Maui para surfers claim titles at USA Surfing Championships
The Maui surfing community has always had an impressive list of world-class athletes, but a few more are beginning to emerge on that impressive stage.
Three Maui para surfers captured national titles at the USA Surfing Championships last week in Oceanside, Calif., and another finished third.
Aaron Paulk and Faith Lennox added to medals they won at the 2020 ISA World Para Championships that took place just about a week before the COVID shutdown took place, while Josh Bogle won his first medal at a competition at the national level or higher.
Those three national champions — Paulk in the Vision Impaired 1 and 2 Division, Lennox in Para Surf Stand 1 Division and Bogle in Para Surf Stand and Kneel Division — were joined as Maui medalists at the event by Shawn “Big Foot” Lewis, who finished third in the Para Surf Stand 2 Division.
Lennox lost her left arm below the elbow at 9 months old after being born with compartment syndrome, a condition that occurred when her arm was crushed while her mom Nicole was in labor.
The 13-year-old Lennox, a home-schooled rising eighth grader, finished fourth in the open girls 14 longboard division a day after her para victory.
“That was really cool,” Lennox said, adding she’s most proud of finishing “first place in para.”
She said she surprised herself by winning in her first time competing in the national meet. The Maui foursome rooted each other on the entire day when their events were taking place on Tuesday.
“I felt like I was at home,” Lennox said.
Lennox said she is honored to be part of the Maui surf community and she has some impressive role models from the Valley Isle.
“Ian Walsh and Paige Alms, Kai Lenny, people like that,” said Lennox, who began the sport at age 5. “I wanted to surf with my dad and he got me to start surfing.”
Her new coach, Chris Haas, has helped with her development in a big way, Lennox said.
“He’s helped me a lot, I’ve seen, like, so much improvement with my maneuvers and staying calm in the water,” Lennox said.
All of the Maui para surfer foursome surf together several times a month, and it carried over to the national event.
“We were all there supporting each other,” Paulk said. “We were on Oahu, North Shore a couple months ago, just kind of training for nationals. So we were all juicing each other up in training and then we all registered for the U.S. nationals as well. We did really well, this is the first time all of us won these titles.”
Paulk, who has a form of macular degeneration called Stargardt’s disease, has full periphery vision but can see little else. His guide on the water, Gabriel Donihi, is a large part of his success.
“Him and I have been surfing together for about four years, I think this is the third competition that he has spotted for me in the water,” he said.
Paulk, whose vision loss began when he was 18 and has been surfing for about eight years, turned 40 years old at the event.
“Yeah, that was great, I never anticipated that I’d be winning some kind of national title at 40,” he said.
Paulk said surfing has been a blessing since he found the sport.
“I used to be a competitive athlete in ice hockey, but I haven’t found a place that I could feel comfortable until surfing,” he said.
Bogle, 44, and Lennox are neighbors in Haiku and often surf together. Bogle is a double amputee below both knees and lost his right hand and most of the fingers on his left hand due to circulation problems after a 17-day coma that resulted from liver and kidney failure brought on by a staff infection in his foot in 2012.
He has been surfing for three years.
“I was always a bodyboarder and bodysurfer, but after losing the limbs below the knee, I lost the ability to wear swim fins,” Bogle said. “For me, this is my first-ever first place. I have four second-place wins from Hookipa, Sunset Beach, all these different contests, but I had yet to pull down that first place, so this was a big moment for me.”
Both Bogle and Lennox have help with their surfboards from world-renown shaper Matt Kinoshita, who has made specialized, custom handles to help each of them carry their boards.
Bogle, who finished fifth in his 40-49 longboard open age division, felt the judges may have shorted Lennox in her open longboard final.
“I think the judges misjudged a few of her waves on longboard,” Bogle said. “I was on the beach going, ‘Are you kidding me?’ She had some great late drops onto some big waves and I was like, ‘Do the judges know that she’s paddling into these waves with just one arm?’ … She’s an amazing surfer, straight up.”
In addition to the para surfers’ success, Maui professional Zane Schweitzer won the men’s longboard and standup surfing division national titles in open division competition, and Lara Claydon finished third in the open women’s standup division.
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.