Joel Taylor's unthinkable return to professional surfing

Updated November 16 2023 - 11:26am, first published November 15 2023 - 3:02pm

Joel Taylor's dream as a kid was to win a bodyboarding world title, and after becoming professional at 17 he was on the precipice of achieving this.

Joel Taylor's remarkable world title victory. Picture by Sean Evans.
Joel Taylor's remarkable world title victory. Picture by Sean Evans.

He had performed well on the Australian circuit, and just as he was nearing his debut on the world tour he took a trip to Hawaii that changed his life.

While surfing Pipeline - one of the world's most celebrated and dangerous waves - he paddled into a wave late.

Due to this, by the time he had reached the bottom, the lip was inches from imploding on him, and as he snuck under into the barrel a shock wave flipped him uncontrollably.

He was thrown feet first into the reef and suffered a fracture-dislocation of his T12 and L1 and subsequently became a paraplegic.

Joel's dream of becoming a professional body boarder was crushed and his life changed forever. However, 22 years later, he has made a triumphant return and has just been crowned the 2023 ISA World Para Surfing Champion.

He competed in the prone division and the foundations that were laid throughout the years that he body boarded have allowed him to become a formidable competitor.

Joel surfing in the world champs. Picture by Jersson Barboza.
Joel surfing in the world champs. Picture by Jersson Barboza.

This achievement has left Joel speechless. He has transformed a career ending injury into what he calls his second life.

"My injury has given me experiences that most people will never have and a unique perspective on life that very few get. Even if I could, I wouldn't change it for the world," he said.

"Although my first was cut short before my prime, I'm privileged to have lived two different lives in one lifetime; and somehow managed to find success and happiness in both."

This journey hasn't been without its challenges though.

It took over 20 years for Joel to return to the surf. However, when his first son was born he felt the urge to get back in the water to inspire his kids to get the same enjoyment he has from the ocean.

Within 12 months of returning to surfing he has been crowned world champion and is looking to start tackling reef breaks again in the future.

"Competitively, this was the goal I set when I started surfing again and now I want to dial my equipment and start taking on some more dangerous breaks," he said.

Joel has an unwavering tenacity that's evident throughout every stage of his life, both in and out of the water.

In 2004, he started the clothing brand Unite which has grown into a perennial Australian surf brand.

He has already achieved the unthinkable and as he continues to push the limits of prone surfing, Joel Taylor is a name you'll want to remember.


Jon Fleetwood


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