Life Rolls On Helps Surfers with Disabilities
by adam preskill
Scott Caan (center) and friends catch some waves.
Some celebrities speak out for their favorite charity. Some prefer to pay out. Actor Scott Caan, currently starring in the CBS series Hawaii Five-O, paddles out. For the last several years the LA native and longtime surfer has been lending a hand to two different organizations that use surfing to help people improve their quality of life. The Life Rolls On foundation runs regular "They Will Surf Again" events to help surfers of all ages affected by spinal-cord injuries get back in the water, while Surfers Healing, founded by surfing's famous Paskowitz family, uses the sport to help kids with autism.
How did you first get involved with Life Rolls On and Surfers Healing?
SCOTT CAAN: I started out helping with Surfers Healing events, doing five or six events a year at Topanga and Malibu, and working with a bunch of kids there. And then one day I was at Malibu and I met Jesse [Billauer, founder and director of national outreach of Life Rolls On] at one of his events, and I think they were short a guy that day, so I just jumped out there and started helping, and I've been doing it since then.
How do these two organizations differ?
SC: With Life Rolls On, it's guys and women who were surfers before their injuries who didn't think they'd ever be able to do what they love again. With Surfers Healing, you're helping kids with autism, many of whom are surfing for the first time. I've had kids who would kick and scream when we're paddling out there. One was scratching my face and trying to choke me. We get one wave and he goes completely calm and just points back out to the water for one more.
What's it like to take people surfing who aren't able to paddle out on their own?
SC: Honestly, it's almost a selfish thing, because the joy you get out of helping someone do something they can't do without you is second to none. It's one thing to donate money or support a cause, but to be the person who's actually physically helping someone is amazing.
How do you feel surfing helps someone with a spinal-cord injury deal with his or her situation?
SC: For them to be able to get back in the water and do what they love, I think it's the biggest stoke they have. I know what it's like to not be able to get in the water—after a couple of weeks I start to go nuts. I can't imagine what it would be like to say, "I can't go unless some dude helps me."
How did it feel to be honored by Life Rolls On?
SC: They gave me an award for almost drowning Jesse about five times. [Laughs] I hate to sound clichéd but to get an award for doing something that's so rewarding is kind of a goofy thing. I feel like I'm rewarded just for getting to hang out with these guys who have so much heart and so many other qualities I admire.
Have you become close with the people you've met through these organizations?
SC: These are dudes I surf with all the time. When I'm in Hawaii, I miss surfing with my friends Jesse and Nathan. When you go home and think about it, it becomes an amazing spiritual experience, but when you're out there, you're just surfing with your boys, and one of them just can't stand up and you're helping him out.
What would you say to someone considering volunteering at one of these events?
SC: To be the person actually physically doing it, helping someone [in the water] is amazing—but it's something not everybody can do. You have to be confident in the water, know what you're doing, and know you have a life in your hands. At the end of the day, I'm more grateful to be a part of this than just about anything I have. It's hard to talk about [it] and not be completely humbled. If you know how to surf or you can swim and you get a kick out of helping people, then I can't imagine any better day.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT WESSEN (SURFERS); RYAN GIRON (SHOE CITY OPEN); SUSAN MARIE LIFESTYLE PHOTOGRAPHY (US OPEN); VALERIE MACON/GETTY IMAGES (HEWITT, BOWEN); MICHAEL KOVAC/GETTY IMAGES (PUCK)
Cover shoot: September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.