Blind Surfer

Blind Surfer

April 16, 2024


Save 1% On Your Loan Amount!¹

As a friend of our “Home. Made.” podcast, take advantage of this special offer from Rocket Mortgage® and you could save thousands. On average, clients save $2,700 or more based on their loan amount. Click the link below to get started.

The first time Ling Pai’s life changed drastically was when her family immigrated to Canada from Thailand. Looking out the bathroom window of her new Vancouver apartment changed how she saw the world.

“It’s just this beautiful skyline of downtown Vancouver and then the mountains in the back and the beautiful water as well,” Ling said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, everything is just so big and vast and open.’”

Despite the possibilities this new home held, it was also where Ling would experience adversity that would impact the rest of her life. When she first arrived in Canada, she couldn’t speak English. She struggled to understand her teachers and keep up in class. Luckily, a bilingual friend stepped in to help translate lessons for her.

“This girl turned around and she said, ‘Shut up. Speak English,’” Ling said. “And the girl that was translating for me said, ‘Well, she doesn’t speak English. That’s why I’m trying to help her.’ And the girl said, ‘If you can’t speak English, then don’t speak at all.’”

Ling didn’t understand English, but she understood that exchange. She didn’t want to be treated as “less than” for not being able to do something. She was already an independent child, but this exchange hardened her; she decided that would be the last time she felt that way. She would handle problems on her own and never let people see her struggle.

Not long after this incident, Ling would get news that would drastically change her worldview, and her life, again.

When she was 14, Ling went to the doctor for an eye infection. During the exam, her doctor discovered Ling was colorblind. After performing a few more tests, Ling was diagnosed with dominant optic atrophy, a genetic disease with no cure and no treatment.

“So, my eyesight will get worse as I get older,” Ling remembers. “And I will probably go blind one day, but they don’t know when.”

The diagnosis felt surreal. Her annual eye exams filled her with dread, she would spend the whole week in her room crying. Still, she wouldn’t talk to her mom or sister about how she was feeling. She focused her energy on being outdoors as much as possible. She went camping and hiking, she took up snowboarding and eventually surfing. She graduated with a degree in kinesiology. Her eyesight degraded a bit, but she managed.

After graduating, Ling was eager to move beyond her life in Vancouver. She and her boyfriend moved to rural Nova Scotia, where she bought her first house. The new home represented a new start for Ling, she was striking out on her own.

“It was me wanting to show that at age 27, I’ve accomplished something,” Ling said.

It was while living in Nova Scotia that Ling first tried surfing. Despite her worsening vision, she didn’t mention her condition to her instructor or anyone else.

“It’s just water,” she said. “And it’s okay if I paddle for the wrong wave. It’s okay if the wave hits me and I’m underwater for a little bit. I’m attached to this flotation device. I will surface.”

Surfing felt like freedom to Ling. She wasn’t thinking about her anxieties or problems. The rush of catching a wave gave her a natural high that hooked her right away.

But back on land, her vision suddenly got much worse. She depended on her boyfriend more than ever to get around. And then she began to resent him for it.

“That was really tough because it was the first time I felt like I had lost my independence,” she said. “I wasn’t able to go out and do things without asking somebody.”

And even still, Ling hid her disease from everyone around her. She developed methods to cope and faked her way through social interactions. But her love of sports and the outdoors was a different story. She was tripping and falling – a lot – while trail running. This was more than an inconvenience, it was dangerous.

When the wedge growing between Ling and her boyfriend was too much to overcome, they eventually broke up. Without him, she couldn’t navigate through her day-to-day activities. She reluctantly moved back to Vancouver and left her Nova Scotia home.

She was back in the apartment with her mom and sister. She was 29 now, and it was time for her annual eye exam.

“[The doctor] said, ‘your eyes have gotten bad enough that I’m going to declare you as legally blind. That is your current disability status,’” Ling said. “It was a lot to deal with at the time. My eyes, moving back home with my mom and sister, ending a relationship …”

Being labeled legally blind was something Ling had been dreading. But it wasn’t in her nature to let anything stop her. There was a new kind of freedom in accepting her condition.

