(Photo: Courtesy Ty Duckett)
The Daily Rally

Ty Duckett Chooses Vulnerability

The disabled surfer struggled with insecurity until the waves and a friend helped him to accept his entire self


Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Ty Duckett told his story to producer Sarah Vitak for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I was very insecure about my body and how it presents. So I just have one leg, and I stand up for a half a second, and everybody goes nuts. I’m like, What’s going on? What’s happening? The volunteer guy paddling me back out says, “Dude, nobody’s done that. Fifteen years and nobody’s done that before.”

I’m originally from Philadelphia. I am in Los Angeles, California right now. I moved out here about eight years ago. It’s funny, because I’ll tell folks back home in Philly, I’m rowing, I’m surfing, I’m rock climbing. They’re like, “What the heck happened to you?” But it’s amazing.

Prior to surfing and rock climbing, the only surfing I did was on the couch. I tried all this stuff after almost dying.

I had a major motor vehicle accident. I was on my motorcycle, I didn’t even have time to look and see what was about to hit me. My helmet just filled up with light, and then I woke up in an ambulance.

I’m looking around at the EMTs and I’m like, What just happened? What’s going on? And at first they didn’t answer me. They look at each other with this look you never want any healthcare professional to have. Then when they answer me, they say, “Your leg is mangled.”

I woke up in the ICU, and my bed was surrounded by surgeons, And, they said, “We’re going to have to amputate.”

As a motorcycle rider, my wife realized that I needed something to replace that. She found this organization called Life Rolls On. And we go, and I go surfing.

How I would be received was one of my biggest fears. I’m somebody that lives a lot in my mind, and I’m realizing that can be a scary place if you let it be. So I surfed without my prosthetic on, and I stood up for a half a second, and everybody went nuts. The volunteers were like, “Whoa, nobody’s done that in a while. That was pretty cool.” I didn’t think anything of it.

We came back and we sat down in our little area, just enjoying the beach, watching other people surf. But I noticed people kept coming up saying, “Good job.” And I’m thinking, This is like hours later, you guys just got here, this happened at 9:00 AM. What’s happening? Then one lady tells me that over at the booth, my pictures are all over the place. There was a photographer there that caught some shots of me surfing. I go over and then there’s these awesome shots. These professional surfers from Hurley are there and they’re saying, “Dude, this is amazing.”

It was the acceptance that I felt. It was the community that I felt like I just joined. It was the congratulations on something physical that I did. I have so many issues physically, and I have issues mentally because of my physical issues. So it was like, Whoa, I just did this physical thing and people are literally patting me on the back about it. I’m thinking, Whoa, if professional surfers are saying this is pretty dope, then maybe I’ve got something here.

Throughout my day when I’m walking with my prosthetic, or in a wheelchair, or on crutches, I always feel constricted and restricted. In the water, you just feel free, you feel weightless, you feel like you’re doing things that you just can’t do on land.

So I’ve been surfing, and picking it up well enough to win the national championship for the USA. That earned me a spot on Team USA for paralympic surfing.

Sometimes you need to be vulnerable. I have a buddy who has an organization called Pushing for Independence. He takes people who are disabled paddle boarding. I see him loading up his truck himself. He has some help, but he does a lot on his own, in his wheelchair. I know that he has a little daughter. So we had a moment where it was just me and him chatting, and that’s when I shared how I was nervous about becoming a dad. He said, “Dude, what are you nervous about?”

I said, “We’re both disabled, it’s tough to get around. I just feel like as soon as he’s able to walk, he’s going to be walking faster than me, and I won’t be able to catch him.” God forbid, he goes somewhere he’s not supposed to, and I can’t get him in time. It’s my biggest fear, my whole job is to protect this kid. Luckily, I had this friend to be vulnerable with, and he said, “Dude, I’m in a wheelchair. If my daughter goes behind the couch, I can’t get her, she’s just behind the couch.” In an instant I felt like, OK, I can do this.

And it did pan out well. I took my son surfing and we caught our first wave at this place called Inkwell in Santa Monica. He grabbed onto my back, and wrapped his arms around my neck. He was nervous too, but he trusted me and he went outside his comfort zone, and we caught a little baby wave. I absolutely cannot wait until we can paddle out together.

The vulnerability with my son and not thinking that I could do what I need to do for him, and also the body vulnerability and the image vulnerability, those two moments really propelled me in my life to have some strength to take care of two people, myself and my son. It’s funny, in that moment of being scared and vulnerable, I was able to not be afraid by saying that I was, acknowledging that and trying to figure out what that’s all about. Life is showing me that I am enough and I am strong enough.

We have to start accepting our entire selves. We have to accept everything that’s going on with us, because we can’t keep fighting ourselves. We can’t keep having this internal battle with ourselves, before we even step out of the house.

My most unlikely ally was other people. That’s why I implore people to get support, to go to therapy, to find community, to find like-minded individuals, to find some unlike-minded individuals to maybe give you a different perspective.

Rapper Nipsey Hustle said, “To kill fear, you’ve got to do something that you fear every day.” I would just encourage that, and then you’ll see how strong you really are and how fearless you can truly be.

Ty Duckett is a West Philadelphia native and Los Angeles transplant. He’s an adaptive rock climber, rower, and surfer. In 2021, he earned a spot on Team USA for para surfing. You can follow him on Instagram @ty_seeen.

You can follow The Daily Rally on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you like to listen, and nominate someone to be featured on the show here.

Lead Photo: Courtesy Ty Duckett