Indo Jax was born in 2007 when owner Jack Viorel set out to share his love for the ocean and riding waves. A schoolteacher, Viorel was looking for a way to work during the summers and decided to open a for profit surf camp in Wilmington, North Carolina. After he had things up and running, he was approached by the Boys & Girls club to run a clinic for them and later by a liaison from a school for visually impaired children. From there, Viorel turned his program into a non-profit and further expanded his programs to include camps for children with austism, childhood cancer, cystic fibrosis, and more.
While there are a number of non-profits offering one-day surf programs, Indo Jax is unique in that its camps are three days long. Three days gives kids, especially those who are nervous, a chance to be challenged and build their skills over the course of the program.
“When you go in the ocean, it’s an amazing feeling,” says Steve Perez who is on the board of directors and in charge of fund raising. “What we’ve found with our kids with special needs is that when we bring them into the water and get them on a surfboard, it builds confidence and self esteem.”
Camps regularly take place during the summers in North Carolina, with a few special programs in California. At camps, kids get the chance to work one on one with a professional instructor who will help them surf solo or ride tandem, depending on his or her abilities. In addition to instructors, there are a number of volunteers from the local surf community or junior lifeguards that are in the water and on the beach for added safety and ready to offer assistance.
Year after year, the camp is overjoyed at the success of its programs and the ways it positively impacts their participants. One such example is a visually impaired child that the staff lovingly refers to as “Dynamite.”
Dynamite attended a regular school where he was often teased for his poor vision. After attending an Indo Jax camp, he returned to school where a video of him surfing was showed at a school assembly and he quickly became one of the “cool” kids. Dynamite has been attending camps for years and now requires zero assistance aside from being cued when a wave is coming. Two years ago, he was informed he was no longer allowed to attend the camp as his skills had surpassed what they were able to teach him. Instead, he was promoted to an instructor, which he was overjoyed about.
“Beyond the children, sometimes it’s the impact it has on the parents, demonstrating that their child is capable of more than they’re allowing them to do because they were being overprotective or concerned they couldn’t do something,” says Perez. “We’ve had so many parents say that now they’re going to try more things.”
The trickle effect goes on and on, Perez says. Siblings are invited to participate in the camp and surf with their special needs brother or sister. Beyond the family, the program has a huge influence on the staff and volunteers as well as they get to witness the empowering and transformative experience the camp has.
Like many people, Perez first caught wind of TANDM Surf on Shark Tank and thought the boards could be a great tool for their camps. For kids that are more nervous to get into the water, he thought the bodyboards could offer a more secure feeling. Additionally, he thinks it would be a fun way for parents that are non-surfers to get into the water with their child. He’s excited about the possibilities the board has to offer and so, this summer, TANDM Surf is partnering with Indo Jax and will have boards available at the camps.
While Indo Jax is all about surfing and the ocean, they empower people to take whatever their passion is and use it in a positive way. Although they don’t have plans to expand their program, they are open to going in and helping teaching people who’d like to do something similar about their program and help them get started.
“We’ve always said that surfing is not the goal,” says Perez. “Surfing is the tool we use to work with kids who have special needs.”
To learn more about Indo Jax click here
To donate or register for camps click here
Photos: RunAmuck Photography