“Getting the diagnosis of being legally blind at almost 30 set me free because it was something that I couldn’t really hide or ignore anymore,” she said. “I can finally be honest and just say, ‘I can’t see.’”

The official disability status opened doors for Ling that she hadn’t anticipated, like an adaptive ski program. Skiing blind? It’s an adrenaline junkie’s dream.

She was assigned two guides – one in front to guide her and one behind to protect her back.

“And I wore this bright orange vest that said BLIND SKIER on it,” Ling said. “That was probably the first time I felt like I didn’t have to be embarrassed to tell people that I can’t see.”

Ling eventually connected with the manager of Canada’s adaptive surfing team. They were eager to get her on the team and even invited her to compete later that year. A month before the competition, she headed down to California to train.

There she met another adaptive surfer, Chris Oberle, who offered to help her train. He is paralyzed from the waist down and uses and paddle and wave ski – a surfboard he can sit on and strap himself into. He went surfing every morning before work and offered to pick Ling up to go, too.

“I have a visual impairment, but I am physically capable,” Ling said. “Chris is in a wheelchair, so it’s a lot easier for me to move his board down to the beach for him or to the water’s edge. But once we’re in the water, he’s helping me.”

They were a great match, both in the surf and out. They grew close and eventually fell in love.

In that first competition, Ling landed a silver medal. But more importantly, she met a bunch of other surfers with disabilities who didn’t make her feel different, or less than, because of her visual impairment. With them, the conversation was about what she accomplished, not what she couldn’t do – it was what she had been looking for since her diagnosis at age 14.

To hear Ling’s full story, check out this episode of Home. Made.

Learn More

Our Host

Learn more about the host of Home. Made., award winning journalist Stephanie Foo on our host page.

New To Podcasting?

Not sure how to listen to Home. Made. on a podcast player? No problem. Check out our page on how to listen to Home. Made. to learn how to find every episode the moment it goes live.

Apple Podcasts and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

Spotify and the Spotify logo are registered trademarks of Spotify AB.

Google Podcasts and the Google Podcasts logo are trademarks of Google LLC.

1Offer Details

Eligible clients will receive a lender credit equal to 1% of the loan amount, up to $10,000, when they close on a Qualified Mortgage (QM) conventional, government or high-balance loan offered by Rocket Mortgage. Offer valid on new applications received on or after March 1, 2024. This offer is only available to clients who call the dedicated phone number or go through the dedicated website, submit an application and close their loan through the dedicated program. This offer cannot be retroactively applied to previously closed loans or previously locked loans. Offer does not apply to new loans submitted through a mortgage broker, non-agency jumbo loans, C-product loans (Schwab), Rocket jumbo loans, Rocket Pro Realtors, or Rocket Pro Originators. Offer not valid with any additional discounts or promotions. Rocket Mortgage reserves the right to cancel this offer at any time. Acceptance of this offer constitutes acceptance of these terms and conditions, which are subject to change at the sole discretion of Rocket Mortgage. Offer is nontransferable. This is not a commitment to lend. Additional restrictions/conditions may apply.

Episode Transcript

STEPHANIE: There was a moment in 2017 that showed Ling Pai that the disease that was destroying her sight wasn’t the thing that put her life at risk. Instead, out there on the Pacific Ocean that day, paddling her surfboard far from shore, Ling finally saw the problem. It was her stubborn independence. Her unwillingness to rely on others.

LING: I went surfing with some friends, some newer friends, and  I didn't explain to anybody that I couldn't see very well, and they needed to watch out for me. And I jumped in the ocean and paddled right ahead of everybody. 

I didn't know there was a rip current, even though there was a sign on the beach. I obviously didn't see it. They didn't see it. 

