Surfers for Autism
My cousin, Lisa, is going to be close by and wanted to know if we wanted to meet up,” Sarah said with a look of eagerness. Like the rest of us, Sarah’s family lived in other parts of the U.S. and visits were rare. Of course, then I found out she had actually only met Lisa three other times in their lives, so her eagerness for a visit was even more understandable.
“What do you mean by close?” This is a logical question because close could mean the neighboring town or across the state.
“They will be on vacation in Orlando for a couple of days, but Saturday they’ll be at Ponce Inlet. They’re taking her son to a Surfers for Autism event there and we could go and say hello.”
At first, I was confused as to where we were going. I am not very good at geography and usually the girls have to tell me where home is. Every time Sarah said Ponce Inlet, I had it in my mind that we were going to the St. Augustine area, so when I found out that it was just below Daytona Beach, I was ecstatic. A two hour drive was now cut in half.
I agreed to the Saturday adventure, but I’ll admit I still wasn’t really sure what I was agreeing to. In my ignorance, I assumed that it was probably an event similar to Special Olympics and that Lisa would be busy with the event, cheering her son on in whatever event he had entered. I figured we’d say hello, watch a little bit of what was going on and then venture off to do some Messing in Ponce Inlet. There is a lighthouse there, after all, and the girls and I love exploring them as much as wineries, even more so if we could bring our own wine.
We never made it to the lighthouse. Truth is we never left the beach. From the moment we arrived until when we left due to the three o’clock heat, we were caught up in what was going on as well as enjoying the people around us. It was the ultimate beach day.
We took everything we needed for a day at the beach, camp chairs, a canopy cover, and a small wooden table that rolls up into a small bag. We also took the proper coverings and sun block. I took my bathing suit. I know you’re thinking that I was going to the beach, so I should have been in my bathing suit and not carrying it. However, I’m the quirky one, remember? I prefer to travel in my normal clothes. Plus I wasn’t sure what to expect and wasn’t really sure we were going to the beach. I thought we’d be under a pavilion like at a company picnic while the children had their fun. I know the name Surfers for Autism should have given me a clue, but I can be pretty clueless at times. So the first thing I did when we got there was change into my bathing suit.
And then I realized I had forgotten my flip flops.
At first this wasn’t that big of a deal. The day was still cool being only ten o’clock, but my forgetfulness would prove to be my downfall when we left. Once I was dressed like everyone else, we made our way down to the beach and found a spot by Sarah’s cousin and her friends. We set up our little spot after introductions were made and settled in for the day.
Everywhere I looked, there were tents set up with vendors, guests, and Orange Crush, a live band, which did an amazing job. People were in the water playing and body surfing as surfers took kids out so they could surf back in. There was a tug of war area set up as well as a craft area where the kids could make different crafts. The local fire department and police department donated two vehicles that the kids could paint anyway they wanted with neon colors. The entire town had joined the action, as I learned later when it was time to eat and all of the food was donated by local restaurants. The place was lit up with activity as well as generosity.
When it came time for Lisa’s son to hit the waves, we went down to watch and my hope in humanity was once again restored. Two or more trained and skilled surfers took each child out into the ocean and helped them get up on the board and ride in if possible. Some were scared; others were daredevils, but all had a blast. They were allowed to ride as many times as they wanted during the time frame allotted and most were in and out over and over again. The surfers that donated their time and expertise had an abundance of patience and joy as they assisted the children back up on the boards and into the water. The exuberance they had was contagious and I wished Zac, our own surfer, was with us as I knew he would be one of the ones out there helping the children.
I was so impressed with Surfers for Autism that I went home and did some research. On April 5, 2008 an idea that had begun in December of the previous year saw fruition on the north side of the Deerfield Beach pier with 40 surfers with autism enjoying the day. They also raised $10,000 to assist charities dealing with the needs of those with autism and research. That was a great beginning, but it didn’t stop there. SFA now holds events all over Florida and has had as many as 200 surfers signed up and raised close to $20,000. Their goal is simple, “to unlock the potential of people with developmental delays, support advocacy for autism issues and scientific research.” Their focus “is to eliminate stigma through public awareness and education and to unite communities through volunteerism.” And they have succeeded in gaining that involvement from what I saw. It truly was a community that we stepped into with everyone looking out for each other.
Every once in awhile a child would go missing as children sometimes do at major events where everyone knows each other. An announcement would go over the PA system with the child’s name and all activity would cease until someone popped up with the child in tow. Everyone kept an eye out for each other and you felt safe. It was like a giant family reunion where everyone knew everyone else. They just hadn’t seen each other in awhile and were celebrating being back together.
The SFA website states, “Our surfers are provided a safe, fun, judgment free environment where highly skilled surf instructors carefully guide them into waves. Our surfers and their families are treated like rock stars and enjoy a day filled with a range of activities including stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, live music, face-painting, games, fire engine tours, and much more. This is a very special day where children with developmental delays interact with typical peers and wow families with their capabilities.” And I was wowed. Don, who spends all of his time putting these events together, does an awesome job. He spends weeks before an event getting it all set up and ready so that it runs smoothly when his surfers arrive. When he calls for a few volunteers to assist with something, he has an abundance of people pitching in. This is what life is about to me; helping others achieve and experience something exciting that they may not have had a chance to before. Everyone was a rock star that day.
The girls and I explored, played a few games of Shooters (a bean bag game), and fit right in with everyone else. It was a great day of relaxing while being exposed to something new and exciting. The girls even came away with a new drink - coconut milk. I tried it, but that’s all I will do. I want coffee, even at the beach.
About three o’clock the heat was getting to me and it was time to go. It was at this time that I was to regret not wearing my flip flops. I don’t know if you are aware of it or not, but sand gets hot when it has been baking in the sun all day long. If it had been a short distance I was to travel, then it would not have been a big deal. However, we were nowhere near the boardwalk and it seemed like there was miles of sand to traverse before I could find solace for my scorching tootsies. There wasn’t even shade from the other canopies that people had put up. Add to that the fact that I was carrying the canopy we had brought and a couple of other bags and my progress was that of a turtle.
My feet were burning, my breathing was growing heavy, and to top it off, I could feel my hypoglycemia kicking in, which meant my body was about to turn to Jello. It was not the best way to end a great day.
Still, I survived. I waited under the pavilion once I finally crawled my way there while the girls went and fetched the van to haul my carcass into. I had gone as far as I was going to go. I had even surrendered the driving responsibilities, which told the girls I was definitely out of it.
It was worth it however, to see the excitement and the joy these people had as they gave of themselves to others. There was a sense of family, of belonging, that permeated the entire atmosphere. I do not surf, but it’s an organization I would love to be a part of, regardless. They know how to give and they are making a difference. And isn’t that part of why we are here on this round globe? To be a part of something that brings peace and joy to others. I hope you learn how you can participate and make an impact in someone’s life. It’s a great feeling, I promise. If you don’t believe me, just ask the people of Surfers for Autism.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~