Maybe you surf, maybe you don't. But on one special day each year, when the California-based Waves of Impact sponsors a free surf camp for local children with special needs and disabilities here on the beach in Ship Bottom, it’s impossible not to be moved by the magical effects that the ocean—and surfing in particular—has on our community.
Since it’s inception in 2010, Waves of Impact, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has been introducing individuals facing exceptional challenges to the thrill of riding waves, while focusing on building and rebuilding confidence in those who need it most. It was created by a passionate group of watermen who recognized the powerful impact our oceans have on those who need it most, translated through a modality they refer to as surf therapy. "I've gained so much from the sport of surfing that I'd be remiss in not sharing it with others. At an early age I read about Duke Kahanamoku and how his love for the surfing was so great that he set out to introduce it to the world. His example had a profound effect on me,” shares one of the co-founders, Keith Lovgren. He and Josh Harper met at a children’s surf camp and realized the benefit surfing could have on those with disabilities, including children and wounded veterans. In the past six years alone, Waves of Impact has provided 3,862 children and their families with great surf days and connections to the community around them, and has taught 115 wounded veterans how to surf and reconnect through shared camaraderie. All of this has been done with 100% volunteer efforts and without any solicitation from the families that they serve, as their funding comes from a variety of sponsors, businesses and private charitable contributions. Along with the support from local NJ surf pros Sam Hammer and Rob Kelly since day one, they have an amazing team of volunteers with years of surfing expertise that offer one of a kind experiences to people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to try surfing or even be able to go swimming in the ocean. “LBI is one of our favorites stops on the tour! We rely heavily on volunteer support in the communities where we have events in, and the LBI community has really embraced our cause,” adds Josh Harper.
And so, on Wednesday July 31, 2019 Waves of Impact will empower the LBI-area children with special needs and show them the transformative properties of the sea by hosting its 6th annual LBI surf camp for children who struggle with these challenges on the 26th Street beach in Ship Bottom (the headquarters of the Ship Bottom Beach Patrol). “We are humbled by the courage of these kids, the love of the parents and the dedication and energy of all the volunteers,” shares Brian Farias, one of the second-generationers to take over the local legacy retailer, Farias Surf and Sport, who hosts the organization and donates everything from volunteers to financial support in order to ensure the event runs free-of-charge to the families in need every year. Farias’s parents started the family-owned business as a beach gear rental company in 1969 out of their garage in Surf City, and now, 50 years later, not only have they grown to six retail locations on Long Beach Island, but the second and third generations of owners work tirelessly to give back to the community in any way they can through such initiatives. “Having the support of Brian Farias and his team has helped us have such a larger impact. We rely a lot on local community support to make these free surf camps happen, and Brian does an amazing job rallying the beach community to come help share the stoke with us. He also lets us borrow surf boards and anything else we need so that we ensure each surfer has the best experience,” notes Harper.
As surfers, they clearly understand the restorative power of the ocean’s energy, as well as the peaceful feeling and deep spiritual connection that comes along with riding its waves. The philosopher Plato famously said, “The sea cures all ailments of man,” and in the modern world there happens to be a lot of science to back up that claim: In 2012 researchers at Spain’s University of Alicante showed that that ocean water activates the immune system—it was proven to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and increase white blood cell count, in turn strengthening the body against viruses, low defenses, bacteria, and other seasonal pathogens. Being rich in mineral salts such as sodium and iodine, ocean water can be considered an antiseptic, meaning it even has wound-healing properties. When immersed in warm seawater, the body can actually absorb the minerals it needs (such as magnesium) through the skin. Seawater increases elasticity of skin and also improves circulation, helping the body to carry blood to all its vital organs.
