Adele Faba Berenda
Standout surfer Adele Faba Berenda is a two-time Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) Champion, who regularly competed against the guys and pushed the limits of women’s surfing. Faba grew up inland Florida and had never surfed until moving to Neptune Beach at the age of 22. Looking to meet friends, she borrowed a neighbor’s board and taught herself to surf. Three months later the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) Director saw Faba surfing and asked her to compete.
At age 7, Faba had started training for the 1972 US Olympic Swim Team and was also a trick water skier and gymnast. Her physical strength and natural athletic talents thrust her into a dominating force in surfing. In her first year of surfing, she won local and regional contests, earning a slot at the 1979 Eastern Surfing Championship at Cape Hatteras, where she placed second and had the highest wave scores.
Faba had dreams of surfing professionally and developed an intense 60 hours per week training program. She started surfing at Sebastian Inlet’s notorious First Peak, which was dominated by world-class surfers Jeff Crawford, Matt Kechele, Charlie Baldwin and others. The quality of surfers in the daily lineup made it tough for a woman to get her share of waves. However, her skills and persistence were acknowledged, and she became the first woman to earn a place in the First Peak lineup.
Faba surfed, traveled, and trained with such legends as Gerry Lopez, Mike Tabeling and Dick Catri. She became unstoppable in competition, and in her first three years of competing, Faba won all 30 contests she entered, including the women’s division at the 1980 and 1981 East Coast Surfing Championship.
Lewis Graves — then-owner of Ocean Avenue Surf Shop — recognized her world-class talent and arranged for sponsors to watch a session, which led to a rare offer, even for men of that era – full sponsorship from Quiksilver and Body Glove to travel and compete in the newly formed Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Women’s World Tour.
While training, Faba was hit by another surfer — a catastrophic collision that fractured her skull and damaged her spine. She spent a year in physical therapy learning to walk again. However, a rare nerve disease from her childhood raged out of control, causing chronic and disabling pain that ended dreams of pro surfing career.
Throughout the years Faba fought over and over to get out of a wheelchair and return to surfing. Twenty-three years after her last contest, she once again competed, winning both the Topanga Classic against women half her age and the West Coast Masters Series.
Faba claims a slew of titles and accolades, including Induction into the “East Coast Hall Of Surfing Fame”. She is publicized in books “Surfing Florida” by Paul Aho and “Women On Waves” by Jim Kempton and was an ESA All-Star Team member and an ESA Judge. Faba was featured in “Mermaids of the First Coast” exhibit, Jacksonville Museum, Cocoa Beach Museum and the “Women of the Wave” exhibit. She has also served a number of humanitarian efforts including as director of Habitat for Humanity and president San Diego Children’s Program. She is the founder and director of Surf Warriors, which teaches military members or people suffering from disabilities the joy of surfing. Faba also founded The Adele Faba Foundation for CRPS/Pain, writing health articles, running support groups and offering free health coaching to those suffering disease or disabilities.
Photos by Bruce Chrisner, Tom Dugan, and courtesy Adele Faba Berenda