Christiaan "Otter" Bailey doing what he loves most. Photo Bailey.
You may know him as a surfer or from his extreme chairskating moves, but for the month of September, he's our GOEL 2012 contest winner.
You may have spotted this year’s Get Out, Enjoy Life (GOEL) photo contest winner shredding the “ankle biters” up and down the California coast, or catching big surf off a Costa Rican beach, but for Christiaan “Otter” Bailey, the ocean has always been his favorite playground.
The Santa Cruz resident has been surfing since he could put one foot in front of the other and spent much of his youth as a professional free-surfer globe trotting the most remote locations in search of surf.
When he isn’t on the water you can find him at the local skateboard park doing a “session” on his board, adding more mad-skills to his “tricktionary.” In 2006, life took a tragic turn for Bailey when he sustained an L3-4/S3 spinal-cord injury during the filming of a skate video.
“The best way I found to avoid depression, was to find new and creative ways to adapt my passions to my injury,” says Bailey. “With help from my friends and sponsors, I started developing my surfboards to amplify my abilities that remained.”
Bailey was subsequently asked to join the Association of Professional Surfers (APS) world tour and travels with them performing “expression” sessions during surfing contests, as well as promoting various foundations. “It’s more than surfing,” says Bailey. “I am proving a collective point that anything is possible despite an injury.”
His most recent contest took place during the 2012 Nike US Open of Surfing event in Huntington Beach, Calif., and was the setting for the photo that earned him the September 2012 SPORTS ’N SPOKES (S’NS) cover. “I had already finished my surfing for the week,” says Bailey. “On the last day of the contest, I was invited by my mates at Converse to open up the finals of the Coastal Carnage, which is where John Jefferson shot the photo I submitted.”
The annual event runs in conjunction with the Nike US Open of Surfing and features a mini bowl and open public skate where skaters advance to an invite-only bowl jam featuring world-class skaters and a prize purse of $90,000.
Christiaan "Otter" Bailey during the Converse Coastal Carnage in Huntington Beach, Calif. Photo Bailey
If you’re curious how Bailey transitioned from a surfboard to a skateboard, you’re not alone. “Since postinjury I couldn’t skateboard traditionally, so I figured bringing my chair to the park was the next best thing,” says Bailey. “Things kind of snowballed from there.”
Bailey isn’t the first to wow crowds using a wheelchair as a type of replacement skateboard as demonstrated by Aaron Fotheringham, the first wheelchair user to perform a double flip from the top of a ramp.
“When the sport of ‘chair skating’ was young, Fotheringham was always a source of personal inspiration,” says Bailey. “In the past two years, we’ve seen a gang-rush of new riders, and it has snowballed into an awesome community of like-minded shredders, all of whom are passionate about empowering youngsters in chairs.”
Bailey draws empowerment from his teammates Fotheringham, Daryl Keith Tait, Johnny Stark, and Timmy Rodriguez, who are always pushing each other to go faster and charge harder.
In his winning photo during the Coastal Carnage event, Bailey was about to roll off a 10-foot “volcano” drop. “The tricky part is the pool coping,” says Bailey. “Unlike a standard vertical drop, you have to roll up and over the overhang that’s basically more like 6-feet before my wheels actually touched down on the transition. It’s a super sketchy drop, but a lot of fun.” (We’ll take your word for it, sir.)
When Bailey isn’t on the water or at the skate park, he oversees an organization called Ocean Healing Group (OHG), which is the first and only international adaptive surfing adventure program. He and business partner Frank Bauer created the all inclusive sports program for kids ages of 7-17, as well as their parents, as a way to give young disabled surfers the opportunity to experience a two-week event on the beaches of Costa Rica.
“The program is largely free of costs for the participants,” says Bailey. “We engage the kids in activities ranging from adaptive surfing and snorkeling to zip-lining over the jungle, ATV quad nature tours, and beach horseback riding.”
While the kids are enjoying the tropical location and unique experience, the parents get an opportunity to relax and have a real vacation. “It’s an absolute blast for us to be able to share our passion and give back in this way,” says Bailey. “It’s one of the most spiritually fulfilling things I’ve done postinjury.”
Known as Just Add Water Surfing (JAWS) events, the program has gone on to become a huge success since its inception in 2007. So much so, they are booked up for the next two years with families and kids anxious to get out and enjoy life.
If you’re interested in helping, Bailey says they are always looking for independent motivated people to volunteer with OHG. If you think you have what it takes to be part of one of their programs, they invite you to send them a resume’ by visiting them online. Volunteers truly make programs like this possible.
Bailey is pleased to see this sport getting recognition within the community it deserves. He reports OHG will be expanding their operation to Australia the first quarter of next year, and will be offering day surf programs in Warrnambool, Melbourne, and Sydney. “That’s going to be a great time,” says Bailey. “So, for my Aussie mates, stay tuned. There’s a lot of fun on the horizon.”
As part of his first-place winnings, Bailey will receive a new Top End Force G crankcycle courtesy of the good folks at Invacare. “I think I have an idea on how it can best be used,” says Bailey. “I coach at a disabled kids sports camp called Ability First (AbilityFirstSports.org) every year. I think it might end up there, where the kids can get the greatest use if it.”
“I’d like to thank my friends, family, and sponsors Volcom, Electric, GoPro, Froglegs, Fox Shocks, Buell Wetsuits, and Roush Creations surfboards. They have been with me through thick and thin, and I can’t begin to thank them enough,” says Bailey.
“Mike Box, of Mike Box Designs, has played a pivotal role for this sport. His WCMX chairs are second to none when it comes to allowing us to do what we do. Without him, I think it’s fair to say, none of us would be where we are today.”