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