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.