In 1996, 17-year-old Jesse Billauer, a top ranked amateur surfer,
contracted quadriplegia in a surfing accident, Zuma beach, California.
See videos and story below:
It was 2004 and I had just completed a first electric assist surfboard for personal use. As an aging baby boomer surfer / engineer, I was running low on paddle power and I wanted a boost to help me catch more waves.
While I knew about Jesse because I had seen his story on “Step Into Liquid,” nothing prepared me for the experience of seeing him in the surf zone getting pushed into waves by his elite surfer friends (in this case it was the Malloy brothers.) We were at C street in Ventura, the surf was well overhead (or 8 feet California).
Jesse’s courage and skill in this dangerous, precarious environment captured my imagination. Right then I knew he needed an electric assist surfboard much more than I did. That was the beginning of a 14-year quest to build the optimal electric powered board that would allow Jesse to surf with the same independence he had enjoyed before his accident. To me building an insanely great (to paraphrase Steve Jobs) joystick-controlled surfboard is like making it to the top of Mt. Everest.
During the meeting 2004 Jesse and I had a chance to talk and I told him my stoke about electric assist and how it might help him. He liked the idea and we discussed the optimal way to control the board. From day one, Jesse favored joystick control. The videos to the left benchmark progress.
The single axis joystick controlled Jesse I was filmed in 2010. The Jesse I was successful in allowing Jesse to power into and catch waves and all of us, including celebrity Antony Kiedis, were stoked. Opps! there was a challenge. Jesse could motor out to the surf zone, but how could he turn around and catch waves? His single axis joystick only let him power forward and he needed assistance in turning around.
In 2011 GoodLife Mobility got a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve foundation expressly focused on the turning challenge. The result can be seen in the 2012 Jesse II film taken at Malibu. Yes, it worked, another happy moment. Opps!—there is an issue because the technical track we took was far too expensive to manufacture and produce at a reasonable cost. The whole idea of behind the grant was building a board was that could be widely distributed. Thus it had to be affordable!
It was back to the drawing board and in 2016 GoodLife Mobility came up with an optimized joystick control system, and inexpensive surfboard add-on. This system is seen in the Jesse III video and provided Jesse with forward, backward, turning, and pivoting control. Jesse’s reaction: Mandatory! Opps! another challenge—the thrusters that we were using, a shrouded propeller design, stuck down below the surface of the surfboard and were not suitable for surfing because their drag hinders the take-off moment and can get broken off on beach landings. But as you can see when watching the Jesse III video, the system works great on flat water.
Now we are launching an initiative to build the Jesse IV, a board that will have all the mobility of the Jesse III and still work in the surf zone. And we want to fit this power unit into one of Jesse’s favorite Channel Island surfboards. We know how to do it and the Mt. Everest summit is in sight. Sign up to help us on this quest!
Cowabunga and best regards to all,
Dainuri Rott, GoodLife Mobility founder and techie instigator.