Support high for surf event for kids with autism

A surfing event will again provide a day to Hang 10 for children and families living with autism.

Surrey B.C. resident Dennis Nerpio hatched the idea in 2012 after taking his son surfing.

His son had been diagnosed with autism at age 4. The two started shared amazing experiences on the water and Nerpio wanted to create an opportunity for other families dealing with autism to share the West Coast’s surfing experience.

He brought his idea to Myrosha Daley of the Rip Curl Pro Tofino and Daley was stoked to help the idea snowball.

“Any time you have a chance to expose someone to the surfing experience especially someone that might not get that opportunity for us that’s pretty powerful,” Daley said. “To take someone surfing who might not otherwise have a chance to go surfing that’s the motivation.”

Daley said the initial plan was to create a separate heat for the kids at the Rip Curl Pro event in June but it quickly morphed into a fullblown day camp of its own that runs every September.

A Mainland based organization called Harmony House came on board and provides therapists all of whom donate their time to ensure the kids have a positive experience on the ocean, according to Daley.

The therapists connect with local surf instructors and a barbecue is held the day before the event so they can meet and develop a relationship with each other that helps them work in tandem with the end goal being enhancing each child’s experience.

The first event took about a year to organize 12 children and their families came to experience Tofino’s surf.

The event was such a success that registration expanded to 24 children and their families in 2013 and the wave continues to swell with 36 kids already signed up for this year’s event.

Daley said registration for this year’s camp filled up within two weeks.

While he’s stoked to have so many kids sharing their surfing experiences Daley said the event will never sacrifice its commitment to having a therapist and an instructor helping each budding surfer.

“There’s similar events around the world but one of the things that’s different about ours is each child has a one to one to one ratio with a surf instructor and a therapist,” he said.

“To help the transition into the water the therapist is there (and) as we grow we want to make sure we continue to maintain that same quality of experience.”

During a brainstorm on how to open the camp to more participants consideration was given to splitting the camp into two separate groups with 24 kids participating one day and another 24 participating the next but Daley feared this would take away from the interaction and networking opportunities the camp offers.

He said having all the kids together allows relationships develop between the kids and their families and bring the autistic community and surfing community together.

He said support from Ucluelet and Tofino’s surfing communities has been huge.

“We have more instructors offering their time than we have spots and that to me is overwhelming,” he said.

All instructors donate their time as do the therapists and this allows the camp to be free for families but fundraising is still needed to get them to Tofino.

Long Beach Surf Shop provides surfboards and wetsuits each year and Long Beach Lodge provides a venue for the guests to get geared up and ready to hit the beach.

“We’ve been able to organize the event so that the surfing instruction component and consultant component has no cost to the families but there is costs in getting to Tofino and staying in Tofino so our fundraising goals are to offset those costs,” Daley said.

“There’s a really significant cost associated with having a child diagnosed with autism so the ultimate goal is that the families sign up and come and it doesn’t cost them anything.”

The Tofino and Ucluelet Coastal Community Credit Union branches have come up with a sweet way to help locals support the cause with candy bags on sale for $2. There is a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo for locals to support and a Twitter account @Autism_SurfsUp as well as a Facebook page to like.