Over 100 kids hit the waves for the eigth annual Surf’s Up For Autism event at Cox Bay from Sept. 7-8. From left, Keagan Emerson, 9, and instructor Kalum Bruhwiler Temple watch Ryder Owen, 7, catch a wave with the help of instructor Emma Blomeley during the weekend’s siblings’ surf festivities ohn Sunday. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Surf’s Up Tofino offers wave of positivity for families living with autism

“There’s no other opportunity like this for kids like Rylan.”

Momentous cheers and emboldened smiles filled Cox Bay last weekend as the SUPA Society hosted its eighth annual Surf’s Up for Autism event in Tofino.

“He’s in absolute heaven,” Heidi Davis said of her nine-year-old son Rylan on Sunday. “He was in the water all day yesterday and he’ll probably be in the water all day today.”

Rylan was one of 70 kids on the autism spectrum who hit the waves during the two-day event and Davis told the Westerly News the support he received from the Surf’s Up crew allowed him to bask in a non-judgmental environment where he could learn and thrive at his own pace.

“He’s very athletic and smart, but he’s been in lots of different sports and lessons and teams and he hasn’t been successful because he’s had such a hard time and hasn’t had the supports he needs,” she said. “He’s had a lot of trouble getting supports obtained in school and a lot of other areas and this was something he could be successful at and actually be proud of himself…It’s an amazing opportunity. He just felt free. He got to feel proud of himself. That’s the most important thing, you see the smiles on their faces when they’re out there and coming in, there’s something they can be proud of.”

She added this was her family’s first Surf’s Up experience and she was awed by how much work the SUPA Society puts in to making it a success.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” she said. “It’s really positive and really successful…There’s no other opportunity like this for kids like Rylan.”

The Surf’s Up weekend maintains a two-to-one ratio on the water with each participant teamed up with a surf instructor and support worker.

Lauren White, a surf instructor with Tofino Surf Adventures, told the Westerly she had heard how “amazing” the event is to experience from her colleagues who had participated in past years and she was delighted to score a spot on this year’s team of instructors.

“It’s been super, super, awesome seeing how excited the kids are and how far they come,” she said. “Some of them go from being afraid of the water and the ocean to catching waves like a pro by the end of it and it’s just so awesome to see the pure excitement on their faces and them smiling and having a great time.”

Surf’s Up For Autism was launched by Dennis Nerpio after he was inspired by a surf trip he had enjoyed with his son, who had recently been diagnosed with autism, in 2012.

Nerpio beamed on the beach as he told the Westerly that this year’s event welcomed 70 kids on the spectrum as well as roughly 50 siblings.

“It’s just been an awesome weekend,” he said. “I judge everything based on the smiles on the kids and everyone’s smiling…They’re doing something they’ve never done before.”

He said the event offers an important, uplifting, experience for both the kids and their families to take a trip they might not otherwise think possible.

“Everyone knows it’s a struggle. We’re all on the same path, but the journeys are a little different for each of us,” he said. “These things, like surfing, [parents] wouldn’t even think about doing and they’re just stoked that they’re able to experience surfing and we’re able to share it with them.”

He added the West Coast communities have been unwavering in their support for the event.

“They’re not judgmental. They’re just here to support us. Open arms is what it is. This community is just open arms,” he said.

The event is made possible by numerous sponsorships and partnerships, including the Canucks Autism Network and Nerpio was thrilled to receive a new donation this year from Native Shoes, which provided each participant with custom SUPA Society kicks.

“We’re super proud to support Surf’s Up,” the Canucks Autism Network’s vice president of programs, training and community engagement Stephanie Jull told the Westerly.

“It’s just amazing to see the kids in the water all weekend having success and families smiling and parents seeing their kids do things they didn’t even think were possible. And, the fact that the siblings get to participate as well and the whole family gets to come and enjoy the weekend is so amazing. We’re so happy to be here.”

Jaime Emerson brought her three sons Kolton, 7, Keagan, 9 and Kalem 17, from Abbotsford and said one of her favourite aspects of the event is that siblings are included.

“For families with children who are on the autism spectrum, a lot of the times your whole lifestyle and the things that you do are orientated to what that child can handle, so it makes it very difficult sometimes for their siblings,” she said. “It’s nice that the child with autism goes first and then, afterwards, it’s all about the siblings; it makes them feel just as special.”

This was the first time her family had participated in Surf’s Up.

“We usually don’t do things as a family unplanned because we have to make sure that Kalem can handle them…For families with autism, it’s very hard to get out and do things as a family where everyone is accepted,” she said. “So when you come together and it’s just a big group of people that all know what different adversities you face and you’re able to overcome, it’s just nice to be in an environment that’s supportive.”

She added that she was impressed with how the event was organized, including receiving behaviour assessments from each participant so the team can put a strategy together to make sure everyone has a good time.

“The Surfs Up team here have been fabulous and everything’s been laid out for us,” she said. “It was just amazing because they catered to what my son needed, but they also were able to include us as a family with other families.”



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

READ MORE: B.C. teen with autism a talented guitarist

READ MORE: Surf camp in Tofino connects families living with autism

READ MORE: Surf’s Up camp in Tofino gives a break to families living with autism

Just Posted

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan (left) and Kairry Nguyen. The family says they are relieved the trial process has come to close Monday morning with Tenessa Nikirk found guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sentencing begins for distracted driver in collision that left 11-year-old Island girl in coma

Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since she was hit at a Saanich crosswalk in 2017

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor has expressed concerns about the excessive freighters parked in the Salish Sea for quite some time. (Photo submitted)
MacGregor introduces bill to address freighter anchorages

Concerns about the environment, noise, pollution and safety abundant

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Victoria police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

Campbell River's new hospital, July 2018
Nurse diverts opiates and falsifies records at Campbell River Hospital

Nurse facing disciplinary action for moving opiates out of the hospital

Premier-elect John Horgan, during a visit in Sidney, broadly promised improvements to transit among other issues in the riding of Saanich North and the Islands, even after voters re-elected BC Green Adam Olsen as Member of the Legislative Assembly. (Black Press Media file photo)
Premier-elect John Horgan promises to work with all MLAs and for all ridings

‘There are a whole bunch of views in the community and they need to be heard and I intend to listen.’

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Can you spot all 12 Days of Christmas displays at the Butchart Gardens? Jen Blyth photo.
The magic of Christmas returns to the Butchart Gardens

Some events cancelled due to COVID-10 but 12 Days of Christmas will brighten the season

(Pxfuel)
B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Victoria police are looking for high-risk offender Douglas McPherson. (Courtesy of VicPD)
High-risk parolee with history of bank robbery believed to be in Victoria

Police ask for public’s help locating 64-year-old parolee

A modular unit is lifted into place on the supportive housing complex at 580 Dogwood Street on Oct. 22. Photo by Cleo Corbett/City of Campbell River
Campbell River’s newest supportive housing facility rises on Dogwood Street

Pre-fab modular construction means the building can go on the foundation in under five days

Nanaimo RCMP are looking for a suspect who rammed a police car to escape an arrest attempt. (File photo)
Drug trafficking suspect rams police vehicle in Nanaimo and escapes arrest

Suspect still at large after fleeing from police in Harewood on Friday afternoon

Const. Graham Walker of the Saanich Traffic Safety Unit recreates an incident involving a driver who police say attempted to film the scene of a crash while driving up Highway 17. (Saanich Police/Twitter)
Police track down driver caught filming accident scene on Pat Bay Highway

Driver issued $368 ticket, points on their licence

Most Read