Jose Martinez of California and Buster Kawasaki from Hawaii embrace after finishing their semifinal heat at the Ampsurf 2020 ISA World Para Surfing Championship at La Jolla Shores.
Apple Valley’s Jose Martinez (right) and Buster Kawasaki of Hawaii embrace after finishing their semifinal heat at the Ampsurf 2020 ISA World Para Surfing Championship at La Jolla Shores. Photo by Chris Stone

Jose Martinez says the minute ocean water touches his body, it’s like nothing else matters.

“There’s no pain. There’s no mental struggles. It’s just me and the wave,” he said Saturday at La Jolla Shores after he qualified for the finals in his prone surfing class.

Martinez knows pain. And his struggles are legend.

Eight years ago this month, the Army veteran was on foot patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when the blast from a 60-pound IED severed both his legs, right arm, a finger on his left hand and some internal organs.

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After 10 days in a coma, he woke up.

In 2014 at Balboa Naval Medical Center, Martinez was introduced to surfing. He became the first triple amputee hip disarticulate in the sport.

On Saturday, his latest competition was the AmpSurf ISA World Para Surfing Championship, where he joined 130-plus entrants (more than 40 of them women) seeking 16 world titles.

“We made it to the finals,” he said of his U.S. team. “It looks like two Americans are in the finals, and two Brazilians…. It looks like we’re in a dogfight to the end.”

Spain won the overall team crown Saturday, though, as competition concluded a day early to avoid predicted heavy rains Sunday.

For “newcomer” Martinez of Apple Valley, the sport was the prize.

“It means everything for me,” he said. “Without this sport, I wouldn’t be able to find the happiness that I have now. I wouldn’t have the smile that I have. This has opened up so many avenues and opportunities for me to continue on with my own personal life… It has opened my eyes to the beauty of what we still have here.”

Also happy to be wave-riding was Faith Lennox, a 12-year-old from Maui without a left hand and forearm — amputated when she was 9 months old due to an injury at birth.

“My dad made me surf,” she said with a laugh. “I saw him surfing, and I’m like: Man, I want to go surf.”

She also competed last July at the Nissan Super Girl Surf Pro at Oceanside Pier where her hero competed — Bethany Hamilton who at 13 lost an arm to a shark attack.

Hamilton “is such an inspiration,” said Faith, who won a silver medal Saturday. “She’s a role model. Yeah, I met her a few times.”

Since Wednesday, surfers from 21 nations have shown their skills at the event considered the largest contest for surfers with physical challenges. (Italy didn’t come, and Portugal pulled out early because of virus fears.)

Faith and Martinez didn’t win crowns (see winners below), but they displayed world-class attitudes.

On his Instagram bio, Martinez says: “When life hands you lemons, make beef stew.”

After his ride, he described the sensation: “Free. I feel so free.”

And: “I just want to thank every single person that’s out here supporting us — not just me specifically — but the sport. We couldn’t do this without your support.”