Inside the World of Adaptive Surfing

For some peo­ple, the lure of the ocean is irre­sistible. Take the sto­ry of Jesse Bil­lauer. As a 17-year-old, Bil­lauer showed incred­i­ble promise as a surfer—until a head­first col­li­sion into a sand­bar result­ed in a spinal cord injury, leav­ing him a paraplegic.

Despite a change in his phys­i­cal body, Billauer’s love for ocean and surf­ing nev­er waned. A few years after the acci­dent, Bil­lauer was back in the water, prov­ing that the lim­i­ta­tions stem­ming from his injury were sim­ply not enough to keep him out of the water. Bil­lauer is sure­ly not the first per­son to surf a wave after a spinal cord injury, but he has played a major role in inspir­ing oth­ers to do the same, first as the star in a remark­able docu-film, Step Into Liq­uid, and then as the founder of a non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion called Life Rolls On.

Life Rolls On
Life Rolls On pro­vides adap­tive surf­ing pro­grams to peo­ple with spinal cord injuries, break­ing down the bar­ri­ers of a phys­i­cal­ly demand­ing sport and mak­ing it avail­able to those with acces­si­bil­i­ty lim­i­ta­tions. Through its pro­grams and edu­ca­tion­al resources, Life Rolls On chal­lenges com­mu­ni­ties to recon­sid­er what peo­ple with spinal cord injuries are tru­ly capa­ble of.

They Will Surf Again
Life Rolls On’s sig­na­ture event, “They Will Surf Again,” takes places in nine cities on both coasts of the Unit­ed States, and allows peo­ple with spinal cord injuries to expe­ri­ence that free­ing sen­sa­tion that you can only get from rid­ing a wave. They Will Surf Again also pro­vides the oppor­tu­ni­ty for onlook­ers to edu­cate them­selves on spinal cord injuries and cheer on the athletes—some of whom have nev­er touched a surf­board before.

All of this is made pos­si­ble through tools like the Wave­Jet, a Per­son­al Water Propul­sion sys­tem that self-pro­pels through the water. Ath­letes can wear a watch-like con­troller to turn the sys­tem on or off, giv­ing them more con­trol and auton­o­my on the board.

Mak­ing Surf­ing Acces­si­ble
Life Rolls On isn’t the only orga­ni­za­tion that helps make surf­ing more acces­si­ble: local groups and non-prof­its like North Car­oli­na-based Ocean Cure offer oppor­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple with spinal cord injuries and oth­er med­ical issues to hit the surf through free char­i­ty surf camps. Anoth­er group based out of New Zealand pro­motes Sur­fA­bil­i­ty Days to make the sport more acces­si­ble to peo­ple with disabilities.

Why Surf­ing Mat­ters
The ben­e­fits of surf­ing go far beyond the phys­i­cal strength and fit­ness aspects of the sport. From the med­i­ta­tive qual­i­ty of the waves to the devel­op­ment of a new-found respect for Moth­er Nature, surf­ing is sim­ply good for the soul. Surf­ing can help pump up your mood and pre­vent stress and even depression—the sport is even said to be able to bal­ance you out psychologically.