Finding inspiration at a Surfers for Autism event

By Lena Crowe |

The weather outside was humid and dry as members from the Flagler College Rotaract Club and I piled into the car. We were on the way to a Surfers for Autism event, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I heard that it was an amazing and different experience. I was worried that we would have to actually surf. Nonetheless, I was stoked to see what was in store.

When we arrived at Jacksonville Beach, it was crowded with thousands of people. I was shocked; I didn’t expect that many people to be there. We found a tent and set our stuff down. Volunteers gathered in a tight circle on the soft white sand for instructions.

Three to four volunteers were assigned to a child with special abilities. Once I got assigned to one, my group and I led him out to the water. He was tiny, but full of life. His bright green eyes were full of excitement once he got out into the water. I couldn’t stop smiling as I stood there in the water, cheering him on. He didn’t catch any waves, but he was determined and happy. He never got upset; he was just thrilled to be out there in the water. It was inspiring to see.

I looked around at the beach and smiled. The fact that I was on this beach with so many strangers who wanted to help was amazing. The event brought together all of these incredible people with one single-minded focus: make children happy. And they were doing it.

The event was uplifting and eye-opening. It showed me that even people who deal with tough conditions can still be happy. It also made me upset with myself for taking things for granted. As I watched the kids having a blast in the water, my mind flipped through sticky situations in my life. Whether it was a breakup or a fight with a friend, it would always feel like the end of the world. I catch myself complaining about such miniscule things — homework, my appearance, clothes. But when I saw those kids making the best out of their situations, I felt guilty. I realized I shouldn’t complain when there are bigger issues out there.

I spoke with Dave Rossman, the Surfers for Autism Director of Communication, and he told me that Surfers for Autism was created by a group of South Florida surfers in 2007, and the first event was hosted in 2008. “We are a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to introducing the sport and culture of surfing to athletes with special abilities,” said Rossman.

There are so many heart-warming things that occur at this event over the years, but the ones that stand out to him are “when nonverbal children speak their first words, children non-receptive to touch hold hands with their instructors, and when parents dust off dreams they had long ago put away.”

Rossman proceeded to say that Surfers for Autism has changed his life in many ways. “My involvement with SFA has both humbled and grounded me. To witness firsthand what these families deal with on a daily basis while still providing such love and support is truly inspiring.”

It was inspiring and life-changing for me, too. It really woke me up. It let me see firsthand that people can be happy even in harsh situations. People can make something good of what they’ve been dealt. It was so inspiring to see how happy and determined those kids were to catch a wave, and it was refreshing to see so many people taking the time to help them.

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