When we were first went on a vacation in Kennebunkport, Maine, we stumbled upon a surf shop called Aquaholics. I’m from a little beach town in Southern California, so finding a surf shop in New England is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. They offered surfing lessons and Grasshopper and Sensei and PickyKidPix wanted to give it a try. Thus began their great love of surfing five years ago.
This year, when the kids took their first lesson, Nanci, the owner of Aquaholics, talked excitedly about Special Surfer Night that very night and invited them to participate as volunteers. The third Tuesday in June, July and August, over 150 volunteers coordinated by Aquaholics come together to offer free surf lessons to special needs kids that travel from as far away as New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island just for that night of surfing. They literally drive for four+ hours for this evening event and get back in the car for another long drive.
Nanci, the owner of Aquaholics
But I can see why. The night is magical; filled with kindness and volunteers eager to share their deep and spiritual love of surfing with special needs children. Each Special Surfer typically gets two volunteers: a SURFER to help them catch the wave on the board (or make sure they stay on the board) and a CATCHER to grab them as they come into shore and turn them around back to the SURFER. Kids in wheelchairs typically get four volunteers and a special surf board set up to ensure that they don’t fall off. Some years, there aren’t enough volunteers to allow 2 per Special Surfer but this year there were plenty. My girls signed up as CATCHERS.
PickyKidPix as a CATCHER. Her job is to help her Special Surfer turn around in the water and bring him on the board back to the SURFER for another run.
PickyKidPix’s Special Surfer didn’t want to leave. She could have surfed all night!
That night, the weather cooperated. The sun was shining. The water was warm — wet suits optional and provided by Aquaholics — and the waves were gentle. The kids, both volunteers and special surfers, were palpably excited and groups were quickly formed, wet suits donned, surf board selected, and then it was off to the water.
Grasshopper and Sensei as a CATCHER helping her Special Surfer …
… who gets the hang of it and rides this wave into shore!
Kids of all ages and with a wide variety of special needs including autism, Downs Syndrome, physical disabilities, and seeing impaired took to the waves.
Four men help wheelchair kids ride a wave.
Volunteers share their love of surfing with special needs kids who find surfing to be joyous.
I thought this all terrain wheelchair made of PVC pipes was ingenious!
Volunteers made sure that their Special Surfer felt comfortable on the board.
Kids of all ages and special needs can be accommodated from wee ones to young adults.
Participants at the August 2014 Special Surfer Night in Kennebunk, Maine.
This year, over 92 Special Surfers participated. As Nanci had promised my girls, it was “the best feeling in the world.” My girls were able to share their love of surfing with someone who doesn’t get this opportunity often. It was the best night ever!
If you have a special needs child who would like to participate next summer, please check out the Aquaholics’ website and sign up. My daughters plan to be back next year as a “Surfer and Catcher” pair and hope that they get your child to teach him or her the joy of surfing!