Con­quer­ing some­thing new

Spec­trum Surf Queens County gives kids with autism, sib­lings chance to try surf­ing


This Aug. 12, 16 chil­dren with autism and their sib­lings will be hit­ting the waves at Summerville Beach in Queens County to give surf­ing a try.

At Spec­trum Surf Queens County, a child or ado­les­cent di­ag­nosed with autism spec­trum dis­or­der is paired with a surf­ing men­tor who works one-to-one for an hour with the in­di­vid­ual to teach them the ba­sics of surf­ing.

“Each and ev­ery child has an op­por­tu­nity to step out of their com­fort zone,” says event founder and co­or­di­na­tor Ch­eryl Ra­fuse. “To ex­pand be­yond where they are com­fort­able and to con­quer some­thing new is very lib­er­at­ing.”

Ra­fuse had seen sim­i­lar events which paired a surf­ing men­tor with a child with autism in other ar­eas, mainly on the west coast of Canada and in the US. She won­dered why it couldn’t hap­pen here be­cause Queens County has beau­ti­ful beaches and a vi­brant surf com­mu­nity.

Ra­fuse’s pas­sion for ad­vo­cacy com­bined with her hus­band Troy’s pas­sion for surf­ing blended to cre­ate this event which has now been run­ning for four years.

Surf­ing is a great fit for in­di­vid­u­als with autism for a num­ber of rea­sons, says Ra­fuse. It pro­vides a great sensory ex­pe­ri­ence with the sand and surf, while the ocean waves and even wear­ing a wet suit cre­ates a calm­ing ef­fect.

“Surf­ing is also a very in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Ra­fuse.

She says some kids like to be pushed into the waves and ride the boards on their stom­achs, while oth­ers learn more of the surf­ing skills and try to ride stand­ing.

“In the wa­ter there is only a surfer, a board and the sea,” says Ra­fuse. “Surf­ing is an in­clu­sive event. The ocean passes no judge­ment.”

Janessa Keans of Liver­pool is one of the vol­un­teer men­tors at the event. Cur­rently a speech­language pathol­o­gist for the South Shore Re­gional School Board who for­merly worked with early in­ter­ven­tion, she knows many of the par­tic­i­pants through her work. She loves stay­ing in­volved in the com­mu­nity and get­ting out and hav­ing fun along­side her boyfriend, who is a surfer.

“It’s the per­fect cross­over be­tween his and my ar­eas of in­ter­est and knowl­edge,” says Keans.

In­ter­na­tional surf­ing cham­pion Lo­gan Landry from the An­napo­lis Val­ley says he hasn’t been able to par­tic­i­pate in the event yet be­cause of his sched­ule, but says show­ing peo­ple surf­ing and open­ing up that chance to ev­ery­one is a great thing.

“There are a few top level elite surfers and ath­letes who have autism,” says Landry, “so, it just shows that you can have a great time with the sport no mat­ter what.”

Surf Spec­trum Queens County is still look­ing for a few more peo­ple to vol­un­teer as men­tors for the event. Men­tors sim­ply ar­rive with their suits

and boards, says Ra­fuse, and a pas­sion for surf­ing is a must.

“I be­lieve the men­tors leave with a re­newed love of their sport and a true sense of the power of their sport to be an equal­izer,” says Ra­fuse.

Any fam­i­lies with a child with autism spec­trum dis­or­der and their sib­lings who would like to join, can visit the Surf Spec­trum Queens County Face­book page and send a mes­sage to the or­ga­ni­za­tion through there.

The group is also look­ing for do­na­tions of equip­ment. Their big­gest need tends to be soft topped surf boards and long boards, says Ra­fuse.

Ra­fuse says they hope for just the right waves on the day, and so far, they have been very, very lucky.

“I thank all who help to keep this day go­ing, but espe­cially the fam­i­lies who come to the beach, en­ter our cold At­lantic, and try some­thing new.”


Ethan Ringer en­joys some surf­ing on Summerville Beach. An event will be held Aug. 12 to give chil­dren with autism and their sib­lings a chance to try the sport.

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