Jesse Billauer was involved in a surfing accident when he was 17 years old, but he doesn’t let it stop him from leading a full life
Malibu High School alumnus Jesse Billauer has been through three traumatic experiences that shaped who he is today.
“The first one happened in October of 1995, when I was driving to school to this school, Malibu High School, I was driving past Pepperdine, and I was on my way to go surfing before school,” Billauer recalled. “I was going through this intersection, right by Pepperdine, and there was a car that made a turn, and they didn’t see me, so they hit my driver side door, my car spun around, and it flipped over a few times. I get ejected out of the window, I ended up laying on PCH. All my dreams flashed in front my eyes.”
All Billauer could think of was, “Would I be that professional surfer, would I be in a big feature film movie, would I have that wife and kids, would I have that world title? I was so scared.”
Billauer recalled going to the hospital and remembering how he felt after that incident.
“I ended up walking out of the hospital the next day. I came back to Malibu High School, played baseball, soccer, surfing, never thought twice about that car accident,” Billauer said. “I remember six months later, it was a month before my 17th birthday, I was in 11th grade, it was March 25, 1996, a gorgeous day like today.”
All his friends showed up to surf, and Billauer said he remembered the waves were about 6 to 8 feet.
“When I came out, the wave hit me in my back and I went head first into the water — normally, I put my hands up, or jump to the side, and I thought it was deeper than it was, and ended up hitting my head in the shallow sand bar, and my whole body went limp and numb,” he said.
“I was floating there face down in the water, unable to move, all I could do was hold my breath and hope that a wave could turn me over, and when I did I was calling for help,” Billauer said. “I remembered getting up on the beach, they called 9-1-1, I remembered the lifeguard came over and asked me if I was able to move, I wasn’t really sure what was going on, and they next thing I remembered I was in this rotating bed.”
The doctors told Billauer his sixth vertebrae broke and he became paralyzed.
“It changed my life forever,” Billauer said. “I was devastated, I was 17, all I wanted to do was hang out with my friends, play sports, go to school, and just walk and be independent — I didn’t know that stuff can get taken away.”
On Thursday, Oct. 5, Billauer shared his story and, inspired students during an assembly and provided advice to middle and high school students, both inspiring and motivating.
A couple weeks after his injury, Billauer had to learn how to do tasks like sit up and brush his teeth.
“Just a few weeks before, I was traveling around the world, on the U.S. Surf Team, and now I had to depend on someone,” Billauer said.
Billauer’s third traumatic experience was while trying a new sport called wheelchair rugby.
“We went to a local park, tried out this wheelchair, tried out this game — I really wasn’t into it — and I borrowed this wheelchair and someone borrowed the wheely bars in the back of my wheelchair, which prevent you from flipping over, but when they put them in, they didn’t put them in right, so when I got back into my chair, I pushed, my wheelchair flipped over backward, and I hit my head my head in the concrete, and my whole body went all limp, and numb, 100 percent how I broke my neck and I thought I was paralyzed again,” Billauer said. “It was from those three traumatic experiences was when I realized how precious life is and at any moment, life can change.”
Billauer remembers returning to school after the incident and being called in by his principal.
“He said, ‘Jesse you’re still the same person, you’re just in a wheelchair, we’re going to make this school accommodating, we’re going to help you with whatever you need so you can graduate with all your friends,’” Billauer said. “I didn’t know how big of an impact that made in my life, but it did, and I just want you to know that there might be a moment where, your teachers, or your principal sits you down to talk about something in life, and you might not think it’s big at that moment, but I promise you, later on, you might come back in life and thank them.”
Billauer was one of the 100 junior surfers in the world. A few years after the incident, he founded an organization called Life Rolls On. Life Rolls On began on Sept. 11, 2001, achieved 501(c)3 nonprofit status in 2002, and now touches the lives of hundreds of thousands. The event encourages participants to find freedom beyond paralysis through various action sports. The organization will also be celebrating it’s 20th anniversary.
Life Rolls On is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people living with various disabilities. Believing that adaptive surfing, skating, and fishing could inspire infinite possibilities beyond any disability.
“Don’t let anyone tell you can’t make a difference,” Billauer said. “Make sure you have that confidence within yourself to have that self-esteem to be able to know what you’re doing in life, it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them, you never will learn unless you make mistakes.”
Billauer’s awards and honors include but are not limited to:
- 3X World Adaptive Surfing Champion.
- 6X US National Adaptive Surfing Champion.
- 3X Hawaii Adaptive Surfing Championships, First Place.
- 3X US Open of Adaptive Surfing, First Place.
- Surfing Walk of Fame Inductee.
- Founder & Executive Director/CEO, Life Rolls On Foundation.
- Inspirational Speaker.
“Surround yourself with positive people, that all your dreams, and can come true,” Billauer said. “I feel like you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, you only surround yourself with negative people, negative people are going to follow, you surround yourself with positive people, positive things are going to follow, so I chose to go down the road to following my dreams and figuring out how to do it.”
Billauer continues to inspire millions with his speaking programs, his website says, “I’ll leave you with this: Your power is in your perspective, not your circumstance.”
“Everyone only wants you to try your best, weather you succeed or you don’t, as long as you give it your best shot, that’s all eveyone wants from you,” Billauer said.
To find out more about Billauer and Life Rolls On go to jessebillauer.com or liferollson.org.