Slater Leads the Blind

Kelly Slater surfs Lowers with the inspiring blind Brazilian, Derek Rabelo

| posted on July 19, 2012

An 11-time World Champion and a young, blind Brazilian, brought together at Lowers by their common bond of surfing. Photo: Glaser

As two surfers approached the beach at Lowers, they were subject to a series of double takes and glances, and for good reason. There was the 11-time World Champion with his hand on the back of a young Brazilian, who carried a board under his left arm and tapped a walking stick over the train tracks with his right.

Derek Rabelo was born without sight, but that does little to deter him from paddling out, especially if it’s in the company of Kelly Slater. Derek was so excited when they made it to the sand fronting the peak that he wouldn’t put his board down. They talked about equipment, what it was like to surf Pipe, and how stoked Derek was to be at the Lower Trestles. Kelly asked about his heightened senses in the water, how he manages to surf on feel alone, how he lets the waves come to him. Derek was in awe of Slater and the opportunity, but the admiration was mutual.

They paddled out side by side into head-high peaks as bystanders watched in curious awe. It took mere minutes for Derek to catch his first wave—a solid left shoulder with Slater trailing behind him. Throughout the session, he caught a handful of lefts—his goofyfooted bias apparently supersedes any disability.

The whole lineup watched as Derek took off on his forehand with an official Kelly Slater escort. Photo: Glaser

Derek surfs by feel, not by sight, and his story is the subject of the upcoming documentary Beyond Sight [trailer]. The film was inspired by a viral YouTube video from the North Shore that showed Derek dropping in at Pipe with Makua Rothman and crew. It was Derek’s dream to surf Pipeline, something he traveled all the way from Brazil to do.

Derek’s story is still evolving as many surfers continue to embrace his courage and spirit. Not only has he surfed Pipe and Lowers with pros, but he’s also towed in to 15-foot bombs in Rio and will return to Hawaii this winter—the place where it all started—to continue his powerful story and wrap up his film.

Beyond Sight director Bryan Jennings joined Slater and Derek on their trek down to Trestles. Photo: Glaser

Support the telling of Derek Rabelo’s story at Walking on Water.

  • KauaiDKer

    That’s awesome! Guys on the erBB & their first world problems (including me) ain’t got jack to worry about compared to this guy. How stocked is he? Too bad he can’t see them barrels because coming out after that almond view has to be the best feeling in urfing.

  • pete

    best story ever on this site.

  • Tiago

    where is the all trash talk that kelly does about Brazil and Brazilians in the last 20 years?
    when is about become the center of the world, the narcissism master take his place! Kelly Slater one more time ladies and gentleman! the biggest hypocrite ever!

  • João Rodrigo

    Tiago you’re such an asshole…

  • Whamo

    I have a lot of respect for the blind gentleman.

  • Dougal

    Tiago – your such a twat!

  • Bushy

    Cool story, very humbling, makes you realise how insignificant some of the things are we moan about all the time. This guy proves surfing is all about how it feels. Good on you Surfer Mag and Kelly Slater.

  • Rob

    WHy people like this brazo called Tiago is not banned from posting here? Surfermag, lets keep some cool around.
    I am brazilian and a hate stupid arrogant brazos like Tiago-monkey

  • Mot


    You have serious insecurity issues. It’s borderline personality disorder.

    Almost every time, a Brazilian is posting a comment defending their country of Brazil or why they are treated unfairly. Every single time. Do you understand how unproductive that is? Or how narcissistic it is?

    It’s pretty much a known stereotype. That Brazilians are whiney little insecure pricks that comment all over the internet with nothing better to say than trash talking others or talking about their pride in Brazil.

  • PManique

    Hey Tiago, you should try a take your head from your ass once in while and look around. KS may not be the perfect gentleman but he doesn’t need to be associated with Derek to be in the spotlight. If he is, it’s because he means it. BTW i love Mineirinho but sometimes he’s not the best sportsman around (look a CJ in Fiji). Peace

  • Luiz

    I’m sorry Kelly about the comments from Tiago. That comment does not represent what Brazilians think about you. Who cares what somebody like him think or say? Keep up the good work as the best surf ambassador ever.Total respect here. Derek you’re a inspiration. God bless you guys.

