Meet Justin Crilly: Legally Blind & Wakeboarding

One thing I find truly inspirational is hearing stories of people who have severe physical challenges who still go out and wakeboard.  The first of these stories I remember reading was about professional wakeboarder CC Roberts. Roberts was paralyzed in a car accident but continued to head back out on the water and rider in an adaptive chair fitted to a board.  Since then I have seen videos, read blog posts, and heard stories of wounded veterans, people born with physical handicaps, and others with limiting physical challenges strap on their boards to go shred.  These stories are so motivating for me because it shows courageous people conquering physical challenges in order to pursue what makes them happy.

Knowing all of these inspirational examples, I was not aware of anyone who learned how to wakeboard despite being blind. This all changed when Hydrous Wake Park in Allen, Texas posted a photo of Justin Crilly, who is legally blind, after teaching him to wakeboard behind one of their System 2.0’s.  I was blown away with amazement.  I was going to simply repost the photo, but a story as awesome as Justin’s deserves to be told.

Justin is a 15 year old from Long Island, NY. He has such impaired vision that he is legally blind, yet also faces a mild form of cerebral palsy. Justin is not one to let disability hold him back, and for that reason, ended up at Hydrous.  “I always wanted to try surfing but I couldn’t get into the waves because of my vision. My grandma was doing some research and she found this (Hydrous),” said Justin, when describing how he ended up at the park. “Wakeboarding was a natural extension of surfing and snow skiing, which I also do.”

After two hours of working with Chad Lacerte and John Deere, Justin was able to ride the straights behind the System 2.0 with confidence.  “John is trying to help me be able to turn around on the System 2.0. I really want to get that turn instead of dropping into the water every time,” said Justin. “Most people treat me different when they find out I have a visual impairment, and take it easy on me.  The guys at Hydrous accepted me for who I am, and that was really important to me.  They didn’t just pull me slow behind the cable, the pulled me at normal speed which is really important to me.”

Justin was on summer vacation visiting his grandparents in Texas, which made it possible for him to end up at Hydrous.  His mother, Stacy, was not able to be there but was blown away when she heard what her son was able to accomplish. “As a parent of a disabled child, it is wonderful to hear about him being able to participate. This is wonderful that he can feel like he can participate just like everyone else.”

Stacy, who had never heard of a wakeboard cable park before, assumed her son was going to try wakeboarding behind the boat. “I don’t hold him back from doing anything. If he can’t do it, he can’t do it but he needs the opportunity to do it,” said Stacy.  She also added “I am grateful that these systems are user friendly enough and that the trainers are knowledgeable enough, and have that extra something to be able to work with someone who needs some extra assistance. It is awesome that the System 2.0 is dynamic enough that basically anyone can use it. The worst thing he is going to do is let go and fall, it is a very safe environment.”

Justin was able to go back to Hydrous where they opened early, and John was able to help Justin make it around the Full Size Cable.  It was on the big cable that Justin hit a rail, and when I say hit, he literally ran into a rail and slide it on his stomach.  He came away uninjured and was proud of his accomplishment.  When asked what he liked about wakeboarding Justin had this to say, “For me it (wakeboarding) is just like open, and there is nothing holding me back, it was a place that I could show who I am. I can enjoy the adventures of the outdoors, and activity and I don’t let anything hold me back.”

John Deere, operator and instructor at Hydrous, was super excited about working with Justin. Seeing Justin progress and after noticing how much it meant to Justin, Deere mentioned, “It was remarkable; from the time he got there he was all about it, and he learned really fast and was riding switch and regular, trying some small jumps. He kept talking about how stoked he was to be there.”

Chad Lacerte had this to say about the experience: “I feel so overwhelmed because these kids want to try a sport they can fail at.  We have had kids with other challenges, like autism and deaf kids and they do awesome on the cable, and run laps around the cable.  It is more of a stoke that these people want and can come do it, and we provide a facility where they can come and do it.”

“Justin came up to me and said he wanted to wakeboard, and his grandparents informed me he was blind.  I responded ‘so what, Justin are you ready to do this?’  He responded ‘yeah’, so I said, all right then let’s do this.” Chad, who is the owner of the park, wanted to be the one to teach Justin how to wakeboard himself and not farm it out to an employee (Chad and Justin worked on it together).

“We want you to try to learn how to wakeboard, and we will do our best to make that possible,” said Chad.

Justin and his mom plan on seeking out more System 2.0 parks so Justin can continue to ride.  For any sponsorship opportunities or to just follow Justin’s progress, he said to follow him on Instagram @jcrill1722.

Authors Note:  Since I first saw the Instagram post from Hydrous about teaching a blind kid to ride behind the System 2.0, the story has just continued to grow and get better.  First, it started off with Justin on the 2.0, then he learned to ride the full cable and negotiate turns.  To top it off, with what little vision Justin has, he was able to see a Shredtown Slingshot Wakeboard and just knew that was the board he wanted.  Amazingly enough, when I spoke to Davis Griffin of Shredtown, he was so stoked that Davis sent his personal board to Justin.

Justin’s passion, drive, and infectious enthusiasm keeps igniting people in the wake industry to be involved in something bigger than just wakeboarding. It is about a kid who has severe challenges and disabilities, conquering those challenges, and experiencing something new. In Justin’s case, that new “something” is life changing.