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Finding Ohana in the Adaptive Community

Oct 24, 2023 |

By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist 

Growing up in the Yellowstone area of Wyoming, Josh Bogle was entranced by the turquoise waters beyond the mainland and eventually decided to make the Hawaiian Islands his permanent home in 2017. Since his parents loved wind surfing in Hawaii, they bought a two-acre piece of land when he was young and now over two decades later Josh has a permaculture farm on the North Shore of Maui. Throughout his life he has lived in Hawaii several times and continued to fall more in love with the island’s rich culture and people. Although ironically, he contracted a staph infection by stepping on a fishhook, the ocean has since been a place of healing and freedom post amputation. 

Streptococcus in Josh’s jawbone which infected his heart valve was just one in a series of serious health challenges. He experienced intense pain in his chest for months, yet his doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. Once they discovered the infection in his heart, he underwent open heart surgery. However, post recovery an unfortunate misstep on a fishhook sent him back to the hospital with a MRSA staph infection. Waking up after 17 days in a coma, Josh was a new amputee losing both legs below the knee, a hand, and partial fingers. Following a recovery at home, he made the decision to move back to Hawaii independently six years ago with his service dog, Maya, and in the journey found adaptive surfing.  

An accomplished snowboarder who also did some skateboarding prior to losing his legs, Josh began learning to surf the first year he moved back to Hawaii on his own. “I would just sit and watch the surfers for hours,” he said. “When a friend invited me to come and try surfing, I didn’t fully believe I could do it and I was nervous, but I had the best time that day.” He even went out and bought a foam board from Costco and started going to the beach three or four days a week.  

Fast forward to the present day, Josh has improved his balance and skills to surf waves up to 20 feet high (and that’s as high as he’s willing to go!). In a sport where many typically think legs are necessary, Josh chooses when and if he wants to wear prosthetics in the water based on the type of surf. “In bigger surf I prefer without the legs because each prosthetic weighs so much,” he shared. “It does affect the balance of the surfboard and the size of surfboard you ride. When surfing with prosthetics, I tend to ride a slightly bigger board.”  

Trying to keep it as light as possible, Josh uses the Proteor Rush foot to surf which doesn’t accumulate water like a regular foot shell. “Some people like surfing with a foot shell because it gives a wider displacement of stability on the board,” he said. “I like surfing without it because it doesn’t cup and catch water and create extra weight. With the Rush foot the water just flows right past it.” Also, since popping up on the board can be especially challenging with prosthetics, Josh often is seen gliding above the water on his knees. 

Throughout his time in Hawaii, he has found the surfing community to be incredibly inclusive with many adaptive athletes enjoying the sport. Even for those in wheelchairs the beach is accessible through organizations who bring wheelchair access mats, enabling people to travel to the water’s edge. “Trained people help carry wheelchair users into the water and there are pushers and catchers who stay in the water with them the whole time,” Josh said. If you go that route, you’re going with someone who is not only knowledgeable about the location, but how to help adaptive people participate safely.” As an added safety measure, Josh wears a flotation helmet which will keep his head above water in the event of a wipeout. 

With plenty of opportunities in the hub of surfing, he even recently competed in 2023 Adaptive Surfing Professionals World Championship Tour with stops in Hawaii, Costa Rica, and California. Josh ultimately placed 4th overall in the ‘above knee standing men’s’ category and 5th overall in the ‘any knee kneeling men’s’ category. “Next year I want to try to break into the top 2! I’m super stoked to have some epic goals!” 

As a Hawaiian resident Josh has experienced the island’s tight-knit community and a showing of support greater than he has ever known. “I’m so grateful every day that I found this community of not only people who surf, but who also show up when a tragedy happens like the Lahaina fires,” he said. “I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to experience that there’s a community like that on planet Earth.” 

Learn more about Josh on his website and follow him on Instagram (@joshybogle).