Adaptive Athletes Take To Barbers Point Surf

Nearly a dozen paraplegic and quadriplegic individuals took to the waves at Barbers Point March 24 as a part of the Life Rolls On Foundation’s “They Will Surf Again” program.

For some, it was their first time in the ocean, while others were returning to the water for the first time after suffering a spinal cord injury.

Life Rolls On

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California-based nonprofit Life Rolls On visited the Islands to host an adaptive surfing day at Barbers Point March 24. Volunteers Kyle Foyle (left) and Mitch McEwen congratulate surfer Spike Kane after a great ride. Photo courtesy of Gayla Elizabeth Photography.

Life Rolls On (LRO) is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of individuals who have suffered spinal cord injuries. It also works to raise awareness about spinal cord injuries and raise funds for research. The organization, which is a subsidiary of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, was founded by Jesse Billauer in 1999.

“(Billauer) was slated to be a professional surfer when he was 16 years old,” LRO program manager Sarah Donaldson said, “and one day, he went to surf his local break in Malibu, and he broke his neck when he hit a sandbar.”

After his accident, Billauer and his family started hosting various events to raise money to pay for medical bills. By the time all of his bills had been paid off, Billauer realized that he wanted to do something to give back to the community.

“His friends had taken him out surfing once while he laid down,” Donaldson explained, “and he realized that he wanted to start these quality of life programs to improve the lives of others.”

Today, LRO has adaptive surfing programs in nine cities in seven states. In addition to its surfing programs, LRO offers adaptive skiing, and it recently launched an adaptive skate-boarding competition.

The event at Barbers Point was the first of LRO’s 2012 They Will Surf Again season.

Among the participants was 29-year-old Tusi Mailo from the North Shore. Mailo was an active athlete before a diving accident 11 years ago that caused a spinal cord injury. Now quadriplegic, Mailo returned to the ocean for the first time to get on a surfboard.

“It was amazing,” he said. “I was trying to think what was better … the water splashing in my face or the ride just catching waves! I had a blast!”

Also hitting the waves was a group that travelled all the way from Canada to participate in the event.

About 80 volunteers, including a number of local lifeguards and surf instructors, assisted the surfers. Professional surfers Leila Hurst and Roy Powers, both from Kauai, also were among the group of volunteers. Powers is a friend of Jesse Billauer, and Hurst took her sister, who has spina bifida, surfing through LRO last fall.

This was LRO’s second time to the Islands, and the organization plans to return again next year to host an adaptive surfing day.

“We would like to have our number of surfers increase,” Donaldson said.

“We are hoping next year that the word will spread even more and that we will be able to take out more surfers.”

For more information about LRO, visit its web-site at