Bob Mangini was at a charity luncheon and that’s no surprise. A go-getter with the Encinitas Lions Club, Mangini was a guest at the San Diego Blind Center.
The chatter went this way and that way, moving as fast as the plates of vittles. Then someone asked a specific question. For the blind or visually impaired diners, what was the highlight of their year?
Their answer gave Mangini plenty of food for thought.
“It was getting to go out to the beach and go surfing,” Mangini said.
We second that and it’s time for our favorite 60 surfers to hang 10 again at Carlsbad’s South Ponto State Beach. With the Encinitas Lions Club Blind Surfing Event on Sept. 10 approaching fast, Mangini is feverishly checking his to-do list.
“This really is special,” Mangini said. “They can surf, but they can also come sit on the beach and relax. If that’s what they want to do, that’s more than enough for us.”
For most of us, seeing the water that helps make this area so unique is a given. But those with eye issues aren’t as fortunate. That means their opportunities to swim in these waters are limited, if they’ve ever gone to the ocean at all.
So Mangini and friends throw a beach bash that includes breakfast, lunch, T-shirts, surfing equipment, backslaps, encouragement and plenty of smiles.
He’ll even make sure a participant gets a lift to Ponto, if need be, and this has nothing to do with Uber.
“We’ve expanded it to picking people up,” he said. “Quite often if they don’t belong to a blind center or something like that, they can get stranded and can’t get anywhere.”
Lions Club members throughout San Diego County serve as valets. There’s even surfers headed down on a southbound train. That roar you hear will be the Amtrak, and the Lions Club posse eager to assist.
But even the Lions Club needs help and the cavalry arrives with Urban Surf 4 Kids and Stella Maris Surf Association. They provide the instructors who coax the wanna-be surfers to balance on the boards.
Mangini said it takes eight to 12 helpers for each surfer, ensuring the rider is safe during climbing on, the launch and of course in the catch zone, where invariably every surfer has ended up.
But surfers know the end of one ride is just being that much closer to the next one. Considering these rookies are tackling that approach while blind, or with limited sight, it’s admirable.
So everyone pitches in and the good vibes flow like the waves toward the sand.
“This is one of our favorite events of the year,” said Craig Jenkins, the Urban Surf 4 Kids president. “Because it shows amazing courage and perseverance from each and every participant as they come to the water and surf.”
They’ll come prepared as the Encinitas Lions Club supplies the wet suits, surfboards and lessons. The 22nd annual event originally cooked up by Larry Graff is better than ever. Nearly 60 surfers will be testing that South Ponto break and what better way to say so long to summer.
Three winters ago, there was a blind surfer at the Rose Bowl Parade waving to millions. The Lions Club had a New Year’s Day float and it acknowledged the work of the Encinitas chapter with its blind surfing event.
“That was seen all over the world,” Mangini said. “That was quite an honor to be recognized.”
What’s also evident is the good work being done by the good folks at the Encinitas Lions Club. Think of them, or more appropriately those new to surfing, the next time the Pacific Ocean runs across your toes.
“I’m not a surfer,” he said, with a laugh.
For those blind surfers, he’s no hodad. Instead he’s the Big Kahuna for helping them enjoy the waves.
Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @jparis_sport
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports