Surfers with mobility disabilities rode the waves on a sunny Sunday at La Jolla Shores. A non-profit group with hundreds of volunteers used adaptive surfboards and professional instructors to teach people who use wheelchairs to get out on the water.
“It just feels like you’re free from your wheelchair,” described Stephen Sadler who has paraplegia. “You get the freedom of gliding on the water. It’s awesome! It’s incredible! It just brings life, it stokes you out and brings a life to you. It’s like being baptized again, just constant renewal of the soul.”
The nonprofit organization Life Rolls On assembled about 500 volunteers to help nearly 100 people with mobility disabilities ride donated, adaptive surfboards out on the scenic La Jolla Shores waves.
Attendee Tania Azevedo, who has cerebral palsy, said she has come out to the annual event for the last few years.
“I have plunged into other things but it’s something else to plunge into the water,” Azevedo said. “It’s a little scary but the teams that work with us are very kind people and they take care of us.”
Another surfer, Leo Berg, 47, suffered an injury to his brain stem in 1993 after falling while teaching high school students how to snowboard in Mammoth. Berg said he has grown to look forward to Life Rolls On’s annual event.
“It’s a fun feeling and it’s cool,” said Berg. “I like to be in the water.”
The organization started in the early 2000s by world champion quadriplegic surfer, Jesse Billauer. Billauer opened the event, thanking the sponsors and volunteers.
A surfing incident in the 1990s injured Billauer’s neck and he lost the ability to walk.
But that did not stop him from surfing. Now his own foundation teaches others like him to hang loose and to fight their fear of the water.
Volunteer Gary Giffin works with Berg each year along with his team of volunteers.
“To give people the stoke of getting up on the water and feeling free that freedom from the wheelchair, it’s great to pass that on,” explained Giffin.
Volunteer in large groups lift and guide adaptive surfers into the water on the modified surfboards.
Then an instructor pushes the adaptive surfer on the board, with a wave, back to shore along a wall of people standing perpendicular to the shoreline. That way the adaptive surfer always has a person by their side as they catch a wave and hang loose.
Some adaptive surfers ride with professional surfers together on the board.
Adaptive surfer Jeffrey Austin said surfing with Life Rolls On has helped his confidence grow and improve his physical health.
“I like to come out to this, even though it’s not real surfing; although one of these days I’d like to do real surfing, it’s just something I enjoy,” Austin said.
If you want to volunteer or participate with Life Rolls On, please click here.