CARLSBAD — Balancing the board, paddling out, riding a wave and connecting with the movement of the water is quite a feeling.
It was the sensation nearly 50 visually impaired people felt Sept. 8 at South Ponto Beach, as they participated in the 24th annual Encinitas Lions Club blind surfing event.
For the last four years, the Lions club has also partnered with Urban Surf 4 Kids, a San Diego-based nonprofit connecting orphan and foster children with community service projects. Urban Surf 4 Kids also provided surf instructors and other volunteers to help the blind manage the surf.
“It just keeps growing and attracting more and more people,” said Lions Club President Vital Osegueda. “We host them so they can have a day at the beach. It’s really fun.”
Shannon Dillon and Roger Oberholler live in Folsom, about 30 minutes east of Sacramento, and made a weekend of the event they’ve attended the last three years. Oberholler, who lived in Carlsbad for 14 years before meeting his wife and moving to Folsom several years ago, said he learned about it from the Blind Stokers Club, a San Diego bicycle club, which pairs the blind with sighted cyclists for tandem rides.
The couple’s first surfing interaction came in Hawaii with a local and they knew they wanted to hit the waves again. Once they heard of the Lions Club event, they became regulars.
Dillon, 46, lost her sight when she was 3, while Oberholler, 47, lost his 19 years ago, but the two have always been active. Surfing is another way for the couple to enjoy the outdoors, meet new people and break down barriers.
“I came down, checked it out and was hooked,” Oberholler said. “What I like about surfing, or any sport … we have so many volunteers come out. That sight barrier is broken down that way.”
Dillon said she enjoys the mechanics of surfing, feeling the wave and figuring out how to pop up and ride the board. Additionally, it’s a day filled with fun, surf, food and good times, she said.
“I just love water sports and always wanted to surf,” Dillon said. “We were excited to find out about this.”
As for the draw, Osegueda said the event has participants from as far as Northern California to Los Angeles and Arizona. However, the club is actively looking to expand and is becoming more aggressive with its marketing and outreach.
The club has dozens of volunteers and partnering with Urban Surf 4 Kids has been a big help.
Craig Jenkins, president of Urban Surf 4 Kids, and Roxanne Avant, the executive director, helped with securing the wetsuits, surf instructors and land guides. The kids in the program help walk the blind surfers to their respective safety teams, consisting of between three and five people.
From there, a short surf lesson is given and then each group walks out to the water and puts the surfers in position to ride the whitewash. But for the foster kids volunteering, Avant said it’s a great event and helps them just as much as it does the surfers.
“Our foster youth are working toward their community service hours,” she added. “Mentoring, life skills and surf therapy is our main thing.”