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Adaptive action athletes

Adaptive Action Athletes

Breaking the laws of gravity and the definition of what it means to be disabled.

By Emily Gray, Amputee Reintegration and Motivation Specialist.

Adaptive action athletes are innovative, courageous athletes who are constantly reforming and changing perceptions around disabilities. By finding different ways to adapt to their circumstances they are able to redefine the word impossible.

Action sports require balance, coordination, and movement as key components for performance. These key components are particularly challenging for people with disabilities in their everyday life let alone within the sport. The following four sports have shown great growth over the recent year in the adaptive arena and may become contenders at the 2024 or 2028 Paralympics.


Last year, 77 athletes competed in the first ever 2016 Stance ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship held in the city of San Diego. This was a monumental moment for adaptive surfing as it finally opened up the opportunity for disabled surfers to eventually go pro. There are six categories depending on the athlete’s ability to stand, sit, lie down, muscular strength and visual impairments.

Team South Africa finished with a very respectable 6th position, with a total of 3618 points. Brazil took the gold, with USA, and Chile trailing closely behind. “The event has built upon the platform created in 2015 to launch the sport towards Paralympic inclusion” said the ISA President, Fernando Aguerre. “However, the Paralympics are not the final goal, they are the ultimate achievement. The final goal is to spread the joy of Adaptive Surfing around the globe” The next ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships will be taking place in La Jolla, California, USA 2017.

Sport Climbing

Adaptive climbing clubs have been gaining lots of interest in recent years. Disciplines are broken down into divisions for lower- and upper-extremity amputees, those with neurological/physical disabilities, seated climbers and visually impaired climbers. Athletes with spinal cord injuries or loss of trunk stability have variations on a harness system. It will depend on your level of injury which you will use.

It is possible to utilise a standard harness in conjunction with a chest harness. This allows the climber to remain in an upright posture while climbing. Seated harness systems are also available, with bigger waist belts and leg loops to help prevent pressure sores. The Olympic Committee has officially included sport climbing as an event for Tokyo 2020, with hopes that Paraclimbing will be added to the list of Paralympic sporting codes for the 2024 Games.


This fast pace low impact sport shows no signs of slowing down. Kitesurfing is especially great for spinal cord injuries or CP as it activates core strength while working neurological pathways needed for coordination. As it is a relatively low impact but fast-paced, exciting sport it will soon capture interest around the world. Markus Pfisterer, a kite surfer from Switzerland displays brilliant balance and skills as he rides waves and catches air with his makeshift chair-board.


Guys like Oscar Loreto are really inspiring the future generation of adaptive skateboarders as they constantly redefine and push their boundaries of possibilities and potential. Organisations such as Adaptive Action Sports help give the sport exposure, support and momentum hopefully more and more talented athletes will unlock their talent with their skateboards. Another influential pro-adaptive skateboarder is Jo Comer, a below-knee amputee. He advises anyone who is unsure about beginning skateboarding should simply go for it. “You don’t know until you try,” Comer says. “For me, it was awesome. The advantage is you can do it by yourself, and it is what you make of it. You can use your own creativity.”

These sports will continue to grow in participants thanks to the influencers and organisations taking the first step in setting up adaptive clubs and competitions. If you don’t live near any adaptive clubs but are interested in joining one, go out and start your own group or club. It is up to you to use your creativity in finding a way, take the first step in your community!

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