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Surf Camp Empowers Area Special Needs Kids

Friendship Circle teamed up with the Chevron Surf Camp for the third year in a row to give special needs kids the opportunity to surf.

For the third year running, Chevron Surf Camp teamed up with the local nonprofit Friendship Circle this week to offer special needs kids in the South Bay a chance to learn how to surf.

Twenty-two local special needs kids participated in what organizers and parents called a judgment-free environment during the weeklong surf camp held near the Hermosa Beach pier.

"It is really good for (the kids) because it gives them the opportunity to do something where someone is not judging them," said Chris Ashley of Torrance, who brought her son Peter to the camp for the third year in a row. "If they were in a class that didn't have a lot of other special needs kids, they would get criticized a lot by their peers," she said.

"It is a unique opportunity and we are really glad it is there... Without it, we would have a bummer of a summer," said Ashley.

Ashley's sentiment was one that was echoed by parents as they gathered on the beach following Thursday's lessons.

"It is an opportunity to develop relationships and make friends with kids who are a little more typical, which is hard sometimes," said Manhattan Beach resident Michael, who was waiting to pick up his son Sam. "They are really appreciated for their differences instead of resented because of them."

Friendship Circle director Jason Flentye said that although the kids go to the beach on outings all the time, actually getting in the water and on a surfboard is a truly unique opportunity.

"It is a completely accepting environment," said Flentye. "The act of surfing and having their friends next to them is sort of encouraging them to do something where there is a definite feeling of accomplishment." 

In order to successfully offer that unique opportunity, the camp relies heavily on local teenagers who volunteer their time to provide a high instructor-to-student ratio. At a minimum, all students are paired with two instructors and some kids have up to six.

"The people that work here have such good hearts," said Manhattan Beach resident John Holliday as he sat on the beach and watched as instructors helped his son Anthony. "They are out there working with our children, giving them something that nobody else can really do with them." 

For the volunteers and directors of the camp, the experience of working with Friendship Circle is mutually beneficial.

"We get just as much out of it as they do," said Chevron Surf Camp's Vince Ray, a Redondo Beach resident and surf instructor of 25 years. "It is just so much fun to see a smile, give somebody a high five... It is just inspirational because they try so hard." 

Although not every student will eventually stand up on a surfboard, simply catching and riding a wave on their knees or stomachs is quite an experience for many of these kids.

"He was up on the board for about three seconds standing up," said Michael of his son Sam. "I asked, 'How did that make you feel?'" Michael recalled. "He said, 'Proud'."

C August 17, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Hey Patch writers, please make a note for next time, that they are children first. Their special needs are secondary. = "children with special needs" Thanks! Great article and good job pointing out such an awesome organization!
Liz Spear August 18, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Hi C, Good point, & I wish we all could look at others as children first and not define others by their specials needs, disabilities, mental illness, etc. Even adults are children... :) Thanks for your comment and compliments. We strive to cover the goodness in the world, indeed! :)
Vince Ray August 25, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Yes John should have said "kids with special needs" but that term change is new to the public. He did a good job on the article and shot some great photos! Vince Ray director of the Hermosa Beach Friendship Circle Surf Camp and the Hermosa Beach Chevron Surf camp. www.hermosasurfcamp.com

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