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A participant reflects on this year's Para Surfing World Championships in California

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Surf's up this weekend in California. Pismo Beach will be playing host to the world's seventh Para Surfing Championship. One hundred and eighty-one participants from almost 30 countries will be competing during the week-long event starting today. Among them is Dana Cummings, who is also one of the organizers. Welcome to the show.

DANA CUMMINGS: Thanks for having me so much. I really appreciate it.

RASCOE: So I understand you've just had your morning surf. How were the waves?

CUMMINGS: Waves are good this morning - a little smaller, but they're picking up. So we're looking at some good waves for the kickoff this week.

RASCOE: Now, para surfing - it's an adaptive sport, meaning it's been adapted for people with physical disabilities. I understand you lost a lower leg in a car accident 20 years ago. What kind of challenges do you face in competing?

CUMMINGS: Twenty years ago today, I was sitting in a hospital bed wondering what I was going to do with myself, and the only thing I'd ever tried and failed at previously to that day was surfing. And so I wanted to learn to surf. And, you know, there's all sorts of different challenges as an adaptive surfer. When I pop up, I'm not sure exactly where my left leg's at when it lands, but I can take a quick peek at it as I go and figure it out. But yeah, I mean, honestly, yeah, one of the worst things that ever happened in my life, but it's been probably the biggest blessing in my life. I never would have gotten into competitive surfing. And so to be able to do this and be able to host all these athletes from around the world 20 years later, well, that was probably one of the most epic things will ever happen to me in my life.

RASCOE: I know that you said that it was the one thing you hadn't been able to do before, and you wanted to take it up. But, like, was it intimidating doing it?

CUMMINGS: Yeah, no, it was. And you know, the first day I went out ever, I, you know, rode a couple waves in laying down and - just in a whitewash, and was so happy that I could even do that. And then the next day I stood up for a little bit, and it was just absolutely life-changing.

RASCOE: And talk about the work that you've started to do. I mean, I know, as you're saying, it's transformed your life in many ways. You've dedicated yourself to doing a lot of nonprofit work in this area, right?

CUMMINGS: Yeah. So I - so myself and three of my buddies back then, we started the AmpSurf program to teach, you know, people with disabilities how to surf. And I just said, look, let's start a learn-to-surf program and we'll teach people, and then we'll grow the team from that. And that's kind of how it started. And we didn't know where it would go. And now, you know, 20 years fast forward, and it's grown - you know, we've got four chapters around the country. We do contests around the world. We're expanding into Puerto Rico this next year and South Africa. And there's so many other groups now that have either spun off from us or been inspired and created by, you know, coming out to our programs. And I just never imagined it would become what it has.

RASCOE: Can you tell us about - just describe the joy, the sensation of the sport?

CUMMINGS: When you're working to catch a wave, you can't - whatever's going on in your life, whether you're able-bodied, adaptive, whatever, you know, you can't think about all that stuff that's back on the beach. You can't bring that out there with you because you've got to focus on where you're at in the moment. And so - and then when you catch that wave, and you feel, you know, the power of that wave pushing you and propelling you forward, and you're literally just, like, flying, you're floating, and then when you're able to maneuver on it, and you are controlling it, it just - it never gets old feeling that feeling and that exhilaration of it. It's just an absolute full body, mind, awe-inspiring moment every time you do it.

RASCOE: That's Dana Cummings, who is competing this week in the World Para Surfing Championship. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

CUMMINGS: Thank you guys. I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.