26 November 2023
Llywelyn “Sponge” Williams retains crown at ISA World Para Surfing Championships 2023
- Llywelyn Williams wins Men’s Kneeling division to win ISA world championship gold for second year running.
- Wales’ Kirsty Taylor wins copper in her first para surfing competition.
- England’s Charlotte Banfield wins her first gold following victory in the Women’s Stand 3.
- Zoe Smith and Melissa Reid secure silver medals for England in the Women’s Stand 2 and Women’s Visually Impaired (VI 2) respectively.
- England take copper in first ISA Team medal.
Llywelyn Williams became an ISA world champion for the second year running on the weekend, following podium-topping performances at Huntingdon Beach, California.
Sponge dominated the Men’s Kneeling category to retain his crown, while England’s Charlotte Banfield claimed gold in the Women’s Stand 3 division.
Melissa Reid and Zoe Smith collected silver medals for England in the Women’s VI 2 and Women’s Stand 2 respectively. And it was a copper medal for Kirsty Taylor in the Women’s Stand 2 on the Welsh surfer’s first competitive outing.
Building on the 2022 event, this year’s ISA World Para Surfing Championships saw 184 of the globe’s best para surfers from 27 national teams compete across nine different classes.
Participants enjoyed sunshine and consistent surf in the 3-4ft range throughout the tournament. Conditions held for the finals weekend, giving athletes solid head-high walls on which to showcase their skills before judges, beachside crowds, and fans around the world watching via the live stream.
Y Ddraig Goch fluttered high on day 6 of the contest. And hopes were just as lofty for Sponge, the defending ISA world champion going into the Men’s Kneeling final as top seed.
The Kneeling category is for surfers who ride a wave in a kneeling or sitting without paddle position. Entrants have an above-the-knee amputation or both lower limb amputations, or congenital or impairment equivalent.
Sponge tore into the glossy, wind-free walls with power and prowess, executing big turns on his John Purton stick, and going through the full range of body positions to maximise speed and flow.
All surfers put together impressive combinations early on, keeping judges busy in a final notable for the absence of Mark “Mono” Stewart after the Australian’s surprise exit in the heats stage.
Fending off pressure until the final hooter, Sponge finished on 14.17 to rapturous reception from the Welsh contingent on the beach. Not far behind was Spain’s Ibon Oregui on 11.50 and Australia’s Reddog Wheatley on 10.23. Brazilian Henrique Saraiva came in fourth with a tally of 7.00.
Speaking after his win, Sponge said:
“It’s been amazing on the beach, but every time we get involved in these competitions – everyone’s like a family, pushing each other and helping each other out. To have the support on the beach and to be here in the sunshine and good waves, it’s fantastic.”
“I was waiting for the two scores to come through. I heard the three drop, then the seven, and I felt more comfortable then. It was a super fun heat, and everyone was concentrating hard on getting their waves.”
“I’m practicing on my surfing hard, but it’s just as important being a role model for the younger surfers coming up through the ranks. To have younger kids getting involved and to be able to help them push forward, it’s a great feeling.”
“Thanks so much to everyone back at home for all your support”.
The Women’s Stand 3 final brought further Home Nations’ interest. The category is for any surfer who rides a wave in a standing position, with an above-the-knee amputation, or both lower extremity amputations, or congenital or impairment equivalent.
Charlotte Banfield entered the water with momentum on her side, and no little pressure; already with two world silver medals, a bronze and a copper in the trophy cabinet, could 2023 be the Falmouth local’s year?
Executing a good take-off on an early wave, Charlotte connected with a breaking section and held on well through the white water. Showing poise and control, she steered into a cut-back and ended standing high. The ride added 5.50 to an existing 3.50, moving Charlotte into first place, but the best was yet to come.
In the dying seconds, the English athlete paddled strongly to intercept an inside ramp. Getting steadily to her feet, she travelled down the face and stayed low in the curl as the shoulder developed into a lovely wall. Rail locked in, Charlotte trimmed right with composure and finished cleanly. She punched the sky, drawing huge cheers from the beach and onlookers from pier.
It was a defining ride that spoke of just how far Charlotte has come – how hard she has fought – for that victorious moment. The judges’ 7.33 reward was the highest single wave score across her division, leaving the new champ with a total of 12.83. Spain’s María Martín-Granizo fell short of defending her 2022 title to seize the silver, USA’s Breezy Bochenek took bronze, and Spain’s Ursula Pueyo, copper.
Reacting to the win, Charlotte said:
“This is my fifth world championships…now it’s a gold. I’m really excited and I just want to say I’ve got an amazing support network. Mike Lyndsey – if you’re watching this, we did it! Also thanks to my mum for being there with me through a tough few years. Those who know me know that this is my highest point so far, and I’m really happy.”
“Thank you so much to everyone who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
“It feels surreal, because when you’re home and training for something, you dream to yourself, ‘Oh what would it be like to win it one day,’ because that’s everyone’s dream.”
“This year I trained extra hard because I just really wanted to chase my dream and it’s happened and I’ve got so much emotion in my body,” she added.
The swell lines sat up on the dropping tide for the Women’s Stand 2 final. This category is for any surfer who rides a wave in a standing position with a below the knee amputation or congenital or impairment equivalent, or a surfer with a leg length difference.
Kirsty Taylor got into the scoring early, battling through the breaking lip of her opening wave. The Welsh surfer controlled her pop-up well to see the white water out, netting a 3.5. Brazil’s Malu Mendes registered similar straight handers, before Zoe Smith went one better with a neat take-off and a controlled turn that clocked up a 4.83.
