NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Over 40 years ago, Christian Buhl and John Pascal van Houdan became friends, figuring out what could be done on a snowboard in deep, Swiss powder. 

As the years passed, both found their way to Newport Beach, far from their European upbringings and boyhood, alpine adventures. And soon, they were testing the limits of another sport in ways they never thought they would.

In the early years of van Houden’s employment at Newport Beach-based investment behemoth PIMCO, he began experiencing strange symptoms, shaking that betrayed his nervous system and complicated the fitness activities that had defined so much of his leisure time.

Not long after, at 32, van Houden was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

The news sparked another kind of journey for van Houden and Buhl, figuring out for themselves how a sailor might challenge himself on the seas no matter his ability.

After years of trying new tools and methods, the pair have managed to find the right seats and the ideal boat for people of varying physical abilities. 

Of the seven boats on the market that can accommodate disabled boaters, Buhl settled on one: the RS Venture, a 16-foot, fiberglass vessel that can accommodate wheelchairs.

In 2015, everything else fell into place.

“I found the right tool in England, I found the right team, and I have the time to do it,” he said. “When you have two out of three, it’s tricky. When you have one, it’s even harder.” 

The two began the charity California Inclusive Sailing, which aims to get disabled boaters — Buhl prefers to say sailors of all abilities — onto the water. But at $30,000 per boat, they’re not cheap.

The charity keeps two boats in Newport Beach and supplements them with volunteer vessels that can carry participants who don’t need wheelchair access or customized seats. Through fundraising, the charity has purchased two more boats for donation and hopes to get another two it can ship off to another boating club committed to helping disabled sailors ride the waves.

The charity has enjoyed repeated generosity from the community, city and local businesses. PIMCO has donated money and volunteers to the charity for four years and deployed 22 executives and other helpers for the charity’s big September sailing event in Newport Beach.

The city has also invested money into a lift at the public Marina Park dock, which can hoist a person and their wheelchair over the side of many smaller boats.

The pair wants to keep it going, uniting as many people as possible with the tools they need to slide along the waves.

“It looks like we’re on schedule for a big Christmas present for boat number five,” Buhl said.

Bhul and van Houden still sail together on Newport Bay, where they can see snow-capped mountains like the ones they used to speed down together as teenagers. Buhl said they still do; the snowboard is no longer new but familiar. Like an old friend.