Byron "Bo" Jaffe's SUP gear checklist looks like the rest of ours, plus one item: an external fixator. He never forgets it, either; it's been bolted to his left leg for three months, and it will be there for four more. The fixator is an erector-set-looking, black and silver cage-like device that extends from a few inches below his foot to mid-calf, and includes a handful of metal pins that poke through his skin into the bones of his lower leg and ankle. It hurts even to look at, but Bo is unfazed, flashing a smile and walking into the water, carrying his board and paddle. Bo, a 21-year-old liberal arts student at Palm Beach State College was raised in Jupiter, Florida, where he enjoys fishing, diving, surfing, boating and skim boarding.
"I go every day and work out as hard as possible, even with this contraption," he says.
Jaffe was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital condition of the tendons and joints that has mostly affected his feet and ankles. He’s had eight-plus surgeries, the first before he was two years old. He was never supposed to walk.
"When he was born, he looked like a little old lady," his mother Kathy, says. "The doctors said 'he's never going to be able to ride a bike or play an instrument.'
But he's definitely doing it, and he's never stopped. I don't think there are limits to him."
His latest procedure, which will correct the alignment of his ankle, is the work of Dr. Dror Paley, a world-renowned surgeon whose work involves innovative adjustment of the human skeletal structure. Bo's foot was previously extended, but now his ankle will rest at a right angle.
External fixation may sound like something that a character from "Seinfeld" would go through, but it's actually a procedure that can stabilize broken bones in a certain position while they heal or serve as a temporary external replacement for a patient's skeleton, allowing new bone to grow in spaces between cut bones. Bo uses an Allen wrench to adjust his device daily, guiding his bones into their eventual permanent alignment.
Jaffe got into SUP in Jupiter about a year ago. Before his most recent surgery, he spent a month in Biarritz, France— "just a pure surf/party trip" —where he got really hooked on standup paddling. After surgery he was ready to return to SUP as soon as possible and was back on a board in about a month. He enjoys paddling in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and on the ocean near Jupiter Inlet.
He credits a large part of his approach to life, and subsequent success in pummeling early predictions, to his family.
"(Having five siblings) is one of the reasons I believe I have been able to overcome and exceed the limitations that were pre-set for me," he says. "I was always trying to keep up with my brothers and sisters, and it made me push myself physically, which is why I feel I can do everything I do now."
He especially appreciates his "caring and loving" mother Kathy.
"(She) has been there for me through thick and thin," Jaffe says. "I love her more than anyone for that."
Standup helps keep Jaffe centered and positive.
"SUP has really been what has helped me clear my head and kept me feeling like my same old self – happier than anyone on earth." —Tom Fucigna Jr.