The ocean can be a dangerous place. Sharks, big waves with multiple personalities, fugly Man o’ Wars, but you don’t have to tell Jesse Billauer this. He’s a born and bred Cali boy who came out of the womb with a surfboard attached to the hip.
Jesse, at 17, was living the semi-charmed life of a California teenager – young, athletic, gorgeous (still is) and staged to be one of the next big surfers; it was an idyllic life. But his world turned upside down in 1996 when the crest of a wave threw him off his surfboard.
Jesse hit his head on a sandbar and became a C5-6 quadriplegic on impact. Despite a severed spinal cord, which can be a tough SCI blow to receive, Jesse wasn’t about to say adios to a rock star life. If anything, his energy for life has only become more pronounced.
Why he’s fearless
Jesse, still a quad till this day, has made an epic return to the ocean and the surfing world. In 1999, he founded Life Rolls On (LRO), a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life in young people with SCI, by using adapted surfing (and adapted skiing) to inspire. I have been a huge fan or LRO for years, admiring them far away from the Midwest.
LRO has been hosting free adaptive surf days since it’s inception and another thing they’re known for – rockin’ fundraiser parties. Jesse has become an expert at throwing celebrity-studded events to raise money for the foundation, with incredible attendees like Paris Hilton and Jason Mraz. The skills! Their annual “Night By the Ocean” black-tie event is their biggest baddest event (this year it’s on a boat!).
And in 2009, LRO got a huge boost. They partnered with The Christopher and Dana Reeve foundation. With the foundation’s backing, they’ve been able to start They Will Surf Again, helping even more people get out and surf. Oh how I wish I lived by the ocean…not 10,000 lakes.
What I really love about Jesse is that he still surfs (by laying on his stomach and propping himself up and up on his elbow. Looks scary! But it does work). He was even featured in the docu-film, Step the Liquid, which showed his friendship with surfer, Robert Machado. He’s also created new surfing equipment and gained sponsorship from Hurley, Nike, Honda and Boost Mobile along the way.
Oh – and some big-time records have been met. In 2005, after years of adapted surfing experience, Jesse became the first ever quadriplegic surfer to conquer “Cloudbreak” in Tavarua, Fiji (an area of uber notorious waves). Insanity I tell you. Insanity!
After teaming up with Reeve, Jesse became the National Outreach Director for the Reeve Foundation, which definitely him busy.
And gearing up for a new sport to promote, They Will Sk8 Again, is the latest push by this ultra cool foundation. The purpose is to expose wheelers to safe wheelchair “skate” tricks. They’re actually hosting chair-skating clinics at cities throughout the country, with their next one scheduled on June 7 in Venice Beach, California. Check it out!
Jesse is also a popular motivational speaker. He speaks at schools and companies across the country with an all-encompassing issue everyone can relate to – overcoming adversity.
View his schedule/book this talented man at jessebillauer.com.
Watch the videos!