They Will Fish Again: Empowering Individuals with Disabilities Through Adaptive Sport Fishing

They Will Fish Again: Empowering Individuals with Disabilities Through Adaptive Sport Fishing

They Will Fish Again: Empowering Individuals with Disabilities Through Adaptive Sport Fishing

By Dana Koman

March 25, 1996, marked the beginning of a new chapter in Jesse Billauer's life. A top-ranked junior surfer on the cusp of turning professional, he headed to Malibu's shores like any other day. However, tragedy struck when a wave propelled him headfirst into a shallow sandbar, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Despite the devastating injury, Billauer refused to let his story end there.

Turning tragedy into triumph, Billauer was determined to continue pursuing his passion for surfing and outdoor adventure and founded the nonprofit Life Rolls On. Through Life Rolls On, he has dedicated himself to helping others with disabilities experience the same sense of freedom and joy that he has found through adaptive sports.

TACO Marine Life Rolls On Jesse Billauer on surfboard.Life Rolls On Founder Jesse Billauer on his surfboard in an undated photo years after his surfing accident. Photo courtesy / Life Rolls On

“Believing that adaptive sports could inspire infinite possibilities beyond any disability, Life Rolls On began as a splash into the unknown on September 11, 2001; achieved 501c3 nonprofit status in 2002; and now touches the lives of hundreds of thousands,” reads the Foundation’s mission.

Life Rolls On hosts regular adaptive sporting events in surfing and skateboarding. Athletes and celebrities from around the world volunteer during the events and support the foundation. 

Additionally, Billauer continues to set records and receive new accolades in the world of competitive surfing, including 3X World Adaptive Surfing Champion, 6X US National Adaptive Surfing Champion, and 3X First Place recipient for the Hawaii Adaptive Surf Championships. He was even voted as one of the most inspirational surfers on the planet by Men’s Journal and is the 2023 Surfing Walk of Fame Huntington Beach Honor Roll Inductee.

Now, 28 years after his accident, Billauer continues to raise the bar for adaptive sporting events with the launch of They Will Fish Again – a pioneering fishing experience for individuals with disabilities. TACO Marine proudly supports this initiative as a presenting sponsor, recognizing the profound impact it has on the lives of participants. The first event of 2024 is slated to take place May 19.

Embarking from San Pedro, California on a 75’ sport fishing trawler, 30 anglers, who are mostly wheelchair bound, with the help of 40 to 50 volunteers, will cast their lines for what promises to be an unforgettable day on the water.

TACO Marine They Will Fish Again group photoLife Rolls On Founder Jesse Billauer, center, with adaptive anglers and volunteers during the first-ever They Will Fish Again event in 2023. Photo courtesy / Life Rolls On 

“My whole life is about surfing and fishing,” explained Billauer about why he launched the new program. “Out of a necessity, and for me, the love of fishing, I wanted to give back and start [They Will Fish Again], and it was a big success.”

For individuals living with disabilities, opportunities for outdoor recreation can often be limited. However, They Will Fish Again seeks to break down barriers and demonstrate that with the right support and resources, anyone can enjoy the excitement and freedom of sport fishing.

Prior to launching the new program, Billauer said he needed to find a boat that could safely accommodate wheelchair-bound anglers. Through a happy coincidence, he partnered with the “Native Sun,” formerly called “Happy Man,” upon which he had worked as a deck hand when he was 12 years old. For They Will Fish Again, the boat was outfitted with a customized wheelchair ramp for secure boarding and a privacy tent for accessible bathroom facilities while at sea.

When fishing, the volunteers, most of whom are experienced anglers, utilize different adaptive equipment, including electric reels, to make the event as accessible as possible for all the participants.

TACO Marine They Will Fish Again fishing from stern of Native SunVolunteers and adaptive anglers fishing off the stern of the "Native Sun" during the first-ever They Will Fish Again event in 2023. Photo courtesy / Life Rolls On

Unlike competitive tournament fishing, which often targets a specific species using a defined set of rules and techniques, Billauer said the goal of They Will Fish Again is to catch fish, have fun, and create memories while fostering independence and confidence in those who participate.

During each event, the “Native Sun” is anchored at the fishing destination and lines are cast for bottom fishing. Typically, anglers target rock fish, sculpin, and calico bass, and on the way back to port will set drifts targeting halibut and other pelagic species common in the Pacific.

Beyond the thrill of the catch, They Will Fish Again is about more than just fishing – it's about empowerment, inclusion, and inspiration. By showcasing the capabilities and resilience of individuals with disabilities, the event aims to challenge stereotypes and foster a greater sense of understanding and acceptance within the community.

TACO Marine Life Rolls On Jesse Billauer with They Will Fish Again participantPhoto courtesy / Life Rolls On

TACO Marine Life Rolls On Jesse Billauer with fish.Life Rolls On Founder Jesse Billauer, left, with Captain Kevin Stewart during the first-ever They Will Fish Again event in 2023. Photo courtesy / Life Rolls On

For the marine industry, Billauer said he hopes to see more consideration for differently abled individuals go into the future designs of boats – such as more side-entry doors on smaller models and wider entryways into cuddy cabins.

“Having someone lift you over the whole rail, step on the rail, over the rail, it’s not easy,” added Billauer about the common safety hazards people with disabilities encounter while boating. “That little walk-through door, that’s a big deal. I know there’s only so much you can do, [but] if it’s more inviting, then perhaps people with disabilities would feel more comfortable.” 

As May 19 approaches, Billauer invites everyone to join in celebrating ability, resilience, and the human spirit by learning more at With hopes to expand They Will Fish Again nationwide, he encourages fishing charters and marine industry companies to join the cause, making sporting events accessible to all.

From all of us at TACO Marine, we extend our gratitude to Jesse Billauer for his tireless efforts in making sport fishing and other sporting events inclusive for everyone. Together, we're ensuring that They Will Fish Again – and thrive.