Meet Evan Lalanne: The Wheelchair Skateboarder Who’s Breaking Barriers

Just a couple of years after falling 40ft down a mountain face while hiking, having not long mastered the basics of using a wheelchair, Evan Lalanne was back in the hills. This time, he was at the top of a snow-covered piste, strapped into a monoski. 

The first run took him three hours to get to the bottom. It wasn't a great start, but it changed the eighteen year old’s perspective forever. He finally saw possibilities rather than impossibilities. Before long, Lalanne was a member of the U.S. paralympic monoskiing development team, shooting viral videos with his Insta360 ONE X2 camera and appearing on The Ellen Show. Now, he thinks the days of sore arms from picking himself off the snow were worthwhile—"If it hadn't been such a struggle, it wouldn’t have been nearly so rewarding."

"I thought that if I had to live in a wheelchair then I would never be able to be happy."

From burden to opportunity

It hadn’t always looked like things would turn out so well. In 2016, Evan Lalanne’s life was turned on its head. The engineering student was climbing Bishop Peak in California, when he slipped and fell down a rock face. After being airlifted off the mountain, he found himself lying alone in an MRI scanner, waiting to discover the extent of his injuries. 

A short time after his accident, doctors treating Lalanne confirmed that he had broken his neck, his back, several ribs and his sternum. Aged just eighteen, he was diagnosed as being quadriplegic, paralyzed from the waist down. He was lucky to be alive, but joy or relief were difficult emotions to process when confronted by thoughts of a future confined to a wheelchair.

When the time came to start rehabilitation after the accident, Lalanne was struggling to come to terms with the severity of his injuries. Despite doctors’ predictions that he would never be able to walk again, he felt as if it was his only chance at regaining the life he once had. 

“I thought that if I had to live in a wheelchair then I would never be able to be happy”, Lalanne explained. “I came to the conclusion that I couldn't be whole unless I beat impossible odds and regained the ability to walk. I told myself that no one like me had ever been injured before and if I worked harder than anyone else, I could be the one in a million. After all, in my mind it was the only option, so what did I have to lose?”

"I started seeing my injury as less of a burden and instead, an opportunity."

Once he was well enough, Lalanne started a program of rehabilitation. Determined to defy the odds, he pushed himself and was doing well in his recovery—though there had been no change in his condition. As his treatment went on, his mindset began to change. He started to find joy in the mundanity of the exercises and the progress he was making.

Suddenly, Lalanne’s idea of what “recovery” really meant was beginning to change. “I went into rehab looking for a cure, I went in thinking I would walk out of there, that that was the ultimate goal”, he told an audience in a talk at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. “I started seeing my injury as less of a burden and instead, an opportunity. If I’m gonna be paralyzed well then I might as well be really good at it.”

Finding his niche

Lalanne left the hospital feeling inspired. His new outlook helped him to focus not on what he couldn’t do, but on what he could. A keen volleyball player before the accident, he saw sports as the perfect outlet for him to push himself and find his "niche." He tried all kinds of sports, from tennis to swimming, and this is when he found monoskiing.

Monoskiing wasn’t the only sport that captured Lalanne’s imagination. He found that six wheels were just as good as four when it came to skateboarding, and nowadays he can be found sending it around California on his self-modified board. 

Using his Insta360 ONE X2, Lalanne began to post his incredible videos on Instagram. His followers were amazed by the strength and skill needed to control the board as he rocked back and forward on his wheelchair. Thanks to the camera’s 360 degree shooting capabilities, he doesn’t need to worry about pointing the camera in the moment and the selfie stick is rendered invisible in the final shot for incredible results. 

Lalanne’s videos and his story have won him fans across the world—not least Ellen DeGeneres. The talk show host invited Lalanne on her show in late 2020 and surprised him when she brought out skating legend Tony Hawk. The pair skated together, with Lalanne showing off his insane skills while Hawk rode holding onto his wheelchair.

The journey from MRI scanner to skating with a legend has not been lost on Lalanne, and he remembers the times when he doubted whether he’d ever lead a “normal” life. Today though, his message of courage, resilience and bold thinking is helping to shift stigmas of disability, and it’s making the world a better place. 

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WRITTEN BY @Cameron Atkinson
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