With 81 kids, and over 130 volunteers, this year’s Surfing for Autism event was the biggest and most successful yet. Participants covered the beach surrounding Jennette’s Pier on Saturday, coming together for a day at the beach unlike any other.
Now in its third year, Surfing for Autism was born from humble beginnings when co-founders Mark Slagle and Eileen Lowery met in a local coffee shop. “There were things like this in Wrightsville and Virginia Beach, but we didn’t have anything like it around here,” Slagle said. “My wife Cyndi works in the Exceptional Children program for Dare County Schools, and I wanted to get her kids involved. Eileen had the same idea about getting kids in the water, and so our names just got put together.”
The mission of Surfing for Autism is to offer individuals and families impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder a supportive environment to connect and share by creating opportunities to experience the therapeutic benefits of surfing. In the water, each child is paired with two surfers and a skilled therapist to get them paddling around and catching some waves.
Slagle said Surfing for Autism wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of local surfers and volunteers, and it truly shows. It seems like every familiar local face comes out of all the nooks and crannies of the Outer Banks for this event. “When we first started the event, I talked to Jesse Hines, and we felt like we had the best surfers, the best people on the Outer Banks that would just wrap around something like this,” Slagle said. “We would not be able to do this without the awesome people of the Outer Banks.”
The kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from this incredible event. Though the focus is on children and families affected by the disorder, volunteers seem equally impacted. “Surfing for Autism is one of the most life-changing events I’ve ever been a part of,” volunteer Winfield Bevins said. “It’s an amazing day where people from all over the community come together to make a difference in the lives of these children and their families by sharing the gift of surfing.”