In August 2009, Baptiste Gossein was a professional windsurfer at the height of his high-flying, big-wave chasing career.
The Frenchman traveled the world in search of the best wind and waves he could find, eventually calling Tahiti home. Then one day, during a small west swell at the famous break known as Teahu’upo, everything changed.
A crash on the reef instantly paralysed Baptiste from the waist down. An incredible challenge for any human – but one he met with grace and determination.
It was less than a year after his accident that he got a call from friend and local surf hero Raimana van Bastolaer. There was a big swell coming, and Raimana needed someone to drive the jetski. He wanted Baptiste. “I didn’t even think about it,” says Gossein. “I said yep, let’s go, and we went towing.” Since then, the two have enjoyed quite a partnership – when a big swell hits, they’re out their chasing liquid giants.
“We’re a team,” he says. “We wait together for the big sets outside – sometimes, we’ll wait two or three hours for the best wave. We’re really picky. When it’s time to go, I don’t even have to look back to know where he is – he’s always in the right spot. I watch to see if he falls – if he does, I sneak in to go get him.”
Raimana isn’t Baptiste’s only friend he has fun with, however. Since his injury, friends take him surfing, canoeing, and even skydiving.
And of course, he’s participated in the Wings for Life World Run, too – a global race dedicated to helping find a cure for spinal cord injury.
“I had the chance to do the race in France – with my uncle in Rouen, who is a marathon runner,” says Baptiste. “And I’m not the only one in a wheelchair – my aunt’s son was also in an accident, so he’s in a wheelchair, too.”
Gossein rolled an impressive 22km in Rouen – more impressive when you realise he did it in his normal everyday chair, and wheelchair racing isn’t his sport. “It was definitely the furthest I’ve ever gone!” says Baptiste. “It’s not flat, you’ve got to climb hills and go over train tracks.”
Since international travel isn’t easy for someone in a wheelchair, he’s doing this year’s race via the Wings for Life World Run Selfie App – and hoping to bring an actual race to Tahiti in 2017 – and with the local hero’s support, we’re sure it will be a rousing success.
Do you want to run the Wings for Life World Run and support research for spinal cord injury? Sign up here!