For two days on the Dutch coast, 24 blind and visually impaired children took to the ocean and were taught how to surf as part of The Out of Bounds program within The O’Neill Surf Academy.
For 10 year old Dion Terlingen, who is completely blind and autistic, it was not only his first time on a surfboard, it was also his first time in the sea, the enjoyment of which he could not hide. “We were encouraging him to stand up on his board,” said O’Neill volunteer Femke Terpstra. “As soon as he stood up, he said ‘I’ve done it, now I want to play in the water’. He was playing around in the waves non-stop for the rest of the day.
Eva Van Den Berg, 17, who is completely blind, arrived at Out of Bounds, shy, her head down, saying she was not good at sports. After two hours in the water, elated from standing on her board, Eva declined a rest: “I can rest for the rest of the holidays,” she said.
Out of Bounds came from the inspiration of Santa Cruz native, Yael Dahan, a photographer and a surfer who worked with O’Neill to create the first program of its kind in Europe.
“There were moments in the water where I looked around and I could not find a single face with out a smile on it,” Yael said. “There is just something about the ocean that affects us all in such a positive and profound way. Through this project my respect grew stronger not only for the kids but for the power of the ocean as well.”
Each kid was paired with an instructor as well as two volunteers from O’Neill – a ‘buddy’ and a ‘catcher’ to be there at the end of their wave. They were guided through the day and safety in the sea by local Santa Cruz surfer, Joey Hudson.
“This is my seventh year on The Surf Academy,” said Joey, “but my first time teaching blind kids to surf. It’s a different experience in some ways – like having to describe the motions rather than just demonstrating,” he said. “But essentially it’s the same as teaching fully sighted children. It’s about getting in the water, having fun outdoors on the beach, and getting a thrill from standing up on the board.”
Also involved in the day was Adil Latif. The Glasgow born 27 year old was there as inspiration for the kids, sharing his adventures. Adil, who has been losing his sight since the age of 14 and now has just 3% of his vision left, recently took a heli-drop and snowboarded down a glacier. “I wanted to share my experiences so these kids realise that we can all push the boundaries we think we have.”
It was not just the kids, who came from all over Holland, who benefited from the day in the water. O’Neill volunteers, instructors and also the parents of the kids walked away with a smile from the whole experience.
“It’s so great to sit here and watch Vince laugh and really have fun out there,” said the father of 10 year old Vince Jansen. “It’s also great to know that he’s safe with three people looking after him, so we don’t have to worry,” he said. “It’s a 24 hour a day job caring for him, so this has been an incredible experience for him as well as us.”
For Bernhard Ritzer, O’Neill’s global events manager, the experience is something that he will never forget: “It was far beyond my expectations. I could never have imagined how impressive the kids were – their intuition, their trust and their attitude of just going for it. It was an amazing two days.”
The Out of Bounds program will return to the beach next year, to not only provide these 24 kids with another opportunity in the water, but also to open up the joy of surfing to a new group of kids.