Life Rolls On gives disabled chance to surf

Started by an aspiring pro surfer who became paralyzed in a surf accident, Life Rolls On gives those suffering from disabilities a chance to feel normal. Photo: Life Rolls On

On Saturday, over 120 people gathered in the waters of La Jolla Shores in San Diego to go surfing. And while packed lineups aren’t exactly uncommon at La Jolla Shores, there was something different about this crowd: many of them couldn’t even walk.

As part of the tenth annual “They Will Surf Again” event, 125 people suffering from spinal cord injuries and other disabilities joined with 500 volunteers to spend a day catching waves in sunny San Diego.

The event was one of many hosted around the country by Life Rolls On, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit dedicated to helping those suffering from paralysis and other disabilities regain freedom beyond their disabilities.

“I started Life Rolls On after I broke my neck surfing,” Jesse Billauer, the 36-year-old founder, executive director and CEO of Life Rolls On told GrindTV. “I just figured that I wanted to get back into the water, and the idea kept growing.”

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Back in 1996, a then 17-year-old Billauer was a young surfer with a bright future and professional ambitions. All of that ended while surfing at the popular Zuma Beach in Malibu, California, when he was thrown face-first off a wave onto a shallow sandbar and broke the sixth vertebrae in his neck, leaving him as a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down.

In 2001, he started Life Rolls On as an attempt to try to get back to what he loved, and to help others in the community do so as well.

“It’s an amazing experience to see how much Life Rolls On has grown,” said Billauer. “I don’t know if I ever expected it to get this big.”

In the years since it’s founding, Life Rolls On has grown into a national organization. Currently, it organizes events such as “They Will Surf Again” and “They Will Skate Again” everywhere from California to New York to Nova Scotia and draw participants from even further.

“We had participants ranging from two to three-years-old all the way up to 70 on Saturday,” Billauer said. “We had people fly in from as far away as Germany and England. It was incredible to see.”

Billauer says it’s awesome to see volunteers returning to the events Life Rolls On produces. Beyond that, he says it has been life-changing for him to get to meet so many people through the organization.

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“Yeah I mean unfortunately I broke my neck and became a quadriplegic and had to go down a different path in life than what I was planning,” said Billauer. “But it has been rewarding meeting new people in the community. It has been inspiring and humbling. Just having the opportunity to provide inspiration and hope for people with disabilities who thought they could never surf or skate again, or be active and enjoy life again, is a special thing.”

As for his future plans for Life Rolls On, Billauer says he hopes to continue to grow the organization. He says he wants to change the face of disabilities in the United States; to make them feel more normal in the public eye. He wants to build up the confidence of those who, like him, are suffering from paralysis. But more than anything else, he just wants to keep surfing.

Life Rolls On gives disabled chance to surf

Billauer said he hopes that Life Rolls On continues to grow so that he can host more events across the nation. Photo: Life Rolls On

“Yeah for me personally, Life Rolls On allows me to have that freedom and independence I lost when I became paralyzed,” said Billauer. “I love surfing. It’s a beautiful thing to have the water splashing in my face and to feel the ocean moving underneath me again. It's a priceless experience.”

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