Upon first talking to Tony Butler, General Manager of Ben Bourgeois own Sweetwater Surf shop, the event was basically on. Thanks to a posting on Tony’s local surf site wblivesurf.com, where everyone here checks the waves, we instantly had people signing up to volunteer. Slowly but surely we had one disabled participant sign up and then little by little we found ourselves with 5 participants confirmed. From that moment on, the first ever Life Rolls On program on the east coast was a reality.
“They Will Surf Again” was gaining immense popularity in California and was now about to infect many in the surf community of Wrightsville Beach, NC with a stoke groms have and many times we forget. The evening before the event was to be held we found ourselves plagued with flat and poor wind chop conditions. Then, in an instant the swell organized out of the south and lined up showing perfect shape in the 3 to 4 foot range. Imagine Blacks perfecting on a smaller scale breaking for 30-40 yards and perfect little barrels. It was great long board surf for many and glassy perfection for “They Will Surf Again” participants. The morning of at 8 am we had no wind and oil slick glassy conditions. Sets were coming in 3 and 4 waves at a time with a high tide falling.
Our first participant was patiently waiting in his chair. Bob was in his 40’s and had never surfed before. He was paralyzed from the waist down and was a very positive sole looking forward in this event. He heard about it through word of mouth and was ready to give anything a try.
By 9 am there were at least 50 or more volunteers on the beach and 6 participants ready to go. We gave our safety talk to the group and before you could blink two groups of 6 volunteers had 2 of our participants at the waters edge. Nervous with anticipation they were out in the line up. You could see people were starting to freak out at the concept that had been so foreign until now. Once our first two participants glided down the line for the first time in years, our crew exploded with stoked. It was on! Chris Leonard had not been to the beach and much less on a wave for 5 years since a motorcycle accident took his ability to walk. Talk about stoked! Chris is a true testament to breaking down walls. The other participant to inaugurate the event was Chris Delange who had been paralyzed surfing in Costa Rica less than 5 months ago. Just as his life changed, along came this program to get him right back in the water and on with life. The two Chris’s were carving down the line once again. It was the first of many more sessions to come.
As I was working with another participant who suffered a stroke in our two person sea kayak, Bob, the first to show up finished up his first ever session surfing. My wife told me that as he came out of the water and back to his chair, he had tears in his eyes and said he felt freedom in surfing that he had never experienced before in his life! That’s what it’s all about….getting that stoked back and spreading it around. “They Will Surf Again” does just that like no other. That’s surfing for you.
By the end of the event 5 hours later new friendships had been formed and crews of friends and family members of our participants were already planning the next surf session at their home break. It only takes the courage and doors open. For our participants, they can now surf again.