The most inspiring story of the year! Even more than Bethany and Jimbo!
I will be the first to shout that Bethany Hamilton wows me each and every time she paddles out. Her dance is beyond impressive by any measure and maybe more so for me. My left arm, you see, comes out of its shoulder socket if I paddle four times for a wave. Three times it’s ok. Four it’s out. And so I’ve taken to half paddling and also surfing very bad.
I therefore watch Bethany in absolute awe, still not understanding how she does it. How does she do it? How does she surf waves so damned well let alone catch them? And I am certain I’ll watch world famous Jimbo Pellegrine in awe/horror when he surfs next. Mostly awe (horror) though since I wondered how he caught waves even before his brush with oncoming traffic.
But Jonas Letieri from Brazil does them both one better because he has no arms. Nunce! Let’s read about him in the Orange County Register!
At the 2014 Battle of the Paddle in Florianopolis, Brazil, world stand-up paddleboard champion Candice Appleby of San Clemente could hardly believe her eyes.
She watched a Brazilian stand-up paddler with no arms. He was riding waves on a racing board – something difficult even for top pros to do. And he was surfing like a pro.
“I was like, ‘What?’” Appleby said.
She excitedly contacted her coach, Anthony Vela, in California. One thing led to another, and this weekend, at the San Clemente Ocean Festival, Jonas Letieri is entering his first stand-up paddleboard surfing competition in the United States.
“I think everyone will have a pleasure of watching him surf and be amazed at his surfing,” Vela said, “but then be inspired by the way that he lives.”
Letieri, 31, has surfed since age 13. He embraced the surf lifestyle while pursuing a career in graphic design.
As a volunteer for his church, he designed, helped build and offered to install a church sign. During installation on Oct. 11, 2011, he didn’t notice an electrical wire. The sign came into contact with it.
Both of his arms had to be amputated at the elbow.
Letieri set out to learn new ways to cook, dress himself, clean his house and do everything – graphic design, too. His father helped him find a way to resume surfing. The two crafted a paddle attached to a steel ring that fit around Letieri’s stubbed arm. Over time, he learned to surf with it.
“That’s my life,” he said, “being in the ocean and surfing with my friends.”
As word spread about the talented survivor, Letieri was invited to compete at the Payette River Games in Cascade, Idaho. He drew a standing ovation when four rivals in an advanced heat all fell in the rapids and he prevailed.
Jim Terrell, owner of Orange County company Quickblade Paddles, met Letieri in Brazil and again in Idaho. He was inspired to help.
“I saw the paddle, two steel rings lashed to the paddle,” Terrell said.
“He said, ‘Let me look at your paddle’ and he went home,” Vela said. “He’s like, ‘I think I can make it a little better.’”
Terrell, of Newport Beach, shipped a new lightweight custom paddle to Letieri in Brazil, and when Letieri returned to California in January for a six-mile race in San Diego, Terrell made him an even better one.
“It changed my whole life, this paddle,” Letieri said. “My first paddle was made by steel rings. It was so heavy … much too heavy, with a lot of tape and stuff. Now I can stay for hours paddling and paddling and I don’t feel so much the weight and I don’t feel pain. We are still working. Every time we are talking, he comes with a new idea to do something better.”
Letieri is spending the summer in Orange County, working out with Performance Paddling Training Club of Dana Point to prepare for the Molokai to Oahu World Paddleboard Championships.
“He is living the life of a professional athlete,” Appleby said.
Letieri entered the water Monday at the pier to train, after having not surfed for weeks. A stiff south wind whipped up a washing machine water texture, so difficult that Appleby fell repeatedly and resorted to paddling through the surf lying on her board, using her arms.
Letieri had no such luxury. Falling again and again, he persisted until he made his way out. Riding just a 7-foot-by-8-inch SUP board built for high performance, he had to keep moving to avoid falling.
“The board won!” he grinned as he kept getting back up. Finding his groove, he was able to ride a handful of choppy, windblown waves, displaying his down-the-line prowess on several and his powerful cutback on one.
“I try to smile and surf the Earth,” Letieri said. “I love my life. I love to be alive. Being here is like a dream come true. I thought that I (had) some problems but I can see I have no problems. I think this is the best part of my life.”
He has shared that message with church groups in Brazil and in California.
In 2015, Letieri spoke to students at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano and showed how he makes the most of his mobility.
“The whole chapel just erupted with awe,” teacher Jennifer Cuda said. “His message was just be thankful for everything you have.”
An online video that tells Letieri’s story has inspired other amputees.
“Now I can see other guys – when they watch that video – (say) ‘Now I can paddle too, I can do something like that!’” Letieri said. “It is so amazing. We can help these guys.”
“Everywhere he goes, he inspires a lot of people,” Terrell said. “He exudes stoke. It makes you realize you don’t have anything to complain about.”
If you are not inspired then your are a heartless troll. A bastard of the highest order.