Blind surfer full of vision

Derek Rabelo on his recent film, the thrill of surfing Hawaii’s Pipeline, and chasing dreams

Derek Rabelo

"For me, Pipe is the most intimidating wave on the North Shore [of Hawaii]," Surfing Magazine author Taylor Paul writes.

Having claimed seven lives, Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii has been described as the "deadliest wave on the planet".

It is notorious for "huge waves that break in shallow water just above a sharp and cavernous reef, forming large, hollow, thick curls of water, surfers can tube ride".

Laird John Hamilton, known for surfing monster waves, said this of Pipeline: "When you know what you're doing, and you've been surfing for 30 years, you can see that you can die."

Twenty-three year old Brazilian surfer Derek Rabelo broke all those rules when he surfed Pipeline for the first time in 2012 just two years after he first stood on a surfboard - blind.

When I meet with Derek and his coach/friend, Luis, I am not surprised to hear we will be catching up on the beachfront in Scarborough.

Derek and Luis arrived in Perth two days prior and hadn't had a chance to try out the waves yet, but they told me Margaret River was on their must-surf list, as well as the "Scarborough six-footer".

"Australia is pretty good," Derek says. "There are a lot of options, a lot of different spots to surf. It's not difficult to find good waves."

The young man started surfing at 17 years old, and I asked him if he remembered what it felt like to go out into the waves the first time.

"Yeah, for sure," he says without a pause. "That was an unforgettable moment. It was maybe one of the best feelings I ever had."

He first tackled the monster Pipeline a mere two years after that, and has surfed it four more times since.

"Surfing in Hawaii is different to surfing anywhere else in the world, at least anywhere else I have been," he says. "Particularly because of the power of the waves— they are very powerful and strong. As soon as you get there you feel... not quite scared but..." He trails off to ask Luis for an exact translation of the word he is looking for. "Concerned. That's the word. But at the same time, it can be one of the best moments in your life."

Luis talks about torso movements and flexing of the knees, and explains how technical a sport like surfing is.

"It requires a lot of thinking engagement between you and the ocean, reading the waves and the currents, and seeing how the waves are breaking," he says.

"Even before you go out it's always good to read the wave and imagine what you can do in the wave."

But how do you read the wave when you can't see?

Derek says he always goes out with someone— either Luis or someone else— as a guide, and for the most part he goes by the feeling of the waves as well as the sounds.

Luis says Derek is surfing waves by himself now. "Since I've known him, seeing how he's been progressing in catching waves by himself has just been amazing."

Derek adds he always lets God guide him when he ventures into the ocean.

"I grew up in a Christian family," he says, "but when I was 14 I decided to go to the church by myself, not because my family was pushing me. I just made this decision by myself. That's when I became a Christian.

"That was the best decision of my life, choosing to become a Christian. It made such a big difference in my life."

He publicly declared his faith in Jesus through water baptism in Hawaii at 19 years old, the same place and same year he first surfed the world's deadliest wave.

He says he got the gift of surfing from God. It seems he never even considered his blindness might be a barrier between him and his calling. He simply decided he wanted to surf, and then he did.

"A lot of the time, the only thing that stops us from doing what we want to do is ourselves," he says. "But we just have to put our faith in God and chase our dreams."

Which Derek has done repeatedly— no matter how unachievable or dangerous his dreams sometimes seemed.

Derek paddling

Derek and Luis have a tight schedule the next few weeks while they are in Perth. They plan to be at the Margaret River screening of Derek Rabelo's movie, Beyond Sight, in a few days.

"The movie came out two years ago and we've gone to lots of screenings but for me it still feels really exciting," Derek says.

"I feel very blessed to be able to show people the movie.

"I hope to motivate others to accomplish their dreams, but what I would really like is for everyone to get to know the Lord Jesus because this is the most important thing in life. He is our salvation."

After that, the plan is to return to Brazil for a while, where the film will be screening in his hometown of Guarapari. But he says he intends on being back in Australia soon.

And understandably so. With South Point, North Point, and The Three Bears surf break, there is still so much to see and so much to surf along Australia's southern west coast.

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