Everybody was paddling out. They didn't actually make it very far because the waves were too strong and they gave up. And I just kept paddling. I just kept paddling and paddling and paddling, and I started getting seasick. Because I was getting picked up by a wave and then dropping down and getting picked up and dropped down. And I looked back and I could see land, but it was very, very far away.

STEPHANIE: To her failing eyes, the beach was little more than a fuzzy blur. But it was enough to see that she was much farther out than she should be. And she was completely alone. 

LING: And I thought, how did I get here? This is, how do I, what just happened? I thought I was a bit confused, but then I thought, okay, I'm gonna turn around and just paddle back and then I'll figure it out. And I ended up getting caught against this rocky cliff in the waves. Like I… not asking for proper help almost cost me my life.

STEPHANIE: This is Home. Made. An original podcast by Rocket Mortgage about the meaning of homes, and what we can learn about ourselves in them. I’m Stephanie Foo. In this episode: home is where the help is.

STEPHANIE: The scenery from the new apartment was breathtaking. Even from the bathroom window.

LING: It's just this beautiful skyline of downtown Vancouver and then the mountains in the back and the beautiful water as well. I remember thinking, oh my God, everything is just so big and vast and open. 

STEPHANIE: Ling was 13. She’d just moved into her new Vancouver apartment with her mom and her sister. They’d immigrated to Canada a little over a year earlier, but mom had gone back to Taiwan for work. Now, she was back for good. And they finally had a place of their own. 

LING: That first day was just me and my mom. I remember her laying out newspapers and the two of us sat on the floor and ate ham and pickle sandwiches on that kitchen floor. And I just remember being so happy. It just felt like a really safe and beautiful space.

STEPHANIE: In 1998, when she was 14, Ling started wearing contact lenses. She got an eye infection so her mom took her to an eye clinic. During the exam, the doctor handed her a book and asked her to read out the numbers she could see. 

LING: I couldn't see any of the numbers. And he just thought, “huh.” And he said to my mom, did you know that she's colorblind? And she said, “no.”

STEPHANIE: That’s when Ling’s mom told the doctor she’d been having trouble with her eyes. She said she was going through a difficult divorce, and because she cried so much, it caused her vision to blur. 

LING: And he said, “oh, I don't think that's what it is, but whoa… we should get you guys checked out.” And it turned out that my mom has dominant optic atrophy and I have dominant optic atrophy. It's a genetic disease that runs in the family.

STEPHANIE: The doctor explained that there was no cure. And no treatment. 

LING: So my eyesight will get worse as I get older. And I will probably go blind one day, but they don't know when.

STEPHANIE: The diagnosis felt surreal. And the doctor said she had to come back for eye exams every year, even though nothing could be done.

STEPHANIE: Were you scared?

LING: I was very scared and I didn't want to go to those appointments. I just, I remember it… not wanting to think about it all year. And then when it came time for the appointment, I would be very upset during that week and I would hide in my room and cry because I didn't wanna talk to my mom about it. I didn't want to talk to my sister about it. 

STEPHANIE: She figured her mom was already dealing with enough stress, so why add one more thing.

LING: I felt like my mom probably felt somehow guilty about passing on the gene to me, and I didn't want her to feel bad, so I really didn't communicate with my family about how I felt. And it's like, I've got it. I, I have this handled. I can do this. Everything's fine.

STEPHANIE: Ling’s independent streak kicked in when she first arrived in Canada. She can still picture the day when she decided she would never depend on others for anything.

LING: I was in grade six when we first moved to Canada and we were living with my aunt. And I remember not really being able to speak English at the time. 

STEPHANIE: Ling struggled to understand her english-speaking teachers in school. But her friend was bilingual. And on this day, she helped by whispering the teacher’s lesson in mandarin.

LING: And this girl turned around and she said, “shut up. Speak English.” And the girl that was translating for me said, “well, she doesn't speak English. That's why I'm trying to help her.” And the girl said, “if you can't speak English, then don't speak at all.”

It was interesting because I didn't understand English, but I understood all of that. And I felt like, I don't wanna be treated this way because I just can't do something.