There are plenty more positive effects from a day at sea: Sea air is charged with negative ions, which, despite their name, are good— as they fight free radicals, build our body’s capacity to absorb more oxygen, and most importantly counter the effects of positive ions (the bad ions) that we are exposed to on a regular basis such as those emitted from our computers, cell phones, microwaves, WIFI devices, EMFs, etc. To put it into perspective, the ocean is reported to contain tens of thousands of negative ions, while the average home or office building, may contain only a few hundred (if they have some plants) or sometimes even none at all. When we are by the sea, we feel energized and relaxed because these ions literally give our cells vitality. Study after study from Columbia University in the 1990s to Dr Hansell's work in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1998, to Dr Igho Hart Kornblueh, from the University of Pennsylvania, found that negative ions affect the serotonin levels in the brain, less dramatically (and synthetically) than a prescription anti-depressant. They find that negative ions have a sedative, healing and pain-relieving effect, and in some cases negative ion therapy can even be an effective treatment and prevention for depression. This induces favorable physiological changes that promote good health, boosts our immune system, reduces inflammation and encourage cognitive development.
Families who have children with special challenges face extraordinary hurdles and often times the kids and their families are isolated from those around them by the circumstances they face. Through this surfing and beach experience for the entire family, Waves of Impact fosters friendship and support for these families to empower participants who enjoy a much-deserved day of laughter, love, and acceptance alongside their family. For one perfect day at the beach, there are no labels. Everyone is an athlete. And there are plenty of happy tears to be seen when the beauty of the stoke sets in with these kids. One parent describes of her experience with the surf camp: “One of the nicest things about this event for me was that I got to watch him experience this from afar (which is not something that happens often, I’m usually right in the middle of the action for safety reasons). It was such a treat to see him beaming each time he successfully rode in on a wave. It took quite a bit of convincing from the surfers to get Jackson to stand on the board. At first, he really didn’t want to, but after some reassurance and giggles…he finally pulled it off! And then I ugly cried in front of everyone…and it didn’t matter... Because Jackson was surfing! I cannot thank Waves of Impact enough for providing us with this magical experience! It was the highlight of our month!” Another parent writes, “We stayed on the island during the storm, then were displaced for two months. Ed had nightmares for a while about our home being washed into the sea (didn’t happen in real life, thankfully). So, to us this event was an especially meaningful chance to build new, positive, and happy memories of our coastline and to experience such an outpouring of love and kindness from folks who care about the ocean and our kids with special needs.” Josh Harper adds, “We exist to introduce individuals facing exceptional challenges the thrill of riding waves. We also focus on building and rebuilding confidence in those who need it most…We started Waves of Impact to help support more families. One awesome story that is an example of what motivates us to do more and expand our program is when a parent told us her son wasn't really been excited about anything recently. Then he came to a Waves of Impact camp. After our surf camp, he started taking his Olympic style surf medal, that he earned after the event, to school every day and wears it as a badge of honor! At Waves of Impact, we want to show parents what their children can do. It's amazing to hear what some of these kids have done after they have surfed with us. Our surf experiences really help build confidence in the children as well as gives their parents courage to try more things other than surfing that they didn't think were possible.”
Every now and then, something occurs to restore one’s faith in humanity. On LBI, this happens to be the day when the Waves of Impact surf camp tour lands in Ship Bottom, LBI. Onlookers can’t help but fall in love with the smiles, the laughter, kids just being kids on a surfboard riding the waves. If you or someone that you know can benefit from this experience, please sign up via the website: https://wavesofimpact.com/surf-camp-dates-information. And while there is no shortage of surf therapy groups that give back, this also means that they are always in need of volunteers to help on this day and throughout the year. If you or anyone wants to volunteer on land or in the water, or if any businesses want to support their cause, please email email@example.com or inquire about volunteering at Farias’ flagship store (on Long Beach Blvd at 28th Street in Ship Bottom). And even if you can’t volunteer, come spend some time on the beach in Ship Bottom this year to cheer on these kids and their volunteer aquatic cowboys and cowgirls. They will all be thrilled to have your support, and you could probably use the extra Vitamin Sea yourself.