the largest competitive and the one that’s moving towards Paralympics the most. Some of the other competitions are building energy and there is prize money, but the ISA Worlds is the one that will fold into the Paralympics,” said Feige.
Surf Canada president Dom Domic says he’ll be joining the Adaptive Surf Team, and that they’ll have a solid budget to help them out.
“For the first time ever surf coach Shannon Brown will be going down. We’re going to put in our full support. I’m looking forward to giving them the support they deserve. The last couple years we haven’t been able to go because of overlap with other contests, but this time around the timing works out as long as we are allowed in the U.S.,” said Domic.
Adaptive surfing is such a welcoming community, notes Feige, and to encourage more participation, she founded the non-profit Adaptive Surfing Canada with two friends.
“The idea is so we can run lessons and help people that may have some kind of disability, physical or mental whatever the challenge is, to experience the ocean. We’re hoping to get people out in the water. But it’s just early days. We are just in the planning phase,” Feige said.
Anyone interested in helping develop the adaptive surfing program in Canada is encouraged to reach out to Pascale Martineau, ParaSurf Advisory Board with Surf Canada, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.