Disabled surfers find their balance on the board
Everyone is cheering and clapping as a surfer girl, dressed in pink, catches a wave and rides it out back with the biggest smile on her face. She high-fives all the members of the pink team as they gather around her wheelchair to take a group photo. On Saturday morning, staff members of the organization "Life Rolls On" gathered along with numerous volunteers and a group of excited surfers at Santa Monica Beach for the annual event "They Will Surf Again."
The event makes it possible for individuals affected by spinal cord injuries to experience the freedom of riding a wave. With the assistance of volunteers and adaptive equipment, participants of all ages are secured to surfboards and catch waves often brightly smiling.
The boards are designed with handles or rails that make it possible for the surfers and crew to tightly hold on to them. Some boards even have a motor installed which makes it easier for the surfers to travel through the waves.
“After I got hurt surfing, I wanted to get more people out in the water so I started this organization called 'Life Rolls On'," said Jesse Billauer, founder of the organization. "Then we started this program called 'They Will Surf Again', where we take people with disabilities surfing and it has grown to this.”
Billauer is a well-known surfer from California who in 1996, sustained a spinal cord injury while surfing. Despite the struggle, he didn't let his injury stop him from getting back into the water and wanted to inspire and help others to do the same.
He founded "Life Rolls On" with the goal to improve the lives of those affected by paralysis.
Participant Beth Smith came all the way from Berkeley to try surfing for the first time. Some of her friends had told her about the event and Smith decided that this was something she simply had to try, and succesfully so.
“It was just great. I will definitely do it again,” she said.
Seven teams each made up of approximately 20 volunteers worked hard to give the participants the best experience possible. Their love for surfing, combined with the sunny weather, caught on well, creating great energy among everyone involved. Even pop singer Jason Mraz came out to help.
According to Jordan Voloshin, the Sales and Marketing director at "Wave Jet", custom made boards provide a great way to make it possible for individuals with disabilities to surf. His company provided the boards for the event.
“Jesse is actually one of our team riders. He uses our custom boards and all you have to do is help him into the water and then he is good to go," Voloshin said. "He paddles out, turns around and catch waves. It's pretty incredible."
"They Will Surf Again" is currently held in nine cities across the country. Additional programs such for other sports such as "They Will Skate Again" and "They Will Ski Again" have also sprouted up around the country.
“We organize these free events in many places around the country. Anybody can sign up and be a part of it,” Billauer added.