‘They will surf again.’ This organization is helping those with disabilities do just that

Life Rolls On Virginia Beach hosts "They Will Surf Again" annual events for people living with disabilities. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of Life Rolls On Virginia Beach)
Life Rolls On Virginia Beach hosts “They Will Surf Again” annual events for people living with disabilities. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of Life Rolls On Virginia Beach)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Before a life-altering injury bound him to a wheelchair in 1986, Raul Pernites was an avid surfer who said his friends would try for 20 years before getting him back into the water.

“For 20 years, I sat on the sidelines asking ‘why did this happen to me?’ why can’t I do this?'”

Pernites said he “got the stoke back” about 11 years ago when his friends, Charles Harmon and Ahmed O’Daniel, showed him a photo of Jesse Billauer, a world champion quadriplegic surfer and founder Life Rolls On, and pushed him into his first wave.

“I got all excited about it and immediately started working on bringing events to Virginia Beach,” he said. “After an injury, you don’t know what life is going to bring and I want people to know there is life after paralysis.”

Now as the director of operations for Life Rolls On Virginia Beach, Pernites along with about 300 volunteers are assisting 125 people living with disabilities to catch some waves during the organization’s “They Will Surf Again” event on Aug. 10.

Pernites said the event is dedicated to Katherine Nixon, their friend, and long-time Life Rolls On volunteer who died in the May 31 mass shooting.

“Kate and Jason (Nixon) have been volunteers since day-1 and after the tragedy, like others in the community, we looked to see if we knew anyone affected,” Pernites said.”We’re making a sign with her picture, have everyone sign it, and will present it to her family during the event.”

Volunteers will be positioned from the shore — where they’ll move surfers from their wheelchairs to a beach chair and then to an adaptive surfboard — to the deep water where they’ll push riders into the waves based on their disability, safety, and comfort, Pernites said.

“It’s inspirational to see people experience the stoke and for kids to come back with a big smile on their faces when we tell them ‘guess what, you’re a surfer now,'” he said.

The local chapter started 11 years ago with just 25 adaptive surfers at Sandbridge and has grown into an annual event at Grommet Island Park.

“Maury Cooke, Randy Pesich, Jeremy Phelps, and Dave Shotten the owner of Freedom Surf Shop — they’ve helped us grow,” Pernites said. “Even though the waves are small, the surfing community in Virginia Beach is strong.”

For more information about Life Rolls On or to volunteer or register as a surfer, click here.

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Lucretia Cunningham is a multimedia journalist at Southside Daily covering hyper-local stories in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Her stories focus on public safety, tourism, and city government. She is a Virginia transplant and military spouse originally from Chicago. Lucretia also served on active duty from 2006 to 2016 and started her journalism career as a broadcaster in the Virginia Air National Guard. When she’s not covering stories on the Southside, she’s covering stories with her Air National Guard unit.