Among today’s surfers, there are a select few who are truly pushing limits. Filipe Toldeo is contorting himself to land the most insane airs. John John Florence is riding deeper than ever at Pipe. And Billy Kemper is drawing lines at Pe’ahi that were once thought impossible for cartoon characters.
But riding four-story barrels and collecting back-to-back titles at Pe’ahi hasn’t been Kemper’s most heroic feat of late, as the 24-year-old just embarked on an effort to support his Mom, Lisa, in her battle with cancer.
“This is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with,” Billy Kemper told GrindTV.
Lisa Kemper, aka “Auntie Lisa,” who had a swimsuit company in the 80s and 90s called Maui Girl, was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 throat cancer. A beloved mother to both local and visiting surfers, she is currently unable to work as she goes through treatment.
Lisa was originally diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, which is untreatable. But getting other doctors’ opinions, it was determined that she had Stage 3 with a large tumor in her throat. She began the highest dosage of chemo her body could handle and lost over 50 lbs. After several months, her doctor was shocked.
“The tumor was shrinking. It was a miracle,” said Kemper. “Now they’ll try an amount of radiation to kill her tumor but not ruin her esophagus.”
With his mom out of work, and watching the bills pile up, Billy started a GoFundMe campaign for his mother. In the first month, the campaign had reached $50K of its $100K goal. Among the largest contributors have been surfers Albee Layer, Matt Meola, Kai Lenny, sports personality Sal Masekela, and free skier Jon Olsson. And on April 25, the GoFundMe team kicked in an additional $1,000.
“These donations are really helping me get through this difficult time. Sending out love and peace," writes Lisa on the GoFundMe page.
Lisa was one of seven children. As the second oldest, she was taking care of her youngest siblings at a young age and developed an admirable independence. She started the swimsuit company Maui Girl on her own and later became a nurse.
She lost her other son when Billy was eight. Her most recent job was working in Waimea Valley on the North Shore, a place she loves for its spirituality.
Kemper said the response has been staggering. In addition to his friends, the industry has supported him as well. With so much to handle, his primary sponsor, Reef, told him he could take a year off.
“For a brand to do that, I’m so grateful. But my mother told me that the only way she would continue to fight is if I continued pursuing my dream, to go out and surf,” Kemper told GrindTV.
This spring, he’s already been to Panama, Mexico and Fiji. Kemper isn’t going to stop charging and Lisa isn’t going to stop fighting.
More on Billy Kemper from GrindTV