  • Roger James

    I am thinking its in real poor tast to print these responses from people Who obviously are not a good representation of the people Who read your magazine , If they are I must be a minority. All these surfers are doing their best, and deserve credit for that. Ihave been reading your mag since the first one.

  • Gab

    Wow !!!!!

  • dgb

    All right Tiago, where is all the trash talk that Kelly does about Brazil and Brazilians? Let’s see it. Offer it up. It’s out there, right? You should put us all in the loop, that is if there is any basis to what you claim.

  • John Barnes

    Google: Radioactive Fukushima Buckyballs hitting California now!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Juli

    is just someone do a critic about a american and thousands of american racists show up!
    you guys can not even asnwer using solid arguments? why you have to appeal, being racist?
    it shows why this country is into a big downfall…

  • Greco

    Thiago. This story is about inspiration.
    What a strong will Derek has!!!
    We live in the same city and i had the oportunity to surf with him. I´m 31 one years old right now and a surfer since my father put me on a surfboard at age of 3 (or 4!)
    I can´t remember that first feeling of standing up to a surf board, but i clearly remember that very day when i saw Derek surfing at a point called “Setiba”. I cried. Pure happiness. Inspiration. I´had that first feeling back. I surfed and talked to a man who has a lot to teach us. Sometimes we become “cheap” persons and then see someone in a worst condition than ours doing things like Derek. That´s a punch right in your face.
    Kelly, congratulations for supporting and helping to realize a man´s dream.
    Derek, I´ll teach that for my children. Thank you.

  • Ricardo

    Derek and Kelly,… Amazing!!!! Want more of This!!

  • Dag Halifax

    That’s righteous broham. Inspiration tank all topped off. Obrigado.

  • Will

    Screw you Tiago….how cool is it to have a pro athlete in the middle of a title race do a little something to help someone out? Mad karma points for this one.

    Surfing is about the stoke…not flapping two or three to the beach.

  • Kool

    Looking at the video at, I wonder who taught more to whom that day. Kelly took his time out of a busy schedule, however who gained more of a new appreciation for life? Watching Derek let go the tow rope and surf Pipeline is freaking unreal! Rob spent time with him the following day, again taking time out of a horrendous schedule. While I know Derek was stoked to surf with these two amazing individuals, I would venture to guess both Rob and Kelly walked away learning more about faith than than when they arrived. Cannot wait to see the film “Beyond Sight” come out. We can all learn! God bless you Brothers!

  • Pescaro

    haha you kooks! controlled by the american media!

    do you really think that Kelly did that just for free, for charity?
    are you guys insane?
    I was wonder why he did that in the last weeks and I just saw in a Argentinian web site that a couple video makers from Brazil, are doing a documentary, so when Kelly realized that he asked to be part of this…

    He never, not even that week in Hawaii give attention for this boy, I’m friend with a Argentinian video maker, that helped the Brazilian that made Derek very first video and my friend said that day Kelly did even care about him, while Makua went crazy about the boy and gave him a board and brought him to Pipe…

    but when kelly discovered about the documentary… as Tiago said, the narcissism master took it personal…

  • Daniel

    Tiago, I suggest that you travel to the USA, Europe. South Africa, Australia, etc, (or try to make friends from other countries if you can’t travel) read books, improve your English grammar, learn more about life and people, ’cause ignorance and stupidity kill hope and shatter dreams.
    And what a beautiful story here! Derek is an example to be followed. Thanks everyone.

  • Daniel

    “That Brazilians are whiney little insecure pricks that comment all over the internet with nothing better to say than trash talking others or talking about their pride in Brazil.” _ Now you did go overboard Mot. So you are into ALL posts and stories brazilians post on the web? How can you be abreast of it? Also, all peoples have their insecurity issues, the major problem with Brazilians is that we’re just getting used to a certain social upgrade that has been on over the past few decades and some of us don’t possess a noble mindset…Kind of difficult to explain and you’ll probably not understand unless if you spend some time over here and study the country with some deep sociological skills, now if that’s not your case try to moderate your words.

  • kai

    Thiago and mot, you two shouldnt be here, the rest of you, great stuff, truly inspirational story!