Surfing enthusiasts know that Oahu’s waters offer waves for every ability level. Winter vacationers who are veteran surfers flock to the legendary North Shore; beginners hoping to catch their first wave stick to calmer waters in the south.
The disability community claims White Plains Beach, a serene park on leeward Oahu that has become ground zero for adaptive surfing.
At the heart of this surfing clan is AccessSurf, a small nonprofit that’s pioneering barrier-free ocean experiences for people with physical and cognitive disabilities.
“This is a program where everyone is accepted, everyone is included and everyone is very integrated,’’ said Cara Short, the executive director.
Vacationers can easily join the action, but be aware that spending one afternoon riding waves with these folks might get you hooked.
“They have become my ohana [family] from the moment I first met them, and they welcome me back every year with open arms,” Jeremy Levy of Parker, Colo., said in an email.
Levy, who is blind, said he couldn’t find anyone to teach him to surf until he connected with AccessSurf. Now his family schedules annual vacations around the organization’s Day on the Beach, a monthly event open to all. It’s usually the first Saturday of the month; check the organization’s event calendar as part of your trip planning.
If you go, you’ll be greeted with aloha spirit by a team of staff and volunteers — about 200 of them — whose passion and expertise have earned the program international acclaim. Serious competitors also travel to Oahu from all over the world to practice with this group.
Spike Kane, who has paralysis from the armpits down, regularly travels from Vista, Calif., to work out with AccessSurf.
“I already knew the mechanics of adaptive surfing, but I was only doing prone at the time,” he said, describing how he used to surf with a lot of assistance. “I didn’t know there was another way to adapt my board.”
Working with Short, he settled on a board modified with a chest riser to keep his head up and out of the water. With this adaptation, he was able to paddle out and push himself and his board up on a wave.
“I thought, ‘This is something I can do without a big load of people in the water panicking over me,’ ” he said. “From that moment on, I was, like, ‘This is the real deal. This is going to change my life.’ ”
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