Billy Kemper is a born fighter. The man has a fire burning in him hotter than an iron. So it was only a matter of time before he would overcome the horrific injuries he sustained while on a big-wave strike mission to Morocco last February. “It was some of the best waves I’ve ever seen,” Billy told me. “Points that I didn’t even know existed. With no one around. It was a dream, and on the last day of the trip when everything seemed to be a fairytale ending to the trip of a lifetime, a small mistake led to a fall in a really critical part of a wave that sent me straight into a rock and just completely destroyed the right side of my body, from my lungs to my pelvis, my quad and my whole knee – it put my life into perspective real quick.”
Despite such a horrific set of injuries, a year later Billy is already back to surfing form, in fact he’s better than ever. “I’m stronger in a lot of ways now than I was then, especially mentally,” he said. “I went through a lot, I’ve seen trauma and pain that I didn’t know existed and I now understand what fear is. Yeah, there’s small things that I’m still working on. But the day you stop working is the day you stop winning, so I’ll work as long as I want to win.”
But even with a will as strong as Billy’s, that’s not to say it was easy. In fact, in some ways it couldn’t have been more difficult, with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting the world down as Billy’s support crew was just trying to get him back to the U.S. to receive the proper medical treatment for his horrific injuries. “There’s so much that went into it,” Billy said. “From organizing surgeries, the road to recovery, the trainers, friends, family, sponsors, it turned into a team effort. And that’s how we’re documenting all this. This one event brought so many people together who are so invested in my life and getting me back to surfing Jaws and being who I was, so we decided to make a series about that.”
“This documentary is not just a surf movie or just for the surf community,” he continued. “It’s a story about what happens when doing what you truly love puts you at risk of being taken away from who you love, and that’s my family, you know, I do everything for them. And if I can give back to kids, adults, elders, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, what you do, I hope that this story in this series can can give back to people in need of motivation or inspiration. The gift of giving back is a much bigger win than any title or trophy. That’s something that I’ve grown to learn, and this is kind of my way of giving back to the people who helped me and inspired me.”
The first episode of the new docuseries from the WSL will air today, February 24 at 9:00 a.m. PST on Worldsurfleague.com. For more on the incredibly-interesting human being that is Billy Kemper, check out The Inertia Podcast episode we did with him last year.