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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Conquering waves was something Matt Fraza, a local musician and theater performer, was determined to do in 1997-98 with his prosthetic leg that helped balance a real one. He stood up one time on a surfboard and never looked back.

“I stuck with it from that first day on,” Fraza said in an interview this week as a first-of-its-kind adaptive surfing event for disabled and other adaptive surfers is scheduled for Narragansett Town Beach on Saturday and sponsored by a national group helping disabled people surf and skateboard.

Fraza said he will be there to show support to the many first-time disabled surfers as well as others who take to the water in this surfing event for those with challenges, all wanting to meet the waves head-on.

Hundreds of volunteers, people of all ages with disabilities, and entire families come together at these events across the county. Safety is a top concern with volunteers ready to aid immediately and life vests are as much part of the attire as a bathing suit.

The national Life Rolls On sponsors events like this one in Narragansett — a first for the state and this popular surfing venue — to give those with disabling conditions an opportunity to feel and experience surfing as others do.

It builds confidence, but more importantly, brings a sense of reward and fulfillment that their condition doesn’t make them less whole, less like everyone else.

Founded by three-time world champion quadriplegic surfer Jesse Billauer, Life Rolls On is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people living with various challenges.

Believing that adaptive surfing and skating could inspire infinite possibilities beyond any disability, LRO began as a splash into the unknown on September 11, 2001 and become a dedicated non-profit organization the next year.

This surfing event is being organized with LRO by Marc Guttman, a Connecticut hospital emergency physician and his 16-year-old daughter, Tara, a high school junior.

“As an emergency physician, I often see patients and their families dealing with their disabilities,” he said.

“Having enjoyed surfing myself for many years, and enjoying the good feelings it offers, I thought that adaptive surfing must be a great way for individuals with disabilities to be active, share in the joy, and maybe help be a springboard to other endeavors that could enrich their lives,” explained Guttman, 48, who has been a surfer for many years.

He said that he and his daughter surveyed potential sites for the event and landed on Narragansett Town Beach. It’s wheelchair accessible, has a short beach to the water, and has a relatively shallow shore break for assisting adaptive surfers, he noted.

In addition, Gome surf therapy, a non-profit in Little Compton, also offered to share equipment and volunteer its staff. Other community volunteers will be helping, Guttman said, including students from the University of Rhode Island and Bryant University.

“We’ve been reaching out to rehabilitation centers and neurosurgical and neurology and rehab departments of hospitals in CT, RI, and MA so that we can reach their patients and tell them about this opportunity being provided to them. 

So far, 40 surfers have signed up with more expected. More than 200 volunteers have signed up to help, including members of the swim teams from the University of Rhode Island and Bryant University.

South County’s Fraza said he remains proud of LRO founder and quadriplegic Jesse Billauer.

“Surfing is in the mind. He was a world-class surfer before his accident and he’s still a world-class surfer because he understands the wave in a very deep way. I have the utmost respect for this guy,” he said.

To watch Billauer host these events, run the organization and also surf is inspiring, Fraza said.

“Triple amputees, people, who are 100 percent blind, someone who is paralyzed — how does someone like that surf? They do. They do it like dolphins,” said this local surfer who has just returned from a California surfing competition in Malibu, where he surfed with his water leg for 20 hours over four days.

“The stamina is there because there’s a payoff, just like a runner gets a high. You get that high or buzz from it,” Fraza said.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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