In the United States, approximately 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome every year. That’s about one in every 700. Down syndrome and other disabilities don’t take the kid out of being a kid but render certain activities more difficult to participate in. One of those activities? Surfing.
Jesse Billauer was among the best junior surfers in the world, very close to becoming professional. Then, surfing in 1996, a wave knocked him headfirst into shallow water, breaking his sixth vertebrae, immediately making him a quadriplegic. Now paralyzed, his love for surfing never went away, so he persevered and went on to become a world champion adaptive surfer.
Undeterred by injury, he was committed to his sport. Like the 69% of entrepreneurs in the U.S. who start their businesses from home, he established his own non-for-profit. In 2001, Billauer founded Life Rolls On, a foundation that aims to give people who live with disabilities the chance to do things like surf and skate where formerly they might not have been afforded the chance. On August 11th at Carolina Beach in North Carolina, over 400 volunteers came to help around 100 adaptive surfers shred some barrels.
“Having this many people, that are like, we’re here, what do you need, let’s do it, it just makes life so much easier. When you have people who are there that are more than willing to help and you don’t feel like a burden to them,” said Heidi Mckenzie, who has had to use a powered chair to get around after a car accident 12 years ago.
The annual event was an absolute success, bringing the joy of surfing to everyone who wanted to join. Almost all people (99.7%) agree that a healthy smile is socially important and you’d be hard-pressed to find unsmiling faces that day at Carolina Beach.
“It feels amazing when the waves hit you and you go fast. Regular people, they can surf on their legs. We got to surf on our stomachs,” said Tim Hunter, another surfer who got to hit the waves during the event.
Life Rolls On travels the United States putting together events called They Will Skate Again and They Will Surf Again all centered around bringing the joy of these two sports back to people living with disabilities. Pictures from They Will Surf Again from years past — and this year — speak volumes.
“Your power is in your perspective, not your circumstance. Dream big. Live big. You got this,” says Jesse Billauer.
He’s empowering people to do exactly that. Surf on.