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Blind Surfer Inspires Surfing Professionals

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In 1992, a Brazilian father named his newborn son "Derek" after professional surfer Derek Ho. He hoped his son would become a professional surfer. At the time, Brazil was emerging as a professional surfing powerhouse. But the father's dream quickly faded after learning his son had been born completely blind.

However, seventeen years later, and after never having surfed, that son, blind Derek Rabelo, wanted to learn surfing and ultimately surf Pipeline in Hawaii, perhaps the world's most challenging waves. It took Derek three years to learn how to surf.

"You can just imagine the difficulty Derek had learning how to keep his balance, which is important in surfing," said Craig James, spokesperson for the upcoming movie "Beyond Sight," which will be released this spring and star 20-year-old Derek Rabelo. "Derek had strength training and upper-body conditioning to enable him to paddle out into the waves. Then he had to learn how to get through the break in the waves. When you're able to see a wave and it's breaking, you do what is called a duck dive and push your board down into the water to go underneath the wave. There's not only strength involved, but also timing. Derek had to learn to anticipate the wave by sound and by the feel of the water."

Derek surfed Pipeline in February 2012, and the Youtube video documenting his feat has received over 500,000 hits. (To watch, type in "Blind Surfer Derek Rabelo Surfing Pipe.") Next, last summer, American film producer Bryan Jennings ("Soul Surfer" with Bethany Hamilton) befriended Derek and asked to make a movie of Derek's life.

What happened next defies description. Said James, "(Nearly all) the top athletes in professional surfing wanted to be part of the film even though they wouldn't get paid. So you have in the film seven current Association of Surfing Professionals tour surfers and ten surfing legends including Kelly Slater, Tom Curren, Laird Hamilton, and Rob Machado. The impact of this movie is that these extremely famous people in surfing have asked to be part of this film. They want to be around (Derek) because he inspires them. It's hard enough to surf, but to do it blind on the most difficult waves in the world is amazing."

James said the movie tagline reflects Rabelo's lifelong Christian faith: "A True Champion Lives by Faith, Not by Sight."


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Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.

Daniel J. Vance may be reached at www.danieljvance.com