Blind surfer Derek Rabelo is in the Illawarra for the region's first ever Stand Tall event

INSPIRING: Derek Rabelo was born blind, but hasn't let that stop him surfing Pipeline, going downhill skateboarding, or touring the world as a motivational speaker. Picture: Adam McLean

INSPIRING: Derek Rabelo was born blind, but hasn't let that stop him surfing Pipeline, going downhill skateboarding, or touring the world as a motivational speaker. Picture: Adam McLean

Many of us find it difficult to keep going when life gets hard, but for one blind surfer he prefers to grab the bull by the horns and hopes to inspire others with his stories of courage.

Derek Rabelo, 23, is congenitally blind - born with glaucoma. He grew up in Guarapari on the Brazilian coast, feeling quite comfortable in the ocean.

At the age of 17 he finally decided to jump on a surfboard and learn to ride waves by himself.

“When I first started it was kind of hard to stand on the board, but I knew I could do it,” he said.

According to Rabelo the more someone tells him he cannot do something the more angry he becomes, fueling him further to achieve.

RABELO: "When someone says I can’t or shouldn’t do something, it makes me a bit angry and gives me more drive to go out there and do it." Picture: Adam McLean

RABELO: "When someone says I can’t or shouldn’t do something, it makes me a bit angry and gives me more drive to go out there and do it." Picture: Adam McLean

The remarkable young man is visiting the Illawarra for the region’s first ever Stand Tall event at Warilla High School, and will share how he overcame adversity to become a professional surfer, a downhill skateboarder, and study at university.

“That’s why i’m here - not just for surf but to share that story with the people and try to inspire them with my faith and what i’m doing,” he said.

Possibly his biggest challenge to date has been teaching himself English two years ago.

“I never had the opportunity to study English in my school so I just learned by myself and with friends and practiced,” he said.

The waves were small and crumbly, but blind surfer Derek Rabelo still had fun at South Beach.

Life changed for Rabelo in 2012 when a video went viral showing him riding a giant wave at the infamous Hawaiian break of Pipeline, prompting sponsorship from Billabong and Nutrigrain.

He now loves getting towed into waves, and the thrill of a 15 footer gets him most excited - the more extreme, the more fun.

He’s won the admiration of many and can credit Kelly Slater and Taj Burrow as his mates.

While surfing at Wollongong’s South beach with Illawarra Mercury photographer Adam McLean, local lifeguards recognised the star straight away and asked to get a photo.

The humble surfer laughed off his celebrity status but said he was grateful for his faith and the opportunities that have been brought to him.

Blind surfer Derek Rabelo also has a new passion for high-speed downhill skateboarding!

Co-founder of Stand Tall Jeanine Treharne said he was exactly the kind of role model to impart hope and courage at an event open to all Illawarra teenagers. 

Rabelo will hit the stage with other inspiring young people like Olympic runner Eloise Wellings who overcame an eating disorder to go to the London games; the world’s best junior women’s skateboarder Poppy Starr Olsen; and The Voice semi-finalist Emma Birdsall.

Registrations for the event are open to anyone, though aimed at year 7 to 12 students. www.standtallevent.com

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