STEPHANIE: Mm, you didn't wanna be seen as less than. 

LING: Exactly.

STEPHANIE: So Ling said to herself, ‘I’m going to learn English. As fast as I can.”

LING: I will do this on my own. And by the time I finished grade eight, I was completely out of the English learning programs. And I was in regular classes. 


LING: It was fast.

STEPHANIE: She became a bit of a perfectionist about it. Ling wanted to prove to her mom that the sacrifice of immigration was worth it. 

LING: Absolutely. I just, I didn't wanna disappoint her. I didn't wanna disappoint her. I still don’t want to disappoint her. 

STEPHANIE: So later, when 14 year-old Ling was told that her eyes would fail her, she would handle this on her own. She wouldn’t let this disease define her.

LING: Like, if I'm not going to be able to see one day, then I'm going to get out and, and see and do things and have fun and just really enjoy my eyesight while I have it.

STEPHANIE: From that point on, Ling spent as much time outdoors as she could. She’d go camping, hiking, took up snowboarding. She shredded the slopes most winter weekends. She kept at it through university, and graduated with a degree in kinesiology. Her eyesight worsened a bit, but so far, it was manageable. And it wasn’t something she talked about. The few times when she did tell other people about her disease, she hated how they would react. 

LING: They’d look at me like, “oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. Like, this is terrible for you.”  

STEPHANIE: She was like, “yeah. Thanks.” She didn’t want to be treated differently. Didn’t want anyone’s pity, and she didn’t want their help.

What she did want… was to move beyond life in Vancouver. 

LING: I couldn't grow up fast enough. I wanted to be independent.

STEPHANIE: In her mid twenties, Ling grabbed her boyfriend, and headed east. She bought a house in rural Nova Scotia, on the other side of the country.

LING: It’s a very simple red house with big cathedral windows overlooking the Gaspereau Valley with a big open deck. It was three bedrooms, two bath, open kitchen living concept, fireplace. It was a beautiful home. 

STEPHANIE: A beautiful home, a symbol of Ling striking out on her own.

LING: It was me wanting to show that I've, at, you know, age 27, I've accomplished something. I've established a career. I've gotten my life together so well that I, Hey, look, I'm setting myself up for the rest of my life here. We had this, idea that we might be married one day and that house that I bought could be our forever home.

STEPHANIE: And though her eyes continued to worsen, she was confident and tried to look past the problem, as always. 

She and her boyfriend booked a vacation to Puerto Rico. And Ling took her first surfing lesson. Of course, she didn’t tell the surf instructor about her vision. She’d handle it. 

LING: It's just water. And it's okay if I paddle for the wrong wave. It's okay if the wave hits me and I'm under underwater for a little bit. I'm attached to this flotation device. I will surface.

STEPHANIE: Like every surfer, Ling remembers the thrill of catching her first wave. 

LING:  Everybody's hooting and yelling and you just get this adrenaline, you get this high when you catch your first wave. And it just felt really natural to me when I popped up and rode that wave into the beach. And I just remember being so happy and thinking, I wanna do more of this. 

STEPHANIE: She was hooked. Out on the water, Ling felt free.

LING: It just felt really relaxing on the water. I didn't have to think about my anxieties, about my eyesight, my anxieties about work. I didn't have to think about any of that.

STEPHANIE: But as they returned home to Nova Scotia, the reality of her condition set in quickly. Her vision suddenly got much worse. More than ever, she depended on her boyfriend to help her get around. 

LING: And that was really tough because it was the first time I felt like I had lost my independence. I wasn't able to just go out and do things without asking somebody. 

STEPHANIE: You were not good at relying on people, right? 

LING: Not at all, terrible at it. I don't like relying on people.

STEPHANIE: She hid her disease from everyone around her. If she made plans to go out to eat, she would study the restaurant menu ahead of time so she didn’t have to struggle in public. She often wore all white, because she knew her clothes would match. She had all these secret ways of coping.

