News Old - DO NOT USE - The Coast News Rancho Santa Fe

Blind surfers take to the waves with a little help

CARLSBAD — After just a few minutes in the water on a beautiful Sunday morning, Aurora Ortiz was already standing up on a surf board and gliding into shore.
However, Ortiz, 66, is not your average surfer. She’s a member of the Blind Community Center of San Diego who participated in the Encinitas Lions Club’s 14th annual Blind Surfing Event on Sept. 20.
“I look forward to this every year,” Ortiz said. “It’s a lot of freedom.”
Volunteers from the Lions Club, Swamis Surfing Association, San Diego Surfing Academy and the La Costa Canyon High School Leos Club gathered at South Ponto Beach in Carlsbad to create an event to remember for the surfers.
Formal lessons were not required, as the surfers from the Blind Community Center have been attending the event for years. Anxious to get out into the water, the surfers and volunteers patiently listened to the very important safety instructions before heading out to surf.
“There are no grouchy locals so let’s have a great time, let’s go surfing!” said Pat Weber, founder of the San Diego Surfing Academy, announcing the official start of the event.
The surfers were guided into the water with assistance from volunteers of all ages who were there to keep their surfers safe and have fun. A pitch and catch system was used to help launch the surfers onto waves for a thrilling ride to shore. Volunteers pitched the surfers onto a wave while others were waiting along the way and at the shoreline to catch them.
“It’s exhausting to do that, you need a lot of people,” said retired lifeguard Lt. Leonard Ortiz, who donated his time to the event. “If they fall off that board, someone has to be there at every point.”
The blind surfers say they enjoy every minute of their annual opportunity to surf with the assistance of such positive and helpful volunteers. They get to experience an activity many take for granted knowing that they are supported every step of the way.
“I really appreciate all the people who get together and make this possible,” said Sharlene Ornelas from the Blind Community Center. “Unfortunately, I only get to do it once a year.”
The Englert brothers were newcomers to the event and were standing after just a few tries. William, 11, and Bruce, 13, took to the waves like professionals and headed toward shore to the applause of volunteers and spectators watching them surf for the first time.
Although the event had a smaller turnout than it has in the past due to cancellations, it was still a memorable and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
“It’s such a great experience and so much fun so we keep coming back,” said volunteer Georgiana Salant, president of the La Costa Canyon High School Leos Club.
It’s safe to assume that the surfers will keep returning every year as well.