NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – A group of local surfers will be competing in the country’s biggest adaptive surfing competition, and a local nonprofit is helping them get there. The Adaptive Surf Project has helped raise enough donations to send four surfers and their teams to California for the competition.
“This is the most excited I’ve been about anything, since football. Since I broke my neck and competed in football. This is absolutely the most exciting thing I’ve done,” said Ernie Johnson. He is is one of the four surfers competing in the National Adaptive Surfing Championships next week.
He was playing football for Conway High School back in 1997, when an accident on the field left him paralyzed from the lower chest down, with limited hand function . “I’ve been paralyzed for more than half my life. Most of my memories and my life are in the chair,” Ernie said. After that accident, Ernie didn’t get back in the water for 17 years. “I was so afraid to get back in the ocean. I told everyone emphatically, ‘No I’m not doing it. No I’m not doing it.’ The first time I got onto a board and onto a wave, I freaked out like a big baby.”
Ernie’s been adaptive surfing for two years, and says it’s not just a hobby, it’s a form of healing. “There’s nerve pain, spasms and all these different sorts of things that go along with spinal cord injuries. But when we’re in the water, we forget about everything. Everything goes away. All we think about is the next wave,” he said.
Brock Johnson is the Vice President of the Adaptive Surf Project. He helped start the organization after a diving accident paralyzed him six years ago. “It brings me joy to surf but it brings me even more joy to see the smiles on people’s faces. There’s not a whole lot that we can do outside of our wheelchairs that are active or athletic. So it gives me a way to be free,” he said.
Win or lose next week, Ernie says surfing has changed his life for good. “I dream about surfing. I think about surfing all the time. I watch videos of surfing. It’s definitely my passion in life now. “
For more information on how to donate to or volunteer with Adaptive Surf Project you can visit their website here.