Locals Only: BSR’s Rodney Roller champions adaptive surfing

His name is befitting of a Saturday morning cartoon superhero. But a wrinkle in the time-space continuum appears once you realize he’s owned his name long before his hero deeds were done. Rodney Roller lost his leg three decades ago, abruptly ending his love affair with surfing. When he picked it back up he decided to get others into the sport and has taught hundreds of amputees to surf. In the process, he pushed adaptive surfing onto the radar screens of several global NGOs. In 2015 the ISA held the first World Adaptive Surfing Championships.

rodney roller adaptive surf wave pool.
After decades of salted surfing, Rodney’s made a home miles from the ocean thanks to the wave pool in Waco. Photo here and top of page by Rob Henson.

What’s your relationship with surfing?
I started in 1977 in Southern California until I lost my leg in 1990 in an industrial accident. Then I stopped surfing until 1998 when I moved to Pismo Beach, California. 

And there you discovered a second surfing life?
Yes. There, I learned to surf as an amputee surfer. I knew it was possible, so I wanted to teach other amputees to surf. I formed a nonprofit Ampsurf and started surfing on the WSA tour to gain exposure. Being the only adaptive surfer at that time, I also would compete with able-bodied surfers in the longboard division and in 2003 I won both the US Championships Amputee Division and the NorCal District Men’s Championships longboard. In 2006 I formed Operation Surf a program for our wounded soldiers recovering at the Brooke Army Medical Center from amputation(s). In 2008 I won the inaugural Duke’s Oceanfest for Adaptive Surfing and later in 2015 when Adaptive Surfing held its Inaugural ISA world games, I competed for Team USA after winning my second US Championships amputee division at the ISA World games coming in at 9th in the world.  

Rodney salted at the ISA World Adaptive Champs. Photo ISA/Lockwood.

And you started a surf school?
By 2016 I had built up the surf school that I started in 2010. Zada Surf School is where I taught thousands of able-bodied people to surf after 10 years of teaching amputees. In 2020 I decided I would move to Waco to start surfing at the BSR wave pool and start a new career hosting guests at my two Airbnb units, Magnolia Surf Ranch and Magnolia Surf House. I also run a small business giving electric bike tours of Waco Texas.

Why a wave pool and not the ocean?
The waves at BSR are always perfect for the practice of high-performance surfing, being that it’s always four feet high with a barrel section. The waves at my local spot of 22 years in Pismo are mostly closed out. But like most locals, you know when it gets good and it’s a secret how often that happens.   

Do you surf a lot?
I surf BSR mostly now in the summer months, a few sessions each month when the weather is perfect for pool surfing. I don’t like to wear a wetsuit anymore after 40 years of wearing one. It’s now quality over quantity.  

2X US Amputee Surfing Champ, founder of Ampsurf and Operation Surf, Rodney has taught thousands of able-bodied people and hundreds of amputees to surf.

What’s the best thing about your local spot?
The best thing about BSR is I know what to expect and there are few surprises and I don’t have to fight to get my waves. In the ocean at most good spots, you are in a paddle battle with a lot of other surfers and a lot of times things get heated and end up taking the joy from surfing. For example for the groms who want to get a set wave at a local spot most would have to compete with surfers three times their age and most are not willing to do that, so they don’t get the best waves available. At the pool that doesn’t happen and it’s the groms that mostly shine there.

What’s the worst thing about your local spot?
Paying to surf.

Share with us something most people don’t know about BSR
The wave comes in at a 45-degree angle instead of straight at you. It’s not until you miss a couple of waves that you learn to line up at a 45-degree angle. Then you catch your first wave.

rodney roller adaptive surf wave pool.
Throwing a shaka after a surf feels brilliant whether you’re in salted or fresh water. Photo Rob Henson.