REGION — Surfing is challenging enough, even with seeing the waves and breaks unfold.
But paddling out and catching a wave while blind is a whole other ballgame. But last weekend, Scott Leason put forth an inspiring run during the inaugural International Surfing Association World Adaptive Games as a member of Team USA at La Jolla shores.
Leason, 59, took 28th out of 35 disabled competitors and missed reaching the finals by two points. Overall, at least 70 athletes from 18 countries competed at the games.
However, the judging — not that he and coach Pat Weber of Vista were angry about — tallied the four blind surfers the same as the sighted athletes.
Weber, though, said he will work with officials on how to establish a scoring system for blind athletes as well as forming their own division.
Nevertheless, the longtime friends were more than happy with Leason’s efforts on the waves.
“It felt great and was a privilege and honor to be on the U.S. team,” he said. “I feel as a visually impaired surfer I did well.”
“It was apples and oranges, but we were stoked to be in the fruit basket,” Weber added about the games.
The blind competitors are inspirations, although Leason’s story is one of overcoming a near death experience, battling through a dark period before taking control of his life.
Twenty-two years ago Leason was working as a convenience store clerk when a pair of robbers entered the store, shot him in the head and left.
Leason said the bullet just missed his brain, but his right eye had to be removed. A year later, his left one was surgically removed and now he has a pair of prosthetic eyes.
The aftermath was a difficult period for Leason, who was an avid surfer prior to the gunshot. In 2002, he met Weber and hit the waves. The two reunited once per year for the next 13 years until they discovered the games.
Over the last month, Leason and Weber trained three times per week perfecting their teamwork, which consisted of voice calls from Weber to Leason on the conditions of the waves, how fast to paddle and when to pop up on the surfboard. Weber, though, was not allowed to use any floating devices during the competition.
“Doing an event like this was like an extra dream in the dream bucket,” Leason said.
Last weekend, the duo’s connection worked in concert as Leason rode his first two waves, missed his next several attempts before closing his session by hitting his final two.
“He caught the wave on his own and jumped up like a jungle cat,” Weber said.
Leason, however, is more than a one-trick pony. He’s also an avid wakeboarder with gold and silver medals to his credit. It’s his best discipline and a sport he doesn’t take for granted.
Through life’s rocky road, Leason has taken the good with the bad and come out as an inspiration. Not to mention his thirst for staying active without sight.
“I’m proud to perform and I am hoping this will inspire visually impaired people to surf,” he added. “That’s the kind of legacy in blind surfing I’ll leave. The key to life is physical fitness and the best medicine in the world. It’ll cure anything.”