• Justin Duyao


In order to showcase and support the diversity of surfing, WMNSurfMag has been working on a portrait series, where we will introduce to you not only fierce females who fight for their rights to surf but also surfers around the world who portray what we also stand for:


Our team first encountered the term Adaptive Surfing at the 2019 Super Girl Pro Surf Competition, an event dedicated to encouraging and inspiring women of all ages to try different sports. While there, we connected with surfers whose lives embody the idea of limitlessness: the girls and women competing in the adaptive surfing heat.

Some of these women were born with disabilities and learned to live an adaptive life from a young age, while others developed disabilities later in life and had to adapt their techniques to keep chasing their passions. However, all of these women overcame their limitations and pushed through their fears to compete at the 2019 Super Girl Pro Surf Competition. 

The second installment of this mini-series on Adaptive Surfing will feature a surfer who developed a physical disability later in life. The story of Sarah Bettencourt deeply inspires us—she is proof that surfing is for everyone!

Sarah Bettencourt

Sarah was first introduced to surfing at the 2017 ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships, an event which has actively sought to develop Adaptive Surfing around the world. In 2017, Sarah was just an attendee, but by the following year, she had fallen in love with surfing and was able to compete. In 2018, Sarah took second place in the world for women prone surfers. 

Since then, Sarah has been competing unassisted, using a specially sized board with two handles, fin alterations and channels down the side that help her carve waves. Eric Rausch Creations shaped the board and The Semper Fi Fund, which is an organization that supports critically ill, injured and wounded marines, helped her buy it. 

Your world definitely changes when you go from being able-bodied to being disabled. ... I felt like I could never do anything again.

“I lay down on my board and surf,” Sarah said. “I have handles on my board that allow me to use my shoulders as my hips. I use my shoulders, core and back to maneuver the board up and down the wave. And I’m able to paddle in and paddle out, which is awesome.”

Sarah developed a rare neurological disability later in her life that has limited her mobility and caused permanent brain damage.

“I have lesions in my brain that cause the corresponding parts in my body to stop working,” Sarah explained. “I have 10 brain lesions that kind of come and go.”

When she first discovered her illness, she was training to fly helicopters in the U.S. Marine Corps. She stayed in the Corps until she was no longer able to walk, then she was medically retired as a Captain in 2012.

“Your world definitely changes when you go from being able-bodied to being disabled,” Sarah said. “It took a while. I didn’t know about adaptive sports for about a year and a half. I was trying to get back and do things the same way and getting really frustrated, because I felt like a failure. I felt like I could never do anything again. I thought I was cut off from sports, cut off from ever having a family. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

I might have to change equipment, or I might have to change my style of doing it, but I can do anything I want to do.

But as soon as Sarah was introduced to adaptive sports, they opened up a new world of possibilities. They proved to her that she is truly limitless.

“[Adaptive sports] showed me that I can do anything,” Sarah said. “I might have to change equipment, or I might have to change my style of doing it, but I can do anything I want to do. You don’t have to be a movie star, you can be an average person and still accomplish any dream you have, whether that’s surfing in this amazing event, being a mom or going to school and getting a degree.”

This optimism, however, did not come without struggle. Throughout the progression of her illness, Sarah described some of the mental barriers she had to overcome. 

“Everyone wakes up and has a bad day once and awhile,” Sarah said. “I might have those a little more often, if all of the sudden I can’t see very well because my eyes aren’t working, or I can’t feel my hands, they aren’t opening or closing. But you have to adapt and change to what’s happening.”

The Super Girl Pro Surf Competition, in particular, has been an inspiring event for Sarah. This last year’s ground-breaking adaptive heat has changed everything.

Surround yourself with those people who build you up, and you’re going to do anything.

“We are making history here,” Sarah said. “Hopefully this lets other girls and women know they can come and surf. They can play any sport they want.”

Aside from pros like Bethany Hamilton, Sarah’s biggest encouragers have been her fellow competitors in her heat. 

“These women are awesome,” Sarah said. “They help ground me, and they make me laugh and smile. It’s really great to be a part of it.”

Sarah also explained that the biggest thing that has helped her adapt has been her support network. 

“I have an amazing husband and a great group of friends. They are always there for me,” Sarah said. “They are always there for me and they say ‘Hey! You’ve got this!’ You know, ‘Take a moment and let’s figure it out, and we make it happen.’ Surround yourself with those people who build you up, and you’re going to do anything.”

As a final piece of advice, Sarah told us that it’s the little moments that fill life with joy. 

“That’s the biggest thing,” Sarah said. “Life isn’t always about the destination. It’s all those little moments that you have. Just sit back and enjoy, no matter what’s going on, … and share them with everyone, and life will be amazing. The world will be another place.”

This is the second of two installments in our miniseries on Adaptive Surfing. To explore the first, check it out at WMNSurfMag.com!

Photos by Miriam Joanna / @miriam_joanna_art


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