LING: Like pretending to see when somebody showed me something, just smile and nod. I'm like, oh, that's really cool. Great. Uh Huh. Yeah. Okay.

STEPHANIE: But things were getting harder to do. She’d go trail running and started to trip and fall. A lot. 

LING: I couldn't tell if there were shadows or if there were rocks and what the surface was like, cause I had no depth perception. And I was thinking, oh, I guess I probably shouldn't be running on my own anymore or hiking on my own cause I'll probably get lost or hurt myself.

STEPHANIE: Ling wasn’t afraid when this happened. She was angry.

LING: Great, here's another thing, you know, I'm losing another thing.

STEPHANIE: So did you see your blindness as, like, a flaw?

LING: I totally did. Absolutely. I did. I thought it was this dark mark on me and I just wanted to make sure that I do so well at everything else, that nobody would notice it. And it would be okay. It wouldn't count. I could hide it if I can just outshine it somehow.

STEPHANIE: But she could no longer ignore her disease. They were living in such a rural area with really crappy public transportation, and she had to rely on her partner to take her everywhere. She began to resent him for it.

LING: I was upset more with myself than anybody else, but I took that out on him a lot. So it could be something as simple as, hey, you said you would pick me up at four thirty. It's five o'clock. I had to wait for you for half an hour. And I would just be so angry.

STEPHANIE: Her frustrations kept building. And then… her relationship ended. Living in Nova Scotia without a partner wouldn't work. She needed to clear her head, so she went for her weekly swim at the local university pool.

LING: I had a panic attack. I didn't know what was happening at the time. But I felt like I was having chest pain. I couldn't breathe. I had this sense of this I just gotta get outta here. Whatever that's happening here is not good. I need to just get outta here. 


LING: I'm done. I need to go.

STEPHANIE: She’d go back. To Vancouver. Back to the apartment with her mom and her sister.

LING: I remember leaving and thinking, I'm so sad because I know I won't be back in this house again. This is the last time I'll be in this home. Even though it's my home. 

STEPHANIE: The scenery from the bathroom window had changed. 

LING: I don't see the buildings as well anymore. I can sort of still see the outlines of the mountains in the back, but things just get a little bit more blurry.

STEPHANIE: It was tough finding herself living in mom’s apartment again. Sleeping in the same bedroom her 14 year-old self ran to after her initial diagnosis. Now she was 29 years old. 

Both Ling and her mother had the same disease. But her mom’s condition had advanced more slowly. At this point Ling’s vision was worse than hers. 

It was fitting that this is where home was, again. Because it was time for another annual eye exam. That yearly ritual she hated. The doctor did her tests, and told her what she saw.

LING: She said, your eyes have gotten bad enough that I'm going to declare you as legally blind. That is your current disability status.

STEPHANIE: Legally blind. The moment Ling had dreaded for so long had finally come.

LING: And I remember coming home from that appointment and my mom said, how did it go? And I said, well, I'm legally blind. I think she was sad, but to me I took that as she was disappointed in me somehow. She was upset and I just thought, oh, I can't help it. Like, my eyes are getting worse, mom. There's nothing we can do about it. So it was just a lot to deal with at the time. My eyes, moving back home with my mom and sister, ending a relationship

STEPHANIE: It was a lot. And being in that apartment didn’t comfort her like it did when she was a girl.

LING: It's hard to say this because my mom meant well. She just wanted to take care of me. But I felt trapped back into that apartment. I thought I had made the biggest mistake because I had a different sense of independence back in Nova Scotia in my own home. And all I wanted to do was get out and go get a place on my own and go through the emotions and the turmoil that I was going through… I just wanted space.

STEPHANIE: Within three months, she’d moved into her own place.

LING: It was not a dream apartment, it was just a place to rest my head. It had paper thin walls. The building was drooping to one side, so if you roll a tennis ball or any sort of ball, it would roll to one side of the apartment. It was exactly what I was going through. You know, things were starting to line up, but on the inside I was a little bit broken. And a work in progress.

