Jesse Billauer rolls into the Beverly Hills Hotel with a blonde bombshell by his side and immediately attracts everyone’s attention as soon as he opens his mouth. The tanned surfer is telling his friends to hold on to their girlfriends tight or he just might nab them up before the night is done. His friends laugh but quickly tighten their grip on their significant others. They know Billauer too well.
This is a man after all who got Paris Hilton to take off a couple of her sequined dresses for the night, stole kisses from Molly Sims and Brooke Burns and was photographed on the red carpet with Stefanie Sherk, his model girlfriend, sitting seductively on his lap. And that was just the beginning of his night.
Then again that’s just the way he rolls. Literally.
Billauer has been a quadriplegic since suffering a severe spinal cord injury while surfing with friends in 1996. At the time he was ranked as the No. 1 Junior in the Pacific Surf Series, had numerous sponsorship deals and competed all over the world. The only concern for Billauer, 28, was someone else coming in to steal his waves. Suddenly all it took was one crashing wave to rob him of all sensation below his mid-chest and confine him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“Everyone kept telling me life goes on man, life goes on,” said Billauer. “I thought about it and said, no, life rolls on.”
The catchy name and his financial situation at the time were the inspiration for Life Rolls On, a non-profit foundation helping young people affected by spinal cord injury. “At the beginning it was to help me pay for my medical bills but I soon changed the focus to everybody,” said Billauer. “I wanted people to know that life rolls on. I’m in a wheelchair but I could still do so much.
Billauer actually does more than most. While surfing (yes, he still surfs) 10-foot waves in Hawaii last December he broke his femur on a wave but said he plans on making another run at the big swells in a couple months.
“I’m paralyzed, I’m a quadriplegic and I’m still surfing,” he said. “People that are walking don’t even surf some of the waves I have. I’m just trying to live my life and have fun. I could get hit by a car going across the street so I might as well fall on a wave and get hurt.”
While Billauer might not be able to surf the way he once he did, he still rides on a custom made 8-foot-2 board he lies down on, propping himself up on his elbows while his friends push him into the waves and then tow him back after he finishes riding them.
“He’s still surfing waves that most people wouldn’t want to touch,” says his brother Josh, the chairman of Life Rolls On. “He’s still doing his thing. The wheelchair is just how he gets around. It has nothing to do with his personality or mindset.”
Not only does Billauer surf as quadriplegic, he teaches others affected with spinal cord injuries how to surf in a program called They Will Surf Again. “You should see the look on their faces,” he said of the disabled surfers. “They talk it about it for months. They lose the pain and for a moment they realize how beautiful it is. It’s inspiring to see other people out there surfing. When I’m in the water, it changes everything. It’s my life.”
He also teaches those who aren’t disabled how to surf, riding with Adam Sandler and soon Hilton after she paid nearly $20,000 for a chance to surf with Sandler and Billauer at his annual “Night by the Ocean” gala last week. He recently taught his girlfriend how to surf for the first time after meeting her on MySpace.
“I get a message from him, and I’ve never met him before in my life, and he writes, ‘Your waist is incredible, your lips are amazing, I look forward to hearing back from you,'” said Sherk of their initial encounter. “It’s classic Jesse and an excellent example of why he’s so bad ass.”
Billauer simply smiles as he hears his girlfriend and others shower him with praise. He never thought he would be in this position. He didn’t want to change lives. All he wanted to do was surf. Somewhere along the way he learned that he could to both.