CSM is proud to feature 14-year-old Hunter Pochop as our current grom in the Making Waves display area. The sport of surfing has its share of teens who take to the ocean in the hopes of becoming the next Kelly Slater or John John Florence. They grab their boards, get a ride to the beach, and rush to the water to practice their moves. But for some there are very challenging differences…
Hunter was given the nickname “Wave Hunter” by his surf friends. It suits him just fine. He was born on May 5, 2005, the youngest of Pete and Jacqueline’s five children. Even before he was born his family was told that this next child would not be “perfect.” He had two life-challenging conditions: spina bifida, when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly, and hydrocephalus, which is when fluid builds up in the brain. Doctors said that his quality of life would not be good.
“Actually, my quality of life is extraordinary,” said Hunter in a recent interview. “I focus on what I CAN do, not what I can’t do.”
Hunter has to spend most of his time in a wheelchair. “I enjoy surfing so much because it is the only place where I truly feel free.”
He’s had over 20 surgeries to help manage his condition, including a tracheotomy, which involved installing a breathing apparatus in his throat. When he first started surfing he was carried out into the water by a number of support helpers and he sat on a type of wave ski board.
Hunter went to Hawaii in August 2018 to compete in the Adaptive category at the huge annual Duke Kahanamoku Ocean Festival at Waikiki. There was no junior division, so he entered the men’s open, surfed well, and took second place. He lost to one of his all-time heroes, adaptive pioneer and legend, Jesse Billauer.
Since the tracheotomy he’s been able to prone surf, and he has become extremely good. This requires a team effort: a pusher, who propels him into a good wave at just the right time, and a catcher, who waits in the whitewater near the shore. Hunter is in charge of everything in between.
Hunter is a freshman at Coastal Academy High School in Oceanside, where he’s a member of the surf club. He has always enjoyed sports and is good at math and a variety of video games. He loves to be active and on the move – he skateboards and competes in wheelchair basketball and sled hockey. An avid competitor for the past few years, he has won several trophies and medals. His surfer role model is Christian “Otter” Bailey.
Hunter is committed to competing in the Paralympics in Los Angeles in 2028, when he’ll be in his mid-twenties. The again, knowing Hunter, he might be a meteorologist or possibly a car designer by that time…