STEPHANIE: Life in Vancouver also felt unbalanced. There were things her vision would no longer let her do, like snowboarding. Yet over time, she found clarity in her official disability status.

LING: Getting the diagnosis of being legally blind at almost 30 set me free because it was something that I couldn't really ignore or hide anymore. I'm like, I'm blind. I'm sorry. I can finally be honest and just say, I can't see.

STEPHANIE: She still didn’t tell everyone she met. She remained stubborn. But being officially disabled actually wound up opening more doors than it closed. It gave her access to resources for blind people that should couldn’t get before. Small things like a public transit pass. And badass things, like an Adaptive Ski program at her local resort. This was perfect for Ling – an opportunity to become an even bigger risk taker. 

LING: And I thought, even if I'm bad at it, every time I go up and try, I will be a little bit better than the time before. Getting better at something is always better than being reminded that you're not doing as well. Right? 

STEPHANIE: The ski program assigned two guides to keep her safe on the mountain. One skied in front of her to show her which way to go. One skied behind her to block anyone from sliding into her. 

LING: And I wore this bright orange vest that said blind skier on it. And that was probably the first time I felt like I didn't have to be embarrassed to tell people that I can't see.

STEPHANIE: It was also one of the rare times in her life where she had to accept help from strangers.

LING: Yeah. It was easy for me to accept that help because it's a sport that I'm learning. And that probably helped with everything else in my life, even though I didn't think about it at the time.

STEPHANIE: Her legal blindness helped Ling stop hiding from her disease. Adaptive skiing showed her that it was okay to depend on others. Sometimes. But a lifetime of learned behavior doesn’t change after a couple days on the slopes. It took that wild day on the ocean to push her to truly accept herself.

STEPHANIE: Can you give me a sense of what you see when you are surfing?

LING: So when I look out into the ocean, I can't really see the waves coming until it's about maybe five seconds away, maybe three seconds away. Unless they're really, really big waves, then I can see a dark line coming towards me. I do see in contrast, but that's really about it.

STEPHANIE: Ling had kept up with surfing since that first trip to Puerto Rico -- back when she lived in Nova Scotia. She had traveled to surf camps whenever she could. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Hawaii. But she was still very much a novice. 

In April, 2017, she traveled to Tofino, British Columbia. A town considered to be Canada’s surfing capital. And when she paddled out ahead of some new friends she’d made, she didn’t see them turning back because the waves were too strong. And that’s how she ended up alone, too far from shore, sizing up a rocky cliff as her only chance of survival. 

LING: The wave is pushing me against this rocky cliff and I thought, okay, I can unstrap, get rid of this board and climb onto these rocks. And then the next wave came and hit 10 feet up this rocky cliff. And I thought the power of that water will just suck me right out. And then I'll be really screwed cuz I won't have my surfboard and I'll just be floating into the ocean. 


LING: Eventually the waves pushed me away from that rocky cliff and I could paddle into one of the little coves.

STEPHANIE: When she stood up on the beach, she had no idea where she was. All she could see were the boulders and rocks close to her, then a blur beyond that. She scrambled over the rocks, made her way inland, and found a house. 

LING: Me being hard-headed, instead of knocking on the door and asking for help, I decided to go and see what's at the end of the road. 

STEPHANIE: She hitchhiked all the way back to the beach where she’d started surfing. She’d been missing for more than two hours. 

LING: They had called the Coast Guard. The police were looking for me. There were helicopters looking for me.


LING: My friends were worried sick, obviously, and it was just, I didn't explain to anybody that I couldn't see very well, and they needed to watch out for me. Nobody knew!

STEPHANIE: Ling had learned her lesson. She was legally blind. She was a surfer. She needed to put those two things together, safely. A year later, she reached out to the manager of Canada’s adaptive surfing team, where there were others like her. And she asked to join. They were eager to sign her up and invited her to compete in California that December. 

