Paralysis research fundraiser rolls back into town

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Jesse Billauer surfing Oahu's Sunset Beach in December.

Life Rolls On, the nonprofit organization founded after Malibu resident Jesse Billauer was paralyzed in a Zuma Beach surfing accident, will host its annual dinner and golf tournament to raise money for spinal chord injury research and community outreach programs.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

Jesse Billauer, a former Malibu High School student who in the mid-1990s was named one of Surfer Magazine’s top 100 up-and-coming surfers in the world, was paralyzed from mid-chest down in a surfing accident at Malibu’s Zuma Beach in 1996. He and his family responded by starting the nonprofit organization Life Rolls On to raise money for spinal chord injury research and awareness efforts. The organization will host its annual dinner/golf tournament fundraiser July 25 and 26.

Over the past six years, Life Rolls On has been continuously growing, most recently by merging with a similar foundation, They Will Surf Again. This year’s expanded fundraiser will feature a concert and an auction in addition to the traditional dinner and golf events.

The golf tournament, which is to take place at the Malibu Country Club on the 26th, sold out early, but tickets are still available for the dinner, concert, and auction that will take place on the 25th at Gotham Hall on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.

The evening will begin with music and a silent auction at 5 p.m. Cocktails and appetizers follow from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and a dinner buffet will run from 7:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Beginning at 7:30 p.m., Billauer, X-Games announcer Sal Masekela and a spinal chord research doctor will give speeches. A live auction featuring items such as a 10-minute phone call with Christopher Reeve and lunch with iconic investor Manny Pearlman will commence at 8 p.m. Six-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater and reigning Pipe Master Rob Machado will receive awards for their longtime dedication to Life Rolls On and the issue of spinal chord injury at 8:30 p.m.

Those who purchase tickets only for the concert should arrive at 9 p.m. to see World Surfing Champion-cum-musician Tom Curren, native Southern California rocker The White Buffalo, folk/blues up-and-comer Matt Costa and two mystery artists.

Proceeds from the event will go to the spinal chord research, community education programs, and surf camps for people with disabilities that Life Rolls On funds.

In recent years the organization has joined forces with the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, funneling much of its research funding through Reeve’s organization. Life Rolls On President Josh Billauer, Jesse’s brother, said Life Rolls On gives money to Reeve’s foundation because that organization has a framework for determining who is doing the most promising and groundbreaking research, and distributes grants accordingly.

Recently, California Institute of Technology researchers who had received a $100,000 grant from Reeve’s fund succeeded in synchronizing monkeys’ brainwaves with computers so the monkeys could move the computer’s cursor to a particular location on the screen simply by thinking about it. Researchers say the results imply that people with paralysis could someday control some aspects of their environments just by concentrating on them. Reeve’s organization also funds researchers working on cures for paralysis, who have said the question is when, not if, there will be at least a partial cure.

In the years since his accident, Billauer has graduated from San Diego State University and become a motivational speaker. He travels the country spreading his messages of the importance of a positive attitude and the preciousness of life. Billauer has spoken to students at MHS, where he had been crowned Homecoming King in 1997, and at Pacific Palisades High.

Though he has no feeling below mid-chest and limited use of his arms and hands, Billauer still catches waves on a custom Al Merrick surfboard. This year Billauer surfed the famed Sunset Beach on Oahu’s north shore, and he will surf alongside Slater and Machado at Huntington Beach on Aug. 1 in a Life Rolls On fundraising exhibition.

Billauer wrote about his philosophy on life in a chapter of the recently released book, “Chicken Soup for the Pre-Teen Soul 2.” He wrote, “Life rolls on, waves continue to roll on and I’m rollin’ and surfing right along with it all.” Tickets are still available for the dinner/auction and concert, which will take place at Gotham Hall at 1431 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. $100 pays for dinner and the concert; $40 buys concert admission only. A $175 Couples Package includes dinner and concert admission for two. Visit www.liferollson.org or call 800.787.3999.