Waves of hope: Adaptive Surf Project brings joy and freedom to disabled community

By Gene Galin

Atlantic Beach, NC On a sun-drenched Saturday in June, the shores of Atlantic Beach were alive with an extraordinary blend of excitement, camaraderie, and waves. The Adaptive Surf Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the joy of surfing to individuals with disabilities, held its first event of the summer. Among the participants was Lauren Goodwin, whose story of resilience and community encapsulates the spirit of this remarkable initiative.

A Lifeline for the Disabled: Rediscovering the Ocean

For many disabled individuals, the beach, once a source of joy and freedom, can become a place of inaccessibility and frustration. Lauren Goodwin, who had not visited the beach for seven years due to her illness, understands this all too well. “When I first got sick, I hadn’t been to the beach in seven years,” she shares. “I was a regular beachgoer, and it just made the difference in the world to get in the water, to be on the sand again.”

The Adaptive Surf Project has transformed this reality, providing specialized equipment and support to enable people with various disabilities to experience the thrill of surfing. “This organization gets us out here,” Lauren says. “They make the beach adaptable for everyone.”

The Birth of a Movement

The Adaptive Surf Project’s journey began with a simple but powerful vision: to make the beach accessible to everyone. The initiative started with a fundraiser called “Dogs for a Cause,” organized by Christine Chadwick, which aimed to raise money for beach mats. These mats allow wheelchair users to traverse the sand, bringing them closer to the water’s edge.

Lauren, determined to highlight the importance of this cause, took her manual wheelchair to the causeway, showing firsthand what the fundraiser was aiming to achieve. “They were on TV, and I said they don’t have a wheelchair person out there. I said, ‘I’m going to get out there in my manual wheelchair back in the day.'”

Her involvement didn’t stop there. Christine Chadwick invited Lauren to join the surf community, and over the past six years, the project has grown exponentially. From humble beginnings with just a few participants, it now hosts multiple events each year, drawing a diverse group of people eager to experience the ocean’s healing powers.

A Community of Love and Support

The Adaptive Surf Project is more than just an organization; it’s a community bound by love, support, and a shared passion for the ocean. “It’s a community of love,” Lauren emphasizes. “I feel like I have friends that I never thought I’d have in the world. It saved my life, and I’m certainly lucky to be out here.”

This sense of community is evident in every aspect of the events. From the volunteers who help participants onto the surfboards to the professional surfers who ensure their safety in the water, everyone plays a crucial role. “There are like 12 people in the water just for me,” Lauren explains. “Somebody’s checking the waves from one side, somebody’s calling the waves, somebody’s pushing the board.”

Riding the Waves: The Surfing Experience

For participants like Lauren, the experience of surfing is nothing short of magical. “It is like being on a magic carpet ride,” she exclaims. “I just go crazy for it. It’s wonderful, it’s a wonderful feeling.” Her enthusiasm is infectious, and she readily admits to being one of the loudest people on the beach when she’s out on the waves.

The specialized surfboards and flotation devices used by the Adaptive Surf Project allow participants to experience the thrill of catching a wave, regardless of their physical limitations. “These are awesome, and they float,” Lauren says of the equipment. “They can get you pretty close to the water, and you can get out and then they put you on a board.”

The Power of Community Support

The Adaptive Surf Project’s success is a testament to the power of community support. Through donations, fundraising events, and volunteer efforts, the organization has been able to expand its reach and impact. “We’re so lucky to have people donate money and help us out and get more people in the water,” Lauren says.

The project’s growth has also been fueled by the dedication and passion of its volunteers. Many of them, like Lauren, have formed deep, lasting friendships through their involvement. “I have met some friends that I will cherish for the rest of my life out here,” she says.

Beyond Surfing: Expanding Adaptive Sports

While surfing remains the core activity, the Adaptive Surf Project has broadened its scope to include other adaptive sports. Kayaking, for instance, has become a popular addition to the program. “We’ve also organized adaptive kayaking,” Lauren notes. “There’s no end to the adaptive possibilities here at Atlantic Beach.”

These activities provide participants with new ways to engage with the water and enjoy the outdoors, further enhancing the project’s mission of inclusivity and accessibility.

Looking Ahead: Future Events and Opportunities

As the summer progresses, the Adaptive Surf Project has several more events planned. “This is the first time this summer, and we’re hoping for two more,” Lauren says. “August is my 60th birthday, so we’re going to be really celebrating.” These events offer more opportunities for individuals with disabilities to experience the joy of surfing and connect with the supportive community.

For those interested in getting involved, either as participants or volunteers, the Adaptive Surf Project’s website and Facebook page provide all the necessary information. “We would love to hear from you or get a donation from you,” Lauren encourages. “If anybody needed to come out that was disabled, we would love you to sign up on the website for the next event.”

A Testament to Human Spirit

The Adaptive Surf Project is a powerful reminder of what can be achieved when people come together with a shared purpose. It demonstrates that with determination, support, and a bit of creativity, barriers can be broken, and new possibilities can be created.

Lauren Goodwin’s story is just one of many that highlight the transformative impact of this organization. “Even if I didn’t get to surf, I got to be with some wonderful people at the beach,” she says. Her words reflect the essence of the Adaptive Surf Project: it’s about more than just surfing; it’s about community, love, and the unwavering belief that everyone deserves the chance to experience the freedom of the ocean.

Waves of Change

The Adaptive Surf Project provides a unique opportunity for individuals with disabilities to reconnect with the ocean and experience the joy of surfing. Through the dedication of volunteers, the generosity of donors, and the unwavering spirit of its participants, the project continues to make a profound difference in many lives.

For more information about the Adaptive Surf Project, upcoming events, or to make a donation, visit adaptivesurfprojectnc.com or find them on Facebook at Adaptive Surf Project of North Carolina. Together, we can ride the waves of change and ensure that everyone has the chance to experience the ocean’s magic.