A Day On The Waves With Life Rolls On, The Charity That Empowers People With Disabilities

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ShackedMag/Six12Media. Cover image via liferollson.org, by Anthony Manliguez

Rain is falling on the ground again, and the roof has begun to leak, but your neighbor knows how to patch it. They give. The month was hard and you’re a little short on the rent, but your friend sees your need. They give. The homeless man outside is hungry and you have an extra sandwich in your lunch bag. You give. Success cannot be measured in how much you gain, but in what you give. Giving back, whether it is to the community, to your family or to someone you won’t ever meet, is always rewarded in a way that cannot be quantified. After all, how can you put a price on hope? For the recipients of the national charity, Life Rolls On, the hope they receive is priceless. 

Quadriplegics and paraplegics pepper our communities as the often overlooked members of our military or the unfortunate victims of automotive or sporting accidents. By engaging the community, Life Rolls On brings visibility to the often immense talents of people with disabilities, as well as teaching paraplegics and quadriplegics sports like surfing and skateboarding. 

Jesse Billauer is a surfer of a rare talent and unique tenacity. Jesse was an avid surfer for years, but in March of 1996 his surfboard struck a shallow sandbar. He was thrown from his board with such force that his spinal cord was severed and he was paralyzed from the neck down. Common wisdom would assume that without the ability to paddle, pivot, or pop up, surfing would become impossible even for the most impassioned athlete. But common wisdom would fail.

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Gayla Elizabeth Photography

It was far from an overnight affair, and despair had its place in his heart for a time, but with time Jesse was able to adapt his surfing style and enjoy what he loved once again. It was something he never stopped loving, something he never resented. Jesse noted, I’m not angry [about the paralysis] because no one did this to me. Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d been in a car that was rammed by a drunk driver. But it happened while I was doing something I loved.” This statement defines how he approached his accident; something he loved could have ended his life, but he found a new way to love surfing and bring it to even more people. As remarkable as Jesse’s story is, what followed far outshines what he was able to accomplish alone. Instead of simply living his life, Jesse enriched the lives of others.

In service to others, we find ourselves, and so it is a sense of service that compelled Jesse to create his own charity, to prove that life rolls on even after an accident like his. Life Rolls On uses the many grants and donations they receive to host live events across the country. Each of these events educates the physically handicapped and their support network on the possibilities of adaptive sports. From wheelchair basketball to freestyle skating and of course, adaptive surfing, Life Rolls On hosts daylong events that familiarize the physically handicapped with a given sport and affords them the opportunity to try it for themselves. I was fortunate enough to volunteer for Life Rolls On through Alpha Phi Omega, a service-oriented fraternity that prides itself on a diversity of causes. As an amateur surfer, I saw an opportunity to contribute.


The day had just begun, and I could already tell the sun was going to be generous that day. It wasn’t even 9 a.m. and I had already burnt through two layers of sunblock. The beach was clean and clear, aside from the hundred plus people buzzing about like a human beehive. As the brother of an Iraq war veteran, I had seen a few spinal cord injuries. I.E.D accidents, bullet perforations and the like. The medical community tends to draw accidents like theirs as statistics. On this day however, no one was defined by their disability, rather their abilities and desire to overcome. The requisite safety and health checks flew by and before I realized it, I was being evaluated. My skills, admittedly meager as they are, were enough to partner me up with a young boy. My partner was a boy half my age who had lost his ability to walk less than a year before. He was scared and I was nervous, but his confidence in spite of that was stunning. We mounted the board together and the next two hours were nothing but me and him and the waves. The boy wasn’t just happy, he was transformed, he saw that despite what had been taken from him, there was a whole new world to explore.

Billauer formed Life Rolls On because “everyone living with paralysis deserves to feel the exhilarating freedom that surfing brings to me.”  The hands-on aspect of Life Rolls On focuses on creating new experiences and breaking down boundaries, and it also enriches the lives of the volunteers who participate. I have attended three Life Rolls On and affiliate events. Each time I have come away richer for the experience, whether I learned something new myself or taught someone how to rediscover their abilities. Whether they were eager to start, or scared to try, each event showed me how with  support and determination, the seemingly impossible becomes possible.

Article by Kai King-Blow. Read his previous article on the origins of surfing here.