Team Canada para surfer Victoria Feige has a shining gold medal to hang on the Christmas tree this year.
The 37-year-old adaptive athlete won her fourth straight world title at the 2022 Pismo Beach International Surfing Association (ISA) World Para Surfing Championship in California on Dec. 10.
Feige’s fourth gold in the women’s kneel division distinguishes her as the most decorated women’s para surfer of all time. In other words, she is a G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time).
“The first one (in 2016), where I didn’t expect at all to win and I just went out there to enjoy surfing, I kind of got a surprise personal best. That was special because there was no pressure and it was just all the joy of surfing. This one, I felt the pressure,” said Feige from her home on the North Shore of Oahu a few days after the historic victory.
“What I’ll take from (this win) the most is with the coaching from Shannon Brown, I have so much more to work on and so much more potential to explore. Even though I won four in a row, I’m so excited for my surfing future.”
Feige, who is a Canadian-American dual citizen, described the conditions for finals day as “storm surfing”.
“It reminded me a lot of Tofino. The wind and the rain was unusual for California. A tree fell over and knocked out a power conductor, but by that time we were all in the bar celebrating,” she said, adding that during her final heat she couldn’t hear the scores in the water, so she thought she was actually losing until coach Shannon Brown communicated the scores from the pier.
“I signalled to her to get defensive and that’s when she knew she was in first,” said coach Brown. “At the end of the heat, when there wasn’t a whole lot of time left and she was sitting comfortably first, her job at that point is to defend her place in first. I was helping her move over and sit close to the athlete who was in second and take one (wave) opportunity away from her.”
Feige championed a small team of five athletes at the Pismo Beach contest. Surfer Ling Pai claimed her third bronze in the visually impaired division, Nathan Smids made the semi-finals in the men’s stand division, and rookies Lisa Franks contested the waveski while Montreal-based river surfer Anne-Marie Paquet entered the stand division for the first time. Team Canada placed eleventh overall out of 28 national teams.
“I’m hoping with more funding we can reach greater heights and our potential. We’ve only just scraped the surface,” Feige said. “I want to build the Canadian Team. We had five spots filled of a possible 18. If more people with disabilities knew that surfing could be an option for them, I think we could fill out a team of 10 or 12 next year.”
She encouraged any adaptive athletes interested in surfing to reach out at email@example.com or to contact Surf Canada. Getting a backzip wetsuit that’s easy to slip into and seeking out a certified surf instructor are the first steps to learning how to adaptive surf, Feige went on to note.
Coach Brown gave a huge shout out to the whole adaptive surf team and to Surf Canada for investing in sending coaching staff to the contest.
“They are all like sponges. They are so stoked on learning. It was really easy working with them,” he said.
Feige will be training on the North Shore all winter. She says the next step in her surfing progression is to work on barrels and airs. She told the Westerly she did her first little air at Haleiwa, but was unable to land it.
“It’s the physics of it. If I can shift my body weight like able bodied surfers do, I won’t be able to pop off the lip with my legs, but if I can get speed and hit the sections at the right time, it’s doable. If you can do it once, you can do it again,” she said.