Darian Haynes Traded Her Surfboard For A Snowboard. Now She’s Aiming For The Paralympics

by Joanne C. Gerstner

Darian Haynes competes during the FIS Para Snowboard World Cup event on Dec. 15-21, 2022 in Kelowna, British Columbia.


Darian Haynes openly admits she hates the cold. As a world-class adapted surfer who grew up and trained with the best in Hawaii, Haynes always did her best to limit even her exposure to cold water.


This of course makes her latest endeavor, becoming a Paralympic hopeful competing on snow, all the more surprising.


“I learned I am OK with being around snow because I am dressed up right,” the burgeoning Para snowboarder said, adding a laugh. “You can be warm while being cold. So I am showing I can change, right? But warm will always be better.”


For a long time, Haynes had dreamed of competing in the Paralympics as a surfer, even though that sport isn’t part of the Games. However, after five years of globetrotting as a competitive surfer, she was starting to feel burned out. Then the pandemic hit, and Hawaii’s restrictive COVID-19 lockdown forced people to mostly stay inside.


This led her to search for new athletic challenges that would expand her world.


Haynes went big. In addition to swapping out her longboard for a surfboard, she’s also taken up skateboarding. And, oh yeah, she moved to the mainland, too.


“This all just feels really right for me right now: skateboarding and snowboarding,” Haynes, 22, said. “I want to push myself and see how far this can go. I have a lot to learn in both sports because I am starting from the beginning.”


In the winter she’s training in Colorado, thanks to the mentoring and help of three-time Paralympic snowboard medalist Amy Purdy. The goal is progression: learning techniques, building up her body and learning from the adaptive boarders around her. She was invited to compete in the Dew Tour snowboard events last year, letting her gain experience.


Purdy and her husband Daniel Gale let Haynes crash for a month at their house while she was getting settled in Copper Mountain. She views Purdy as a shining star in many ways.


“I cannot imagine anybody better than Amy, she has done it all,” Haynes said. “She has lived through a ton of crap in her life, stayed strong, found her way, and made it to the top because of her determination.


“She has inspired so many people around the world with who she is and what she does. I want to do that too; I want to be somebody people can look up to.”


Haynes’ snowboard development is ahead of the skateboard side. She is working on being able to drop in, a tough skateboard skill. It took her nearly six years to master getting up on the surfboard, so she knows her patience can be rewarded.

Darian Haynes competes during the FIS Para Snowboard World Cup event on Dec. 15-21, 2022 in Kelowna, British Columbia.


Navigating undulation, quickly changing angles and speed, and finding lines in surfing are shaping her development in the new sports. She’s also enjoying the snowboard and skateboard worlds, as she said boarders are open with advice, sarcastic, inappropriately funny and kindly brutal with honesty. It’s also fun to be with other people her age; she noted that most surfers were significantly older.


Haynes competed on the snowboarding world cup circuit last season, and she’s gotten off to a strong start this year, medaling in banked slalom at a November event in Landgraff, Netherlands, and again in December at Big White, British Columbia.


Her goal is to compete in more world cups, then the world championships, this season. The skateboard side will be tackled in warmer weather, as there are not as many indoor places for her to train right now. Eventually, she’s aiming to compete in the Paralympic Winter Games as a snowboarder (skateboarding, like surfing, is the Olympics, but not the Paralympics).


Haynes’ physical challenge comes when her left arm “follows its own groove.” She was born with Erb’s palsy, with the nerve bundles in her neck and shoulder permanently damaged.


Haynes deals with her left arm difference with humor and determination, especially when she looks goofy while she is competing. It affects her strength and balance.


“It is pretty crazy what happens, my friends have shown me videos of my competitions, and my left arm is totally doing its own thing and looking like it is flopping around,” she said, adding a laugh. “I can feel my arm. But I cannot control what it does. It is what it is.”


Haynes said she has faced discrimination throughout her life because of her condition. Some told her parents that she could not be athletic. Others said she was not “impaired enough,” because she may appear able-bodied at first glance.


She’s happy to educate, holding out her arms to show how the left is shorter than the right and not as functional. Her sense of humor tempers the anger, such as when somebody recently left her a note on her car chiding her for parking in a disabled space because she looked “normal.”


“You just have to say they’re being so ignorant,” she said. “Whatever.”


Haynes is all-in on her athletic career right now. However, she has her eye on developing or working for a non-profit to help other adaptive athletes.


“I want to help kids, the ones like me who are told they are too impaired to do sports or not impaired enough, get the opportunities they need,” she said. “My mom fought for everything for me and being able to surf changed my life. The opportunities need to be there and let us take it from there.”

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes about sports regularly for the New York Times and other outlets. She has written for since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.