Walking on Water


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For the past 11 years, AccesSurf has helped people with physical and cognitive disabilities take part in ocean activities and adventures (photos by Jason Rose). Features . GivinG

Under a glowing sun the young mother’s smile seemed to catch each tear that streamed down her cheeks. she walked the sand purposefully, making a point to hug every volunteer who helped her son. For the first time in his life, her son—who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth—stood on a surfboard and rode the ocean’s therapeutic embrace. The laughter that moment brought the young boy was immeasurable, a joy every boy and girl deserves.

Providing adaptive surfing and water recreation activity assistance, AccesSurf helps people with physical and cognitive disabilities to access and enjoy the ocean and beach. They literally make what may be an ordinary day at the beach for most feel extraordinary for participants and their families.

“What we hear a lot is that our services really empower people. What that means is participants are learning a new skill and realizing they can do certain things that they didn’t think they’d be able to, and ultimately that transcends to the rest of their life,” says AccesSurf executive director Cara Short.

A nonprofit, social impact organization founded in 2006, AccesSurf’s operation and reputation has grown exponentially as they enter their second decade of service. Expanding from their signature “Day at the Beach” program, they now offer a variety of ocean programs and swim clinics, including a “Wounded Warrior Day at the Beach” for injured or disabled active-duty military service members or veterans. Every program is free, and their “Day at the Beach” programs don’t require any pre-registration. They encourage new participants and their families to come down to give their services a try or to observe if they’re curious.

Collectively, AccesSurf programs have provided more than 3,000 individual ocean experiences for participants.

“AccesSurf was started by Mark Marble, a recreational therapist, and Rich Julian, a wheelchair adaptive athlete. Essentially they got together because they realized there was no access to the ocean for people either recovering from an injury or who have had a disability their whole life,” says Short. “They found out people with disabilities weren’t going to the beach because they couldn’t, and didn’t want to ask their family and friends because they felt like they were already a burden to them.”

The concept that the ocean is accessible to everyone is the foundation AccesSurf stands on. Recognizing and welcoming all people with disabilities, a few conditions they cater to include: autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, down syndrome, and spinal cord and brain injuries.

Unless otherwise specified on their website or social media, AccesSurf hosts their “Day at the Beach” program at White Plains beach in Ewa Beach on the first Saturday of each month. The program is open to any person—young or older—who has a disability.

At 8:30 a.m. participants and their families gather with staff members and volunteers for a welcome circle. Trained volunteers then assist each participant with any need they may have. From transfer to the water and equipment fitting, to tandem surf and swim support, or just as someone to chat with, AccesSurf’s volunteer base is the lifeblood of each program.

“Our entire organization is almost completely run by volunteers. At “Day at the Beach” or any of our other programs it’s that force of people that makes it happen,” says Short—who notes that since their inception the volunteer base has grown from six to over 300.

Their services have been recognized by the International Surfing Association and members of the AccesSurf staffnow sit on advisory boards of the I.S.A. With the worldwide growth of competitive adaptive surfing, AccesSurf recently launched their Hawaii Adaptive Surf Team (HAST)—helping to train adaptive surfers for competition.

They also host swim clinics at public pools on O‘ahu. Pre-registration for the swim clinics is required.

For parents, AccesSurf is a place where children with disabilities can not only enjoy ocean recreation, but also become members of a community they can feel a part of. Many participants who were once shy and timid are now mentors and ambassadors helping others with disabilities find peace of mind and joy.

“At AccesSurf, participants are just like everyone else. They are more than just included, they are the rock stars of the day.”

For more information on AccesSurf and their programs visit their website at accessurf.org or follow them on Facebook or Instagram.

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