Surfing event provides smiles to hundreds with spinal cord injuries

VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) – Cole Syndor was back in the water for the first time in five years.

Five years ago last Thursday, the now 21-year old from Richmond nearly lost his live in a diving accident on the James River in Richmond. He’s now paralyzed from the chest down, but that didn’t stop him from takin’ in the surf on the oceanfront Saturday evening.

“I was real nervous. I can’t even speak right now,” said Syndor. Because of an event known as “They Will Surf Again,” hundreds like Cole with spinal cord injuries were able to enjoy the sand, the surf, and the sun.

“Obviously, this is one of a kind,” said Syndor.

The event welcomed more than 100 surfers and 300 volunteers to the oceanfront, thanks to Jesse Billauer. Once a rising star in surfing circles, he was just about to turn professional before an accident that took away his ability to walk. “I broke my neck surfing,” said Billauer, who founded an organization called “Life Rolls On.”

True to its title, it provides the means for those like Sydnor and Billauer to enjoy a day in the water. “It started with just a couple people, and now it’s grown to hundreds and thousands of people,” said Billauer, also the executive director of “Life Rolls on.”

Indeed, there were plenty of smiles on the beach and in the water. Hundreds had the chance to simply soak up the surf. “That was so awesome,” said Allen Holloway, who broke his neck in an accident four and a half years ago. “It felt so good to be back in the water again. It makes you feel like you legs don’t get in the way.”

“There’s no one else doing stuff like this,” said Sydnor. “For all these people to come together and help out, people that couldn’t do it on their own, it’s pretty astonishing.”

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