By Robb Bailey
The Life Rolls On Foundation is more than just a non-profit organization. Jesse Billauer, the founder of Life Rolls On (LRO), has an amazing life story. If you haven’t heard of Jesse or LRO, view this short video to catch up. The video does more justice than a paragraph will.
Although Jesse’s cause is an extremely noble one (to raise awareness about spinal cord injuries), his cause is about more than just his life story. The organization is spreading holiday cheer without the excuse of a holiday. For a group of spinal cord-injured surfers, the They Will Surf Again event (TWSO) puts would-be spectators on waves, in the water, next to everyone else.
With as many as over 100 volunteers each session, this event is fueled by givers of all kinds. According to Kris Nakamura of LRO, the event is completely run by volunteers and the participants do their part to help the injured get stoked on some nice tasty waves.
Nakamura stressed that the event isn’t really about Jesse at all, but about allowing the spinal cord-injured community to come together and surf again. Although Jesse is an inspirational young man (to say the least), he encourages people to consider that there are over 250,000 people affected by spinal cord-related injuries in the U.S. alone. His mission is to find a cure.
He’s doing it by doing what he does best: surfing. Jesse recently entered the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, which has inspired hundreds of other injured surfers to attend the TWSA events this summer, some from very far distances.
“It’s hard enough for paralyzed surfers getting down to the sand in a wheelchair, much less suit up for a surf,” mentioned Nakamura. Imagine changing into your wetsuit with two legs that are asleep the part before the pins and needles. Oh, and without full use of your arms. The process of getting into the water for spinal cord injured surfers requires a few pairs of extra hands with some muscle, a luxury most of the surfers don’t readily have on a day-to-day basis.
An estimated five to six volunteers are needed to suit up, carry in, and help navigate one paralyzed surfer into a wave. So the TWSA event depends on lots of help.
Lea Thomann, a local surfer out of OB, volunteered last year at a previous TWSA event. “Jesse spoke to students at USC’s Department of Physical Therapy to tell us his story and bring awareness of opportunities in the community affected by SCI.”
Thomann and a few friends were inspired to help out after hearing Jesse speak, so they went online and registered to volunteer for the event. A few weeks later they were driving to Bolsa Chica State Beach to help out.
“We showed up early, helped set up the beach, and started taking surfers down to the water in sand wheelchairs.” Among the modified equipment was a quiver of surfboards specially designed for the surfers that day. The boards have ‘reverse fins’, which are on the top deck of the surfboard, to keep the surfer’s legs from slipping side to side.
According to Thomann, the best part about the day was the people involved. “The hardest thing to describe was the atmosphere, there was such a positive vibe in the air. We saw the biggest grins on people faces: some of them haven’t been in the water in years.”
Thomann admitted that after the event was over she felt a high that helped put things in perspective in her own life. She only offered these words to sum the volunteer experience up, “If you’re thinking about joining in, I highly recommend it.”
To find out more about upcoming They Will Surf Again events, sign up here.
To view a video of past events, click here.