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People with disabilities ride the waves off Chiba Pref. in 'adaptive surfing'

Kenshiro Ito, 42, surfs with an artificial leg at Tsurigasaki Beach in the town of Ichinomiya, Chiba Prefecture, on May 15, 2019. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

ISUMI, Chiba -- With "adaptive surfing" taking root as another sport open to people with disabilities, Japanese athletes with a range of impediments have been taking to the waves in the seas off Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo.

An adaptive surfing world championship has been held annually in the United States since 2015, and about 140 physically challenged surfers from 24 countries participated in last year's event. However, awareness of the sport is low in Japan.

Kenshiro Ito, a 42-year-old Tokyo resident, won a bronze medal at the 2017 world championship in California. He has enjoyed surfing since he was 16, but he lost his right leg in a work accident six years ago. The first thing he thought of after his injury was surfing. He went through a grueling rehabilitation, and was back on the waves in just six months.

"It was a happy surprise that people with disabilities were recognized as athletes in the world championship," recalled Ito.

The competition is divided into six classes depending on the variety and degree of disability, including categories for those who can stand on the surfboard, those who sit on the surfboard, and those who surf with someone's support.

According to the Japan Adaptive Surfing Organization, it currently has about 30 members. However, it is trying to improve recognition of the sport and recruit talented surfers in hopes it will be made a new event at the 2024 Paris Paralympics. It is also set to hold the 2nd All Japan Adaptive Surfing Championship at Taito Beach in Isumi, Chiba Prefecture, on May 26.

(Japanese original by Tatsuya Fujii, Photo Group)

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