I do not surf.
I do not even swim in the ocean - there are SHARKS in there.
I have enormous respect for sharks, so much so that I give them the entire ocean from the depth of three feet on. All yours, little finned friends. Y’all do you, Imma be right here on land. (If you’re looking to debate whether or not this decision is rational, you’re in the wrong spot. We all have our fears. This is mine.)
So somewhat naturally, Surfer’s Healing wasn’t exactly on my radar for this week.
Aaaand then my water-sport-loving boyfriend bounced through the door yelling, “Babe! Guess what! I signed you up to photograph Surfer’s Healing!”
Well. Hm. Ok. Let’s do this?
Living in a coastal community and dating a beach baby, I had heard of Surfer’s Healing. For those of you who have not, here are some things need to know about Surfer’s Healing:
Surfer's Healing has been serving the community since 1996
Based in Southern California, Surfer's Healing offers camps around the country
Surfers are paired with children with autism spectral disorder and teach them how to ride the waves, often riding alongside them
In the words of Surfer's Healing, as copied from their website:
"We take kids with autism surfing. We paddle out together on tandem boards to catch the waves that come our way. That's what we do; that's what we love.
On the surface, our contribution seems simple: each year, our volunteer-staffed camps give over 4,500 children with autism and their families a fun, engaging day at the beach.
But go deeper, and you'll see that a quiet revolution is taking place. Through the simple act of riding waves together, we're defying the status quo.
When we help kids get up on a board, we're challenging preconceived notions of capability. When we encourage participants to dive in, we're empowering them to engage with the world. And when we ride the waves together, we're affirming that every person is a gift...
Autism parents are always hearing about what their children cannot do. But at a Surfers Healing camp, it's all about what their kids can do.
In the words of one volunteer, “For parents to see their kid up on a surfboard… sometimes, it's nothing less than a miracle.”"
I really love this, this focus on what kids with autism CAN do. This shift in mindset is crucial, for the kids and for the parents, and it should show all of us the power of our own attitudes and assumptions.
And here are a few numbers with regards to autism from the CDC:
About 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups
ASD is about 4 times more common among boys than among girls
Children and adolescents with ASD had average medical expenditures that exceeded those without ASD by $4,110–$6,200 per year
In 2005, the average annual medical costs for Medicaid-enrolled children with ASD were $10,709 per child, which was about six times higher than costs for children without ASD ($1,812)
In addition to medical costs, intensive behavioral interventions for children with ASD cost $40,000 to $60,000 per child per year
This, however, is not all that you need to know about autism and those beautiful souls who fall on the spectrum or their families, who work so hard. More likely than not you, like myself, love, have been touched by, have befriended, or are related to someone wish autism spectral disorder. Theirs is not an easy journey. But it is a powerful journey, and the people with ASD are NOT defined by autism.
Standing on the shore of Folly Beach, camera in hand, struggling to find a spot on the waterline, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing there. There were a ton of photographers. Did anyone really need MY pictures? What was the story I was supposed to tell?
Sometimes life sends you signs. Right then a woman stepped in front of my lens and then immediately began apologizing profusely - which was completely unnecessary. She was in the zone, anxious and excited. Her phone was up and pointed out at the water, and I asked her if one of the kids out there was hers. She said yes and pointed him out, her eyes eagerly trained on her child and her entire body vibrating with emotion.
The next thing you know, her son was riding a wave into shore with a huge smile on his face, and she gasped. “This is so amazing,” she said, choking up. “I can’t believe it. This is incredible!” We both cheered him on, both of us crying (much to my surprise).
This. This was the moment I was here to capture.
I watched child after child go into the surf hand in hand with a professional surfer, the child crying, throwing a tantrum, or filled with an intense, quiet anxiety as they left their loved ones behind on land. As they sat on the board acclimating to the sounds, the smells, the soothing rhythm of the waves, I watched their parents fill with hope, each family member and friend swelling with so much love as they waited to see what would happen.
The waves came in, the waves went out. And the next thing you know, something magical came riding in with them. I don’t have the words for the incredible transformations and utter magic that I witnessed, but I do have the images.
This day meant the world to me. And more so to those sweet, strong children, but also to their families, so many of whom drove from out of state to be here for the event, the volunteers who got up at the crack of dawn, and the surfers who went out on wave after wave in the scorching August sun, holding hand after tiny hand with seemingly endless energy and always with a smile and high five.
I’m sharing it here for a reason.
Sustainability. Though the roots of this word and its usage as a social concept are rooted in our relationship to our natural environment, the definition has been growing and expanding to envelop our relationships with each other as human beings. Yesterday I came home and couldn’t stop thinking about our community. What makes a community sustainable? And sustainable for ALL of its members? How do you sustain yourself? Sustain others?
How do we offer sustainability to those families who need a little more or maybe something just a little different?
I don’t have all the answers... but I believe with all my heart that Surfer's Healing is onto something with their focus on what we CAN do. I saw it in action, and so did about 400 other people.
I know that pushing outside your comfort zone with an open mind is essential, now more than ever, to creating a strong, sustainable community. We were all outside our comfort zones yesterday. The children, the surfers (who were often balancing while hoisting a kid up by the lifejacket), the parents watching their kids go anxiously into the ocean, the uncertain photographers. And it made every one of us stronger, better for sharing in the experience.
This modern life is hard. Raising a child is hard. Did you read the numbers I quoted above? Providing care and support for a child who needs it can be incredibly hard. The saying “it takes a village” exists for a reason, and standing on the side of the ocean surrounded by people of all ages, walks of life, and cultures, all sending so much love and support in the same direction was an incredibly humbling experience.
When people come together, when people support each other and set aside expectations, demands, and preconceptions, when we focus on what we CAN do the possibilities are endless.
I still don't go in the ocean.
There are sharks in there.
I would also not be much of an environmental blogger if I didn’t end this post with a plea to include our planet’s oceans as a presence in your village. Having witnessed the incredible healing power of our seas yesterday was eye-opening. We need our oceans, desperately, and in ways that can’t be measured or quantified alongside those that can. Yesterday showed me that. The effect on these children with autism was nothing short of a miracle, as was their effect on all of us watching from the shore.
Whether it’s volunteering with Surfer’s Healing, doing a litter pick up, or maybe just getting in the water... someday... try to get outside your comfort zone and expand your village. Even if there might be sharks, there’s magic out there too.
*This image is an affiliate links. This means that if you click through and give the book a whirl, I get a tiny fee for spreading the news at no extra cost to you. This helps me offset the enormous amount of time that goes into Compost & Cava.