By Rachel Afraimi
For Christiaan “Otter” Bailey, 33, surfing and skateboarding were his life and his profession. However, things changed in 2006 when Bailey suffered a devastating injury while filming a skate video at Derby Skate Park in Santa Cruz, California.
“I was completing footage for a skate video and I landed a trick backwards, damaged my spinal cord and fractured two vertebrates,” Bailey said.
The accident left him paralyzed. During his recovery process, Bailey couldn’t stop thinking about getting himself back in the water and back on a skateboard.
Then at 5:30 a.m. one day, several friends woke Bailey up. They wanted to take him back down to the water.
“They wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Bailey said. I was more stoked than scared. I wasn’t thinking how I was going to surf. I was thinking how awesome it was going to be to get back in the water.”
The first wave that Bailey took after his accident was at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, CA. From that point on, Bailey’s lifelong passion for surfing took a turn toward a new legacy.
After getting back into the water, Bailey collaborated with friend and Santa Cruz local surfboard designer, Eric Roush, in order to construct adaptive surfboards.
“I like to refer to Eric as a mad scientist,” Bailey said. “Our partnership came from a pure love of surfing.”
Since getting back in the water, Bailey is the first paraplegic to win the WSA Championships, the first to ride Mavericks (a famous winter surf spot in California where the break is formed by a sharp underwater rock formation), and to date, the only Big Wave paraplegic surfer.
Christiaan decided to ride Mavericks after being inspired by good friend, Jay Moriarity, who died at just 22 years old while freediving.
“I got towed in to Mavericks,” Bailey said. “A lot of people thought I was out of my mind, but I was inspired by Jay. I trained hard for a year and rode a 35-foot wave.”
Bailey wasn’t entirely satisfied with his accomplishments in the water. He wanted to bring more to the skate world as well.
“My skate style was always considered ‘throwback’, and inspired by skaters of the Dogtown era, so when I started skating again, I wanted to continue to incorporate that style,” Bailey said.
That’s why he developed his own trick called the “Otter pop,” which is a hand plant trick.
Bailey, along with friend Aaron Fotheringham (from Nitro Circus), were chosen to represent WCMX (wheelchair skating) for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver Opening Ceremonies.
“The main goal is to take WCMX to the next level…to the X-games,” Bailey said.
Currently, Bailey is working on a video for Team Box. Team Box is a wheelchair company that makes custom wheelchairs.
“We are working with two years of footage from all over the world,” Bailey said. “I am so excited for this to come out!”
Bailey is non-stop on the road. Aside from traveling for surfing and skating, he is also involved in numerous charitable organizations. He is the co-founder and CEO of the Ocean Healing Group , a Costa Rica based foundation that provides all inclusive adaptive sports adventures to youth in wheelchairs. Bailey actually ended up starting the organization with Moriarity before his death.
He is also an ambassador for The Life Rolls On Foundation, which puts on yearly adaptive surfing and WCMX events.
Bailey is clearly a guy not only riding big waves. He’s creating them, too, and getting everyone in his path to hope on board for a little fun in and out of the ocean.