We’re stoked to introduce the five new members of our Para Surf team.
Emma Dieters, Lee Ferrier, John Wheele, Michael Foti and Chris Blowes are among the 11 Irukandjis set to compete in the 2022 ISA World Para Surfing Championship at Pismo Beach, California from December 4 – 11.
The ISA rookies all say they’re honoured to represent their country. We wish them luck!
Let’s find out a bit more about each athlete.
Emma Dieters from Mona Vale, NSW was diagnosed as a C4 quadriplegic in February 2021 after spinal fusion surgery went wrong.
She said a chance meeting with 2x Para Surfing World Champion, Sam Bloom opened-up a whole new world of possibilities. Emma is now hoping to bring home her own piece of silverware when she competes at the 2022 ISA World Para Surfing Championship for the first time.
“It has been a tough journey however I have been determined to show my kids that I will not let this situation get me down. I will make lemonade from the lemon I’ve been given,” she said.
“Hopefully in California I can turn this into a story of triumph and take this silver lining of a s*^t situation and turn it into GOLD.”
Emma thanked the “wonderful, supportive community of family and friends” that have helped raise funds for their trip.
The mum-of-two runs an online business called Life Flipped Collective, which she started from her hospital bed.
Lee Ferrier from Narrabeen, NSW had a motorcycle accident in April 2015 that left him paralysed from the chest down. He spent 5 months in hospital and rehab.
He returned to surfing on a foamy at Bondi Beach nearly one year to the day after his accident and fell in love with surfing all over again.
“Even though it’s not the same as before as I’m laying on the board now, I still get an amazing buzz from flying across a wave and now it’s always overhead! It took me two years after that to finally enter my first competition at the 2019 Australian Adaptive Surf Titles on the Tweed Coast. I won my division (Men’s PS-Prone 2). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to travel to America that year to represent Australia and then Covid happened,” he said.
The father-of-two is super excited to be representing Australia at the ISA World Para Surfing Championship.
“I’m looking forward to meeting all the other competitors from around the world that are just as passionate as me about surfing. To become an Irukandji is just unbelievable and fills me with great pride,” he said.
Lee also enjoys mountain bike riding and fishing.
John Wheele from Merimbula, NSW will compete in the Men’s PS-Stand 1 division at the 2022 ISA World Para Surfing Championship.
He said: “Representing this amazing country is the greatest honour and a major goal of mine since I was a child. I am looking forward to sharing this experience with the rest of the team but also my amazing wife Jackie, who has been the greatest supporter of me and my goals. She has trained me, keeping me fit and focussed the whole time since the Australian titles. I am also looking forward to hopefully inspiring the younger generation with any type of impairment to get out there and chase their dreams.”
Apart from surfing, John’s hobbies include fishing, golf and spending quality time with his wife, two dogs and a cat.
Michael Foti from Nowra grew up skateboarding and body boarding on the South Coast of NSW. He was also a keen snowboarder and became a snowboard instructor until he broke his back. It happened in Canada in 2014, Michael fell 25ft from an unmarked drop onto a cat track, resulting in a L1 spinal fracture.
Following spinal surgery and months of rehab he managed to regain some of his quad muscles back in his legs. He now uses a wheelchair full time and is paralysed from the waist down with a small amount of upper leg movement, which allows him to be able to surf in the Kneeling division.
Initially after his injury Michael moved to Jindabyne where he started learning to sit ski which eventually led to him to competing in the USA and Europe and becoming part of the Australian team.
“Unfortunately, during this time, I began to struggle with mental health issues which led to me taking a break from skiing. It was following this decision and a few difficult years that I decided to get back into the ocean and pursue surfing,” he said.
“Competing for the first time at the Australian Para Surfing Championships ignited my passion for surfing competitively. Following this I planned to pursue competing at a higher level with the aim of going to world champs next year, so I feel stoked to have been selected as a wild card for Pismo. I am looking forward to the experience I will gain from not only the competition but also my teammates, coaches and other competitors. I’m so stoked to be able to represent Australia, I hope to do my team proud.”
Chris Blowes from Adelaide caught the surfing bug as a teenager and later moved, with his wife, to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia where they were spoiled with epic, uncrowded waves.
But in 2015 his life changed forever.
“I was surfing my local break, Right Point Fishery Bay, and I was paddling out to get one last wave before heading in when I was attacked by a Great White shark. The shark amputated my left leg, and I had serious lacerations to my left flank. I had 75 minutes of CPR and spent a long time in ICU and hospital before recovering. Doctors said I should have died that day – but I didn’t,” he said.
Chris is now an above knee amputee and dad to two-year-old son Eddie. He runs his own building company and is a motivational speaker.
“What I am looking forward to the most about the 2022 ISA World Para Surfing Championship is going to America for the first time and the opportunity to represent Australia. I am also excited to meet other competitors with disabilities from all over the world and be inspired watching them compete out in the water,” he said.
As well as surfing, Chris also loves fishing and playing golf.