ENCINITAS — Out in the water there were smiles from ear to ear as kids rode in waves on their bellies and attempted to stand up on foam boards. Surfing Madonna Oceans Project held its first summer surf camp sessions for challenged youth and Wounded Warriors at Moonlight Beach on May 30.
The nonprofit works with Surfin Fire surf school to provide lessons. The surf school has eight years of experience teaching challenged students. Wetsuits, foam boards and expert one-on-one instruction is shared at no cost to Surfing Madonna Oceans Project participants.
For youth with multiple sclerosis, autism and other challenges a two-hour lesson is held. After the session families receive a video of the experience so they can relive the day.
“They get in water and they just calm down and relax,” Bob Nichols, Surfing Madonna Oceans Project president of operations said. “There’s an emotional thing about it. It’s absolutely magical.”
The lessons are a joy for kids and their parents.
“They love the water,” Jon Peterson, owner of Surfin Fire surf school, said. “They light up. It’s a tearjerker for parents.”
Participants in the Wounded Warriors project who are burdened with post traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries from war participate in two, two-hour lessons. They build skills in the fundamentals of water safety, board handling and reading the ocean and waves.
“They’re looking for camaraderie, teamwork and challenge,” Nichols, who is also a military veteran, said. “They like being a part of something important. With surfing they can push themselves as much as they want.”
Military veterans learn to surf and gain an appreciation for the ocean.
“We teach them to surf as an outlet they can do and enjoy,” Peterson said. “It aids with healing.”
“When they’re out there they see Mother Nature and what it has to offer. It’s
always different, no two waves are the same. They’re sitting on top of world.”
Throughout the summer groups of about 10 will participate in sessions twice a month.
In November students are invited back to face off in a friendly surf contest.
Military veteran Sequoia White was among the Wounded Warriors learning to surf on Saturday. He said the experience was not only fun, but helped him get over his recent fear of the ocean.
White grew up in Oceanside and has always been around the beach, but after seeing a friend drown and enduring other traumas of war, it became difficult for him to be in the ocean or in crowded settings.
White said after three years of being mad about losses he witnessed, he decided to use his energy to achieve what he wanted.
White said initially friends nudged him to go out to shopping malls, amusement parks and other social centers.
He has gone on to earn a BS degree in project management, and plans to pursue a master’s degree in fall.
Surfing is another skill he is working on mastering.
White said it’s been a struggle each step of the way, but he is glad for the milestones he has achieved.
White married a fellow veteran eight years ago. He credits his wife, family and close friends for seeing him through difficult times.
Imelda Lie, mother of Nathaniel, 8, is just starting her journey through the challenging years that lay ahead.
Nathaniel was also learning to surf on Saturday.
Lie said she learned her son has Duchenne, a fatal form of muscular dystrophy, in September.
By age 12 most of those with the disease lose mobility and become wheelchair bound.
Lie is a nurse, but said it is completely different when your own son has Duchenne.
Nathaniel also has autism. Lie said the family had adjusted to that.
“Autism is not something you can die from,” Lie said.
The news of him having Duchenne changed everything.
Lie said it is difficult when she hears her son say he doesn’t want to run or play when he’s out with friends, because she knows he will not be physically able to run soon.
The surf lesson is a bright spot.
“It makes a big impact on our lives,” Lie said.
Lie said for now her family lives life to the fullest. They are part of the A Place for All Pieces family support group, and stay active and engaged.
Her son also participates in clinical studies at UCLA Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Research Center where doctors are seeking a cure.
Last year 100 youth participated in the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project surf camp. This year 200 youth and veterans will participate.
Surfing Madonna Oceans Project also donated two floating wheelchairs to the Moonlight Beach lifeguard station, which disabled beachgoers can request to use to roll out to the shoreline.