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Jake Eastwood, a youth adaptive surfer from Seattle, with pro surfer Rob Machado at the June 24 Switchfoot Bro-Am, which debuted competitive adaptive surfing at its 13th annual beach bash in Encinitas. Photos by Waterworkmedia
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Sports Talk: Time was right for adaptive surfing debut at Switchfoot event

The Switchfoot Bro-Am was epic, of course, with the recent collision of surf, sun and sounds once again proving to be the perfect kickoff for summer.

And of all the Moonlight Beach waves shredded by the Bro-Am competitors — from the iconic Rob Machado to the youngest of grommets — no one matched Alana Nichols.

“She crushed it,” Vista’s Ryan Gambrell said.

That she did. Too bad it was all for show.

“She got so excited that she went before the buzzer sounded,” Gambrell said. “It was still pretty epic.”

Nichols’ ride rode well not just because of her style. Her water dance across the Encinitas break was more special with her being an adaptive surfer with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF).

Competitive adaptive surfer Ryan Gambrell is about to hit the water for the heat with TeamCAF against Superbrand at the June 24 Switchfoot Bro-Am.

“I saw this wave coming in and I was in perfect position,” she said. “I lined up with the peak and I caught it and it didn’t count. But it felt like it counted because everyone on beach that day were so pumped.’’

And why not? The CAF was part of the Bro-Am for the first time and you bet it was a big deal.

“Getting to surf in front of a crowd this big brings an awareness to the things that we are doing,” Nichols said. “We’re overcoming our challenges.”

Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman sang CAF’s praises.

“Adaptive surfers continue to drive our sport forward and ensure our event can lead the way for sporting events around the world to create a culture of inclusion,” he said.

Nichols, 34, suffered a spinal cord injury while attempting a back flip on her snowboard in 2000. Paralyzed from the waist down, she powers through the water in a sitting position, using her paddle to reach the wave’s sweet spot.

After her injury she went on to star in multiple sports. She’s a three-time Paralympic Gold Medalist and is eager to spread the word about the powers sports possess in aiding the disabled.

“We’re helping people understand what people with disabilities can do and change the perception that disabled people are kind of immobile,” she said. “Hey we’re getting out in the surf.”

The CAF is the driving force in aiding these dedicated and determined athletes to enter the competitive arena. Not only does it help the big kids wanting to play, but the youngsters as well.

The CAF athletes also conducted the second annual Junior Seau Foundation Youth Adaptive Surf Camp. Some of those participants surfed in front of thousands at the Bro-Am.

The tykes thrilled those on the sand with their skills as the new surfers’ smiles revealed their pure joy.

Those grins would have extended to Seau, if the late Chargers great was still alive. There were few things Seau enjoyed more than being in the water and giving children a hand up.

Gambrell, who was born with dwarfism and is on the USA Adaptive Surf Team, was having as much fun as his pupils. 

“It was really awesome,” Gambrell, 33, said. “I got to talk to Rob Machado, who is one of my San Diego heroes, and my other one was Junior. So to think about that and then have kids coming up to meet you and talk to you … they were thanking us where it should have been us thanking them. It was just good vibes all around and you knew you were in the right place, doing the right thing.”

Right about now is when Nichols gets kidded again for her premature ride. But as many know, a sweet wave comes and goes on its own time.

“I was a little too stoked,” Nichols said. “But it was still awesome.”

So is the CAF for what it does for those not interested in watching life pass them by.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports.


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