Vancouver athlete wants to get surfing into the Paralympic Games

When trying to convince officials that Para surfing belongs in the Paralympics, it sure can't hurt getting Kelly Slater and Jack Johnson on your side.

That's what Vancouver Para surfer Victoria Feige did, recruiting the best surfer in history in Slater and two-time Grammy nominee and former pro surfer Johnson to support the cause after spotting the pair at a 4th of July event on the North Shore of Oahu, where she's currently training.

"I'm essentially a fan girl," said Feige, who is no wave slouch herself as a five-time defending world champion in the kneeling division.

"I asked if they would help us with the petition we're running and they were so generous and so friendly. And they understand that we're surfers too, and we just want to have a chance."

The petition asks organizers of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics and Paralympics (LA28) to reconsider the decision not to add Para surfing to the Paralympics despite putting surfing on LA's Olympic program.

Former pro surfer and two-time Grammy nominee Jack Johnson, right, has thrown his support behind the campaign to get Para surfing into the 2028 Paralympic Games in Los Angeles.
Former pro surfer and two-time Grammy nominee Jack Johnson, right, has thrown his support behind the campaign to get Para surfing into the 2028 Paralympic Games in Los Angeles. (Victoria Feige/Instagram)

Feige said she and her fellow competitors were shocked to learn the news last month, especially after seeing a surfing fin used in an LA28 logo that's been rolled out for both the Olympics and Paralympics.

"Honestly, it was devastating," she said. "We meet all of the criteria. And behind the scenes, people were saying surfing is the state sport of California, and California is excited about it... so all signs seemed to be pointing to yes."

The petition, started by American Para surfer Josh Bogle, says the "financial complexities" of running the Para surf competition was a reason given for not adding the event.

The Paralympics usually take place two weeks after the Olympics, meaning the Para surf competition would require its own beach permit and reconstruction of a temporary surfing venue, according to Feige.

But she and her peers believe a solution can be found to make inclusion possible.

"We're proposing to run the Para surfing directly after the Olympics. Using the same contest site saves so much money and would lower the cost and complexity," she said.

Surfing debuted at the 2020 Olympics in Japan and will be included in Paris this summer. Para surfing has yet to make the Paralympic Games cut.

"We just asked for a chance for inclusion and equality... a chance to work it out together. We recognize the cost is a real factor, but we can find a way," said Feige.

The Canadian Paralympic Committee wasn't involved in the LA28 decision, but CEO Karen O'Neill said in an email that Feige and her colleagues' fight is a testament to how much the Paralympic movement has grown.

Vancouver native Victoria Feige celebrates her fifth straight world title at the Para surfing world championships on Saturday in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Feige celebrates her fifth straight world title at the Para surfing world championships in Huntington Beach, Calif., Nov 2023. (Pablo Franco/International Surfing Association)

"We understand how much it means to every Para athlete to have an event in the Games. It is a pinnacle of a lifetime of work and dedication, and as we are about to see at the Paralympic Games this summer, can inspire millions of Canadians watching at home."

CBC also contacted the International Surfing Association and LA28 for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.

Slater and Johnson's endorsements have the petition signature count ticking up, approaching 6,400 of the 10,000 goal by Wednesday afternoon.

Feige thinks having star power behind the message is helping because LA28 recently began following her on social media.

"It would be one of the most exciting sports in the Paralympics because there's no tokenism in the ocean," she said.

"If you catch a wave and you surf it well and you kick up spray with turns and you get a barrel, you did that with or without a disability in that same ocean as the Olympic surfers."