2023 MuscleFood English Para Surfing Open

Outstanding performances at 2023 MuscleFood English Para Surfing Open

Last Thursday Putsborough was lit. Dropping down the hill into the bay, the ocean was alive and endless lines of waves were cruising into the beach. Peaky little a-frames were in abundance, Putsborough showing itself how good a wave it can be on its day, one of the breaks set within the North Devon World Surfing Reserve.

This aligned perfectly for the 2023 MuscleFood English Para Surfing Open, which saw nearly 30 athletes travelling far and wide to come and compete and hang out with their community. The froth level was high, and everyone couldn’t wait to get in the water and rack up some scores.

Essential in the mix, a team of nearly 60 volunteers gathered for a morning briefing, who the events success was a credit to. New friendships were formed, and lots of people learnt new skills and gained awareness of para surfing. This awareness is essential to increase participation of disabled people in surfing, a key focus for Surfing England, who firmly strive for waves to be accessible to all.

First heats in the water were the standing divisions, the crowds on the clifftop thriving on the amphitheatre that Putsborough offers up. It creates an epic spectator’s area and the hype as Pegleg Bennett got into a barrel was off the charts. This man has been campaigning to see this event on the beach (after 3 brilliant years at The Wave), so we were stoked the waves aligned for him to showcase his skills.

Before we continue, we must give a massive shout to MuscleFood who came onboard as headline sponsor of this event. The team were phenomenal; two of the crew attended the volunteer training course on Wednesday and then put all their new skills to use helping out with water safety, transfers, and athlete welfare. The entire MuscleFood crew wrapped their arms firmly around the event, providing t-shirts, hoodies, and beanies for all athletes, essential to keep them warm. The team also kept everyone fuelled with high protein snacks.

Back to the waves, the visually impaired surfers really impressed. Some of the surfers have no sight and are reliant upon a guide to talk them through approaching waves. It’s all about listening to the ocean, the guide, and sensing the wave and manoeuvring a board. Seriously impressive. Notably, we must credit Emma Louise Davies, who’s infectious laughter kept the whole contest site frothing all day.

Cracking on, our busiest divisions were the kneel, and prone assist. The transfer team smashed the logistics, shuttling surfers up and down from the beach, and keeping everyone stoked and giving encouragement. The competitive side of many surfers was clear, the pre-heat focus, looking for the magic take off spot to get the scores on the board. Isaac Heaher and Oliver Jones impressed the judges from the offset, clearly focused on heat wins and places in the final, Isaac taking the kneel champion title for 2023.

In the prone assist, Mark Hagger was clear he wanted another champion title, but fellow Team England surfer Natasha Davies was firmly on his heels in the semi-finals, racking up as many points as possible on some exceptional waves. Ayuna Berbidaeva also impressed for her second time surfing, definitely one to watch for the future. Andy Guy, another surfer who picked up the sport quickly with his knowledge of reading waves clearly shining through, was on a mission to test out a new board – his focus on training for the World’s has been exceptional. Karen Darke from Scotland also impressed, placing 2nd overall.

Finally, the prone unassisted division saw a tense battle of 3 surfers all who regularly train round the corner in Croyde’s punchy waves. Harlum Lewis proudly took champion position, the 18-year-old has been stepping up his training over summer and has an exciting future in the sport.

Rounding up for presentations after an epic day, a massive crowd gathered. The rain kept at bay, and everyone was radiant with joy, as podium finishers charged forward to collect their trophies and medals, and some incredible prizes thanks to dryrobe, korev lager and Decathlon UK.

The absolute pinnacle was the arrival of MuscleFood CEO, Nick Preston, who drove from afar to not miss this moment. Nick has a clear passion for supporting disability sport, and you can see this carrying through his team. In a phenomenal moment that brought many to tears, Nick and Heather presented Surfing England with a cheque for an additional £12,500 to support the team to the 2023 ISA World Para Surfing Championships. This was simply huge.

Nick said “At MuscleFood we’re all about feeding people well and encouraging them to lead a healthy, active lifestyle. We want to reach all those grassroots organisations who need backing, adaptive sports, underfunded women’s teams, and youth sports. Events like this are a great example of how we can help those who truly need our support, the event was a great success, and it was incredible to see so many incredible inspiring athletes on show.”

Our extended thank you to everyone who volunteered, many who travelled from all across England to support the delivery of this event. Everyone approached the event with a can-do attitude and were fantastic team members. A thank you to all the qualified Adaptive Surf Coaches who also gave up their day to assist the event. We were bowled over by the amount of support from the surfing community.


Para Surfing Kneel

1 Isaac Heaher   2 Oliver Jones   3 Justine Barker   4 Rheya Sarre

Para Surfing Prone 1

1 Harlum Lewis   2 Suzanne Edwards   3 Stephen Lightbown

Para Surfing Prone 2

1 Mark Hagger   2 Karen Darke   3 Natasha Davies   4 Andy Guy

Para Surfing Stand 1

1 Giles Long

Para Surfing Stand 2

1 Pegleg Bennett

Para Surfing Stand 3

1 Charlotte Banfield

Visually Impaired 1

1 Thomas Herod   2 Emma Louise Davies

Visually Impaired 2

1 Matthew Thorne

All Inclusive Division

1 Stephen Downes   2 Louis Sutton   3 Joanne Mouland   4 David Jeffery

A huge thank you also to the dryrobe team who spent the day on-site, loaning out dryrobes to keep everyone warm between heats! CG Safety Cover, our event water safety and first aid cover were also outstanding, spending most of the day with some of the team in the boat, keeping the contest area clear and being readily available if anyone required.

Thank you also to Rob Tucker, who was very accommodating with our move to Putsborough beach to seek out the best contestable waves. And to Biffen’s Kitchen who kept staff and volunteers fuelled with delicious overnight oats, and a protein and carb packed healthy lunch.

We must also thank our wider Surfing England sponsors, all who’s contributions enable us to do what we do: Muscle FooddryrobeCaravan and Motorhome ClubThe WaveDecathlon UKkorev lagerClarke WillmottVospersExperience FreedomWave ProjectSurfability UK CICParkdean Resorts, North Devon surf reserve


Already a member?

Sign in to access your discount codes, insurance and membership info

Log into my Surfing England account
Join Today