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Surfing with Smiles Helps Kids with Disabilities Experience Water Sports
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Surfing with Smiles Helps Kids with Disabilities Experience Water Sports

Just ahead of the Hampton Beach strip, three times each summer, surfers host an event for kids with disabilities.

Back in 2009, a couple of longstanding friends -- one hailing from Windham and the other from Lawrence -- set the stage for a nonprofit organization dubbed, "Surfing with Smiles" on the public beach.

Fast-forward to 2017, and they're gearing up to host their biggest event yet.

The group aims at offering a couple of fun-filled hours on the water for kids with disabilities who in different circumstances may not be able to hop atop a surfboard and play in the waves.

Participants are recommended to bring someone who can walk into the water and look after them. Participation in the event neither requires surfing experience nor equipment.

24-year-old Hampshire native, Taylor Thomas and her longtime friend Lindsey Mercer, also 24, had the idea eight years ago and have developed it to include several other people comprising kids-turned-friends and volunteers.

Since her father has a company that offers rides to people with limited mobility, Mercer began working with individuals with disabilities when she was just 14. During a breathing spell, she'd usually go to the beach with Thomas.

At 16, Mercer and Thomas realized that a large number of people do not have an opportunity to surf.But rather than just having compassion for them, the bosom buddies decided to team up and do something about it.

They headed straight to a close by surf shop named Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Company and asked the owner David Cropper to assist them with organizing an event for people with special needs.

Cropper recalls trusting them right off the bat. He has been handing out boards and wet-suits to a large number of people who turn up each year to take part in the event.

Thomas deemed Cropper’s contribution as the real reason why individuals are able to participate free of charge. Cropper pointed out that the whole community comes forward to make this happen. Aside from a few locally renowned surf coaches, the event is graced by Nantucket, Massachusetts-based surfers who do not intend to miss even a single event.

These folks ensure they show up at everything. As far as providing supplies people need is concerned, Cropper says it has "worked itself out," and has come together exactly as anticipated.

To facilitate continuance and expansion of the Surfing with Smiles mission, Mercer, who works as a full-time occupational therapist, and Thomas, who works as a marketing expert, has combined their mutual expertise.

Mercer had not heard of occupational therapy until she got to college, but soon she realized that they have already been doing it in the form of Surfing with Smiles mission.

Multiple sensory integrations take place via surfing. In other words, individuals with sensory processing issues, which are often linked to autism, put on a wetsuit and simmer down thanks to the pressure on their skin, Mercer said.

Experts have also acknowledged benefits gained by sitting on a board and being gently rocked and calmed by waves that pass underneath.

At the beach, you are likely to catch sight of children who refrain from getting engaged in it. In fact, they are so nervous, that they do not even want to try popping up on the board in the sand, Thomas added.

By radiating positive energy, they try to make them feel snug as a bug in a rug and ready. In order to boost children's confidence, they clap and cheer. As a result, kids end up having a great time and do not want to leave.

Whether helping them with carrying a board into the water or just holding them up, volunteers are capable of providing appropriate assistance based on each child’s need.

Those taking part in the event do not have to divulge specifics of their disability. "For some, it's more obvious, but it's really none of our business. We help everyone regardless of their abilities," Mercer said.

To cover costs of supplies, snacks, and music, organizers of the event sell hats and t-shirts and also accept donations.

Taking New England's unpredictable weather and ocean conditions into consideration, Thomas and Mercer regularly update the Facebook page of Surfing with Smiles notifying people if an event needs to be rescheduled in advance. Those interested in participating in the concluding event of the summer, slated to take place on the evening of August 10, can email surfingwithsmiles@gmail.com.

(Image Credit: The G-Zone/YouTube)

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