Adjusting To The Waves

Maui Adaptive Surf Team feels the stoke

From December 4-11, the Hawai‘i Adaptive Surf Team went to California’s iconic Pismo Beach to compete in the ISA World Para Surfing Championship.

Quad amputee Josh Bogle brought sand from Hoʻokipa to the Para Surfing Championship in California. Photo courtesy Josh Bogle

By the time you read these words, the results will be known. But that doesn’t change the fact that these competitors deserve to be recognized, regardless of where they placed.

Let’s start with Maui’s Josh Bogle. After a series of accidents, he became dependent on opiates and ended up in a coma at Maui Memorial. He lost the lower half of both of his legs and most of both of his hands to a persistent infection.

“After losing my limbs I had a fair amount of PTSD and depression,” said Bogle. “It took me a while to get out of a wheelchair and learn how to walk and drive again. But the ocean is this incredible level playing field. It really doesn’t care if you’re missing limbs. We’re all the same surfers surfing the same waves each day. It’s just that magic of being in the water. Not only did an incredible healing happen, but emotionally, I feel so complete when I’m surfing. There is no disability. There’s a moment when your soul is gliding on water.”

Bogle said he’s been sober for seven years and has dedicated himself to beach cleanups, coral restoration, and regenerative farming.

The Para Surfing Championships have been held since 2015. All participating nations bring sand from their home country. There is a flag-bearer and a sand-pourer. Bogle brought sand from Ho‘okipa, his home beach.

Another competitor, Aaron Paulk, deals with a different challenge.

Paulk credits fellow adaptive surfer Shawn Lewis with setting him on his path. Photo courtesy Hawaii Adaptive Surf Team

“I was surfing over at breakwall in Lāhainā, and someone found out that I was partially blind,” he said. “I have a form of juvenile macular degeneration, which means, in short, I have a blind spot right in the center of my vision.”

He credits Shawn Lewis, fellow adaptive surfer, with setting him on his path.

“He asked me if I knew what adaptive surfing was and I was like, I have no clue,” Paulk recalled. “And he told me about it and I was in.”

During competition, he’s joined by a spotter who tells him which way to turn, how the wave is curling. But in general he relies on his other senses—hearing, touch, vibe—to guide the way. Intuition in the water. Feeling over sight.

In addition to Bogle, Paulk, and Lewis, the other Maui competitor at the ISA Championship was quadriplegic surfer Scott Davis.

Scott Davis competed for Maui at the Para Surfing Championship. Photo courtesy Hawaii Adaptive Surf Team

So, what about safety? These athletes face uncertain conditions with extreme—though clearly not insurmountable—impediments. Anyone who takes on the waves with a lack of vision or limbs or mobility must have admirable fortitude, but also faces unique risks and dangers.

Adaptive Hawaiʻi cofounder Jenn Gladwin said precautions are taken, but at the end of the day the athletes want to be out there no matter what. They crave the ocean.

“There’s a big spectrum of experience,” said Gladwin. “But most of these contests are held in pretty strong conditions, so they get familiar with the water pretty quick.”

As for the competition? Bogle confirms it’s fierce.

“I’m up against guys who have won world titles, they bring their A-game every time,” he said. “We’re all friends on the beach, but when it’s competition time, it’s game on.”

At the same time, he added, “Everybody is so supportive of each other, no matter what their disability is. A lot of these guys don’t have athlete development programs in their countries. It is literally magic on the beach watching paraplegics from South Africa, Australia, or Costa Rica get together. We really have an incredible community.”

This is inspiration in motion. Athletes who have dealt with life’s myriad challenges—self-imposed or otherwise—and found a way to rise above them. 

To ride the surf, in spite of it all.

To learn more about the Hawai‘i Adaptive Surf Team and to donate, go to 

Josh Bogle at Hoʻokipa, his favorite surf spot here on Maui. Photo by Sean M. Hower

Jacob Shafer