Scores were fairly even as the hooter’s blast approached, when Laurie Phipps spotted a bowl forming as she patrolled the inside. Tilting her watermelon surfboard around, the Seignosse local stroked into the emerging peak with confidence. She popped up and drove right along the rising wall before smacking a close-out section, pivoting her board off the top and coming down in the sea chandelier, arms held high in celebration.
Phipps’ flourish moved the French woman into first place with a final total of 12.06. Zoe Smith did fantastically well to end business on a silver-medal-winning 7.83. Malu Mendes took bronze with 6.24, and Kirsty Taylor’s 5.07 earned copper and a podium place on her first-ever competitive appearance.
SoCal sunshine illuminated the 2-3ft ramps at high-tide Huntingdon next morning for the Women’s V1 2 finals. The category is for any surfer who rides a wave in a standing position with IBSA (International Blind Sports Federation) classification B2 and Level B3.
Representing England, Melissa Reid zipped up to her feet on her first Pacific wedge, pumping her Adams board along the right-peeling face. Tracking a high line into a close-out section, the three-times ISA world champion bashed the lip, not sewing things up perfectly, but still opening her account with a useful 3.67. She added a further 2.60, before nailing a final nugget to collect a combined total of 7.24 – enough to pocket the silver medal for the Porthtowan surfer.
Puerto Rico’s Aleli Medina exhibited aggressive, stylish wave-riding to top the group with 11 points. Lou Mechiche of France banked bronze with 5.60, and Canada’s Ling Pai closed her campaign on 4.90 to take the copper medal.
Ultimately, all competitors demonstrated athletic prowess and outstanding surfing ability throughout a closely-fought ISA World Para Surfing Championships.
It’s a subject that was touched upon in numerous winners’ interviews – para surfing standards are improving year-on-year; athletes are becoming fitter, faster and stronger, and pushing one another further.
It shows in the water where these pros are shredding by anyone’s standards. The result is a quality show that makes for exciting and impressive viewing. Underpinning this performance is a spirit of diversity and inclusion, community and stoke that gives para surfing a stand-out vibrancy within competitive sport.
As participation numbers and support increase globally, this positive growth is only set to continue. Inclusion in the Los Angeles Paralympics 2028 looks far more a probability than a possibility.
Roberto Pino (BRA) 16.94 1
Shingo Kato (JPN) 12.10 2
Camilo Abdula (POR) 7.37 3
Maxime Clarkin (FRA) 4.70 4
Rafael Lueders (BRA) 11.83 1
Ismael Nilsen (NOR) 8.66 2
Jean Paul Veaudry (RSA) 7.0 3
Kenjiro Ito (JPN) 5.46 4
Dijackson Santos (BRA) 16.34 1
Eric Dargent (FRA) 11.24 2
Dariel Davila (CRC) 10.03 3
Naomichi Katsukura (JPN) 6.13 4
Llywelyn Williams (WAL) 14.17 1
Ibon Oregui (ESP) 11.50 2
Reddog Wheatley (AUS) 10.23 3
Henrique Saraiva (BRA) 7.00 4
Felipe Kizu Lima (BRA) 16.33 1
Ethan Karier (USA) 9.23 2
Douglas Hendrix (RSA) 7.76 3
Guillaume Colin (FRA) 7.53 4
Joel Taylor (AUS) 13.17 1
Christiaan Bailey (USA) 9.83 2
Casey Proud (HAW) 8.34 3
Kai Colless (AUS) 5.77 4
Davi Teixeira (BRA) 16.40 1
Jose Martinez (USA) 15.43 2
Tomoki Fujiwara (JPN) 11.04 3
Ander Goenaga (ESP) 9.37 4
Kirk Watson (AUS) 10.83 1
Thomas Da Silva (FRA) 10.66 2
Elias Ricardo Diel (BRA) 8.50 3
Ben Neumann (GER) 4.37 4
Aaron Paulk (HAW) 16.26 1
Roy Calderon Vargas (CRC) 14.50 2
Pierrot Gagliano (FRA) 12.57 3
Jack Jackson (AUS) 9.10 4
Nagisa Ikegami (JPN) 13.07 1
Liv Stone (USA) 8.76 2
Catalina Castro (CHI) 5.97 3
Chikako Takao (JPN) 3.00 4
Laurie Phipps (FRA) 12.06 1
Zoe Smith (ENG) 7.83 2
Malu Mendes (BRA) 6.24 3
Kirsty Taylor (WAL) 5.07 4
Charlotte Banfield (ENG) 12.83 1
Maria Granizo (ESP) 6.90 2
Breezy Bochenek (USA) 3.74 3
Ursula Pueyo (ESP) 2.80 4
Victoria Feige (CAN) 7.93 1
Vera Quaresma (BRA) 6.23 2
Audrey Pascual (ESP) 6.13 3
Emmunelle Blanchet (FRA) 5.17 4
Alana Nichols (USA) 7.77 1
Cass Eckroth (USA) 6.30 2
Lisa Franks (CAN) 0.87 3
Meira Nelson (HAW) 0.00 4
Emma Dieters (AUS) 13.23 1
Kayla Woputz (HAW) 9.83 2
Tracy McKay (RSA) 8.67 3
Paloma Onate (ESP) 8.57 4
Sarah Almagro (ESP) 17.17 1
Jocelyn Neumueller (AUS) 14.17 2
Celine Rouillard (FRA) 11.60 3
Ann Yoshida (HAW) 6.00 4
Marta Paço (POR) 8.67 1
Valentine Moskoteoc (FRA) 6.00 2
Carmen Lopez (ESP) 4.50 3
Juliette Mas (FRA) 1.00 4
Aleli Medina (PUR) 11.00 1
Melissa Reid (ENG) 7.24 2
Lou Mechiche (FRA) 5.60 3
Ling Pai (CAN) 4.90 4