There isn’t much that beats being a surfer. Spending days at the beach, catching waves and remembering it all later as you find sand in the most unlikeliest of places. It is a sport that has kept me healthy and provided me with a strong sense of perseverance, knowing that the best rides require you to first take a few waves on the head. It has helped shape me into the person I am today, empowering me to overcome the hurdles that life has thrown at me. So getting the opportunity to pass this stoke along to the upcoming generation of challenged athletes might be one of those rare things that actually beats surfing itself, and here’s how:
It is a reminder of how we all started
We all had a first day of surfing. For me, it was my dad who took me down to the beach and I remember how badly I wanted to surf, until that moment when I realized I had no idea what I was doing. We got out past the break and the next thing I knew I was being pushed into a set wave. The whitewash explosion cleared, I figured out which way was up, and I couldn’t wait to give it another go.
These kids at the Challended Athletes Foundation surf camps handle it way better than I did though. I see fearlessness in their eyes, unsure of what the ocean has in store for them, but ready to take on anything. Their enthusiasm and excitement for riding waves is a refreshing glimpse into what drives all of us to paddle out. No worries about anything that waits for them back at the beach, just floating out in the ocean, focused on making it the best day ever.
It is the ultimate high five
It’s no secret that all my favorite waves were made better the moment I realized someone else was watching. The hoots and hollers from your friends are almost better than the ride itself sometimes. Its what drove me to get better each time I went surfing, while also giving me a sense of being part of the surfing community.
So getting the opportunity to spread that positivity when giving out a high five to a kid catching their very first wave feels a bit like paying it forward. And with all that is happening at the beach when these kids are surfing, you would think they would be overwhelmed and oblivious to everything around them, but as if it was part of the surf riding process, they are there smiling ear to ear ready to high five and acknowledge their radicalness.
Dani Burt, a fellow competitive adaptive surfer and mentor at the CAF surf camps, sees this first hand too, and when asked about the importance of mentoring she says, “For me it was very important
to have a mentor after my injury because i felt like I just entered a whole new world that was full of unknowns. The path to move forward was anything but straight and easy going. Just knowing that there is someone there that has your back, that can help make that road a little smoother, meant the world to me.”
It is empowering the kids to take on other challenges outside of surfing
Surfing is no easy sport to learn. You are given all of your instructions on the sand and then suddenly you are whisked out to an ocean that plays by it’s own rules. So that moment when you ride a wave all the way to the beach and you realize you have overcome not only all the obstacles the ocean has thrown at you, but your own fears as well, it is a very empowering thing. And that empowerment is something these kids take with them whenever they leave the beach. Being adaptive surfers, life has thrown all of us a different set of speed bumps, but the beauty of being a surfer is learning to adjust for whatever wave is coming next.
It promises adaptive surfing will continue to grow
At the very first CAF surf camp, I was paired up with a seven-year-old boy, named Sebastian, who had the same type of dwarfism gene diagnosis as I did. Like most of the kids the first day, he was pretty shy starting out, that is until he caught his first wave. After that he was hooked. So hooked, he out surfed all of us until all of the instructors were too spent to take him out anymore. Since then, he has been at every CAF surf camp and even came down to watch the ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships, probably to see what his future had in store for him.
When talking with Sebastian about surfing, like most of us, he can’t say enough, “I like surfing because... I like riding the waves... I like doing the shaka ... I like riding big waves...I like doing cool stuff on the board.” Paragraph long sentences of pure stoke.
Just as stoked as Sebastian is on surfing, his parents have also fully embraced this newfound passion and his dad, Scott Desposato, remarks, “It’s an incredible rush for me to see Sebastian riding an open face, with an intense focus and a huge smile that says he’s just another California kid falling in love with the ocean. I’m so grateful to Ryan and everyone at CAF for what they do for all the kids in the program. Everyone I’ve met through CAF has a heart of gold - some of the best human beings I’ve ever been privileged to meet.”
Until recently, Sebastian was the only other surfer I knew in San Diego who also had dwarfism. That was until this latest surf camp in March. Word must have gotten out that Sebastian had been shredding it up, because Jake and Zach, kids also with the same dwarfism gene as Sebastian and I, had shown up to catch some waves too, along with all of the other groms. Smiling, sunburned and stoked, these kids are the future of adaptive surfing, and I couldn’t be more happy about that.