Youth with Special Needs Catch Waves at Malibu Surf Showcase | Sports

When Cara Armstrong of Simi Valley watches her 10-year-old daughter Mia surf, she is in awe of her. Mia, who has Down syndrome, calls herself a daredevil and lives up to the label with her surfing exploits. Mia was able to stand on a surfboard unaided during the summer and becomes whote the experienced water child.






Pictured, left to right: Mia, Dale Rhodes, Steven Lippman and Grace




“She loves the water and is very comfortable in the water,” said Cara, who envisions Mia going for a walk in the ocean to catch a wave with her older brother Jack. “As a parent of a child with special needs, when you learn of their diagnosis you are made aware of any limitations they might have, so every step your child takes is something we are excited about and that we celebrate. When you see your child participating in something like surfing in the hope that they can surf independently, it gives a lot of hope and strength for the trip.

Mia, who has been tandem surfing for over a year, and her mother’s dream of surfing took off at the end of last month at Surfrider Beach in Malibu. Mia shared a board with Dale Rhodes, a former professional surfer. The duo surfed for almost an hour. In addition to surfing the waves, Rhodes and Mia kept an eye out for marine life and chatted about science and gymnastics.

“It was like surfing with a very intelligent adult,” Rhodes from Mia. “She’s passed her years of intelligence.”

The two luckily caught between five and ten waves, Mia’s mother said.

“It was fantastic,” said Cara. “Mia had a blast.”

And she wasn’t the only one.

Mia was one of 50 young people with special needs, ages eight to 20, who participated in the A Walk on Water (AWOW) surf therapy event at Surfrider Beach on October 23. The wave show featured the kids, most of whom have neurological disabilities, receiving surf instruction from AWOW surf therapists, a group of experienced watermen, and then surfing the waves with the ocean surf therapists at the beach. for about an hour. Once the younger surfers returned to the sand, they were greeted with high fives and smiles.

The children then received surfing prizes from AWOW officials, surrounded by friends and family who cheered them on. There were lots of smiles for everyone.

Rhodes, one of AWOW’s 48 surf therapists, called the event a huge success.

“It’s quite overwhelming,” he said. “We want to give these kids self-confidence and teach them something about the ocean and surfing. We harness the transformative powers of the ocean.

Rhodes said everyone was in a good mood.

“It’s hard not to be festive when you see a child with special needs catch a wave at First Point Malibu and ride the wave all the way,” he said. “It’s electrifying. It touches us all and makes us aware of what is really important in life. “

The kids took to the ocean with instructors in groups of three, but their activities weren’t limited to surfing the waves. Children and their families built sandcastles, munched on meals donated by Vintage Grocers and had the opportunity to use other services provided by event sponsors including Paul Mitchell, Michael Schwab, Lululemon Athletica , Katin USA and Coral Mountain Wave Resort.

AWOW was founded in 2012 by a group including Malibuite Steven Lippman with the goal of helping children with unique needs and their families through surf therapy. The nonprofit organization’s website describes surf therapy as “uniquely based on the concept of including the whole family in connection with the healing powers of the ocean and our natural world.” By creating positive, uplifting, and empowering experiences, we rewrite expectations of what “therapy” can be.

AWOW wants children to gain confidence while surfing.

“We equip our participants to challenge expectations, rewrite their futures and come out of the ocean with one conviction: we are all ATHLETES,” the website read.

Although surf therapy is not a substitute for medical care, over the past decade many studies have highlighted the benefits of surfing. An article published in 2017 by California State University said that a half-hour surf session improved mood. A 2019 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health article stated that over therapy may help soothe mental health issues.

Surf therapy enthusiast Cara said the activity had positive mental and physical impacts on Mia.

“It improved his motor skills and his core strength,” said Cara. “It also gave her something to participate that she can share with her ‘typical’ friends. She can talk about her experience. It was great for his socio-emotional well-being. She loves to get in the water.

The one-day event in Malibu, Rhodes said, gave families of young people time to relax.

“They can just let loose and watch their kids surf,” he said.

Cara said families of children with special needs have a lot of demands on them.

“Being able to share the joy of our children’s accomplishments – standing on the beach with other parents without having to explain the shoes you walk in because they walk with you – is a great sense of community,” a- she declared. “I really enjoyed being able to take a minute to have a burrito breakfast and sit on the beach and watch my daughter accomplish something amazing in the company of other members of the community.”

In addition, 10 young members of the Northern LA Boardriders, a surf club in Malibu, organized a one-hour competition on the beach that raised $ 15,000 for AWOW.

AWOW holds several surf therapy meetings each year on the east and west coasts. The Malibu Surf Therapy session is considered the organization’s West Coast “Super Bowl” every year. AWOW had no events in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but had four other events leading up to the Malibu session this year. The last surf therapy gathering of the year will take place in Ventura this Saturday, November 6th.


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