Meg Comer | June 14, 2019
Photos By: Ben Thomson + Adam Roth
A Walk on Water, or AWOW, is a non-profit organization that affords children and young adults with different abilities the opportunity to go surfing. What is perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects of this program, is that athlete’s siblings are taken out surfing right alongside them. There are many programs that exist that provide adaptive services, however there are few opportunities available where a differently abled child is able to engage in an activity at the same level their typically developing sibling does. The ocean does not care who you are, or where you come from, it provides equal opportunity for all. This enables AWOW the ability to provide this equalizing opportunity for siblings.
For anyone who has never witnessed an AWOW event, let me paint you a picture.
Athletes arrive on the beach and are immediately greeted by dedicated and passionate volunteers, ensuring every person that sets foot at the event feels warm and welcomed. Experienced volunteers assist athletes and their families in putting on wetsuits and protective life jackets. Each athlete is then expertly paired with a highly-skilled, welcoming surf instructor, ensuring a trusting connection is established right at the start. After some introductions, practice and high fives, beach and water safety escort the teams of two out to the lineup, where they await for that perfect wave to roll in.
What happens next is the most enchanting part.
Instructors paddle themselves and their athlete into a wave, and no matter who the athlete is, within seconds of feeling the rush of the waves energy, every single athlete has an electrifying smile on their face. Parents, siblings, friends and volunteers look on, watching an athlete who began their journey to the line up crying, yelling, clutching their instructor close out of apprehension; to one that is pumping the air with their fists in victory, begging their instructor to hurry up and catch another wave.
Last year, I was at an event in Virginia Beach, the first ever event held there. I remember being paired with a 3 year old boy, Nicholas, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder and was nonverbal. As we paddled out into the lineup, he was clutching me tight, rocking back and forth with his eyes closed. As I reassured him he was safe, I spotted a wave, spun around and began to paddle into the wave. The next thing I know, I’m standing riding the wave, and I feel Nicholas climb to his feet, waving his hands in the air with joy. We rode that wave all the way in to shore, and as we began to paddle out for another, I clear as day recall hearing him say the word “more”.
We receive countless reports from parents of athlete’s speaking first words after a session, that an athlete slept through the night for the first time in years; that for weeks their child was happier. AWOW means celebration, empowerment, community; family. It is a privilege to have these athletes let you into their world, to play even a small role in their transformative experience with AWOW; showing them that they are loved for exactly who they were born to be.
About Meg: A resident of Manasquan, NJ, Meg has been
volunteering with AWOW for a year and a half.