A Wave of Support for Special Kids...
Despite ominous dark clouds and a chilly drizzle late afternoon on Tuesday, the atmosphere at the sweeping crescent beach in Kennebunk was audibly jubilant. I watched as nearly 100 volunteers wearing black wetsuits splashed into the 62-degree water, then turned to await the children.
And to the water the children came, all in wetsuits, some helping carry five-foot-long surfboards. Others held their parents’ hands or were carried in wheelchairs. Many strode confidently towards the surf, a few needed encouragement. All were kids with “special needs” — Downs Syndrome, autism, Dubowicz Syndrome and cerebral palsy. They also had guts, not to mention smiles on their faces.
The event was Special Surfer Night at Kennebunk Beach, held every third Tuesday in June, July and August. This free program was started 10 years ago by Nanci Boutet, a local lady who owns Aquaholics Surf Shop. In the past decade Special Surfer Night has grown to be a signature event in this Maine village, thanks to Nanci and her dedicated group of volunteers.
Families travel from as far away as Rhode Island and Massachusetts so their children may experience the thrill and joy of riding a surfboard. The Special Surfer website states: “We have no rules, no expectations. We just want them to have fun.”
Surfing is not an easy sport for even a gifted athlete but that didn’t stop these 95 kids, aged 5 to 25, from climbing on slippery boards and riding the waves. One boy, probably 12, first knelt, then managed to stand up and wave his arms triumphantly in the air, yelling “Yaaaaay” as he rode all the way to shore.
Watching these beautiful children tugs the heartstrings. I’m also in awe of the volunteers who make Special Surfer Night happen.
Because of the sheer volume of cars and trucks lining the beach, some families have to park their cars a mile away at the Washington Hose Company. From there they are driven in vans provided for free by Smart Transportation, a local company providing transportation for non-emergency medical patients.
Most of the white, blue and green surfboards have been donated, as have the countless wetsuits. Every volunteer I spoke with — from the woman zipping up her wetsuit while standing next to her car to the ladies in tents signing in the volunteers and greeting families — repeated the same words: “This is the best, I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
I thought of what I do on many summer nights. I might go to a cocktail party, a porch gathering or a musical concert. That’s summer in Maine. But this magical night transcended my social norm and reminded me of the power of giving
I’m proud of our town. I have no doubt villages across the country do equally good things for special needs kids. And I’m also in awe of people like Parker Perry, Gail Hackett Clark and the hundreds of unnamed folk who make Special Surfer Night happen. They are as special as the kids who experience several hours of exhilarating joy at Kennebunk Beach.
(For more information, go to AquaholicsSpecialSurfers.org)