“Every time I fell I stood up and tried harder.”
Derek Rabelo’s father wanted nothing more than to have a son who surfed. He even named his son after Hawaii’s first champion, Derek Ho. But his father’s dreams were dashed when Rabelo was born completely blind, the result of glaucoma. “Many people told me that surfing was too dangerous for me and I couldn’t do it,” Rabelo says. But he began listening to the sounds of the ocean and had a revelation. “I had the blood of a surfer coursing through my veins,” Rabelo says. So he hit the water with a board in his hand.
At first, it was incredibly difficult for Derek to even stand on the board. “Every time I fell, I stood up and tried harder,” he says. Through his struggles in the water he realized that being sightless gave him an advantage over others. “I cannot see [the ocean] as you do. But I can feel and hear it better than you,” he says. Person after person told Rabelo he couldn’t do it, but he persevered and eventually stood on his board. “These words made me even more determined to continue the dream I shared with my father with hard work and passion,” he says. “I achieved my goal and was able to stand on the waves, proving them otherwise.”
Rabelo would go on to become an amazing surfer and now shares his story of overcoming a disability and embracing his uniqueness with others at surf camps, schools, and global conferences. Rabelo’s story is a call to ask ourselves if there are any dreams we aren’t pursuing because of self-imposed limitations or those placed on us by others. In the words of Rabelo, “All these negative words are like waves in the ocean trying to tip you over and make you fall.”