Rolling Without Limits

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Christiaan "Otter" Bailey: A Wheelchair Skater and Surfer
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Christiaan "Otter" Bailey: A Wheelchair Skater and Surfer

Bailey was paralyzed while skateboarding in 2006, an injury that appears to have had little more than a minor impact on his pursuits. It took exactly three days after he got out of rehab for him to make it back to the skate park. Bailey also went fishing at the 2012 Coastal Carnage Bowl.

Bailey regularly surfs his old Santa Cruz haunts, and has ridden big, dangerous, world-class waves all over the world — from Pipeline to Teauhupo’o. The kind of waves that Bailey doesn’t see himself capable of riding — Shipstern Bluff in Tasmania, and Cortez Bank in California, to name a couple — are the kind of breaks that make professional big wave riders shudder. In 2010, Bailey became the first adaptive surfer to ride Mavericks, a colossal wave just south of San Francisco that typically only breaks during cold winter swells. Depending on the swell, it can range in size from 15 to 40 feet.

The 37-year-old Bailey knew how to shred before his spinal cord injury, and he knows how to shred now. Bailey started surfing and skateboarding when he was 4 years old, and was sponsored in both sports at the ripe old age of 12. Over a decade after he broke his L3-4 vertebrae while filming a video segment for Santa Cruz Skateboards, he is still a sponsored surfer and skater, traveling the world, performing at stops on the World Surf League’s World Championship Tour of Surfing and dropping into quarter pipes from California to Indonesia.

That Bailey shreds the world is cool, but what makes him unique is how much good he does in the process. For much of the past decade he’s been working with Global Mobility, a nonprofit that delivers wheelchairs to kids and adults who need them all over the world. Bailey is part of the process that helps get, not just a wheelchair, but the right, properly fitted wheelchair to individuals that likely have never had such a thing, offering a key step toward independent mobility. In addition, he founded and runs Ocean Healing Group, a nonprofit that brings kids with physical disabilities to a surf camp in Costa Rica, using adventure to help families transcend the rehab mindset and develop skills and confidence to last a lifetime. For Bailey, adventure is about a whole lot more than just having fun.

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