LING: I was very nervous. I remember telling my mom, like, mom, I'm on Team Canada. I'm going to go do this contest. And I said, what if I just really suck? And she said okay. You're doing this because you want to show people out there that even if you have a visual impairment as a young woman you can still do really great things. And just go out there and have a good time and focus on that. 

STEPHANIE: Your mom is wise.

LING: And then she said, but I think you should go and train and make sure that you don't embarrass yourself. 

STEPHANIE: She headed down a month before the competition to train. And she met another adaptive surfer, Chris Oberle. He was an architect who lived in a van. They hit it off. 

LING: And he said, look, I go surfing every day, every morning before I go to work, I'll come pick you up, take you surfing, and then I'll go to work. I said, are you serious? And he's like, yeah. And he picked me up every day after that, early, early in the morning before the sun came up. We went surfing and then he dropped me off back home.

STEPHANIE: Chris is paralyzed from the waist down. When he surfs, he uses a paddle and a wave ski. It’s essentially a surfboard that he can sit on and strap himself to. Chris started coaching Ling, and helped her know when to drop in to catch a wave.

LING: He'll be like, there's a wave coming. It's about 30 seconds away. It's a medium size wave. Okay, now it's about 10 seconds away. I think you should go right. Okay. Five, four. That was how he used to call me into waves. And I used to laugh and at one point I just said, look, you don't have to do the whole description. It's okay. Just let me know when the wave is close and I'll turn around and I'll go.

STEPHANIE: Chris got the message. And when it came time for her to compete, he kept it short… and coached her to a silver medal. It was a nice win. But more importantly, the event introduced Ling to a lot of other adaptive surfers, from all over the world, all with different abilities. No one here felt ashamed of who they were. Everybody took care of each other and met each other’s needs without question, and without pity. 

LING: You know, there wasn't like, oh, okay, what's going on with you? Oh, I'm so sorry about your eyes. It was just, how are we doing today? How did you surf? What are we gonna have for dinner? It was just friends coming together and it was just normal and I think that's what I was looking for for a lot of years.

STEPHANIE: Meanwhile, Ling and Chris' shared love of surfing grew into love for each other. And they realized that their abilities and disabilities somehow worked together. 

LING: So I have a visual impairment, but I am physically capable. Chris is in a wheelchair, so it's a lot easier for me to move his board down to the beach for him or to the water's edge. But once we're in the water, he's helping me. 

STEPHANIE: Yeah, it’s cool that you guys together are like this super team. 

LING: Yeah.

STEPHANIE: They married and moved in together. There was no debate on where to live. They would surf every day. Home for them was out there, on surfboards in the water. So they would need a house near the beach. 

LING:  Exactly. We're about six blocks away from the beach. And that's why we chose this place. 

STEPHANIE: They rent a small space in Oceanside, California. With Ling’s worsening vision, and Chris’ wheelchair, they adapted the home so both can move through it effortlessly. 

LING: We set up our home to be something that's stress free, hopefully and, tranquil and relaxing and easy to navigate because I think that should be anyone's home. 

STEPHANIE: It’s a home where everything is in its right place, all the time. And Ling feels like she’s also in the right place, this time. 

LING: When I was younger, I was never home. But nowadays I spend more time at home than anywhere else and I love it. I never thought I would be a homebody. 

STEPHANIE: A homebody, until the surf's up. Like this recent, early morning beach day, when Ling waxed her surfboard, grabbed Chris, and went out to see what the water had for them. 

LING: How's it looking out there? 

CHRIS: Well, you can probably paddle out wherever. Looks like it's breaking in front of the tower here and over by the rock wall. 

LING: Does it? Mm. Is it a big board day? 

CHRIS: I think it's a big board day. 

LING: Okay. It's a big board day. 

CHRIS: Yeah. 

STEPHANIE: It’s a home by the sea, where Ling feels seen. 

LING: (laughter) Yessss.

STEPHANIE: You’ve been listening to Home. Made. by Rocket Mortgage. My name is Stephanie Foo. You can reach us at, or find a link in the show notes to this episode.

Equal housing lender licensed in all 50 states. #3030