Founded in 2017 by lifelong surfer Robert Simek, Waves of Strength’s mission is to empower kids who are disadvantaged through the experience of surfing. The non-profit caters to children who may be battling a disease, living with a disability, or are experiencing an unfortunate experience that may prohibit them from surfing. The organization is a big believer in the power of surf therapy and the ocean’s positive effects on cognitive and physical development, self-confidence, and personal growth.
Waves of Strength is based out of Long Beach Island, New Jersey and participants hail from the island and the surrounding area. Long Beach Island is home to an active surf community and some of the best waves on the east coast, making it an ideal location for hosting surf therapy events.
Surf events take place each summer and are powered by support from local businesses and a wide cast of volunteers. Approximately 80 kids participate in an event, with 90 volunteers there to support them. Land volunteers help figure out logistics like life jackets and getting everybody coordinated while ocean volunteers are experienced surfers and are the ones ensuring the safety of the kids on the water.
“It’s such an uplifting and gratifying experience to see what surfing and being in the ocean can do,” says volunteer Pete Machotka. “The ocean is like the great equalizer, nothing matters once you’re there—to see those kids experience that and the pure joy that they get from it is amazing.”
Waves of Strength recently hosted their second annual event and once again, it was a hit. Kate Krawiec’s sons, RJ and Hunter, both participated in the event for the second year in the row. RJ (11) has autism and AHDH, making focusing on a particular learning task challenging, while Hunter (6) has arachnoid cysts, which results in some cognitive challenges like increased anxiety in certain situations.
“We showed up and Hunter was really hesitant because he was concerned about the waves so he just wanted to sit in the water,” says Krawiec. “Someone showed him the TANDM board and he got very excited and went out with his team of instructors and had a blast. It went from he didn’t want to do anything to every time he came in he asked if he could go again.”
As a parent, Krawiec is blown away watching her kids learn a new skill and have so much fun doing it. She says being in the ocean and learning to surf is something that increases their confidence—a confidence that they carry with them over the course of the year.
Fifteen-year-old participant Xavier Ray is paralyzed from the waist down but has been surfing since he was two. He loves surfing because it is something that he can do just like everyone else. Some of his teammates from wheelchair basketball joined him at this year’s event and he took pride in sharing his passion with his friends. At the event, Ray had the opportunity to try a TANDM surfboard, which he found to be an ideal board for his needs.
“The TANDM surfboard was the board I was using the whole time,” says Ray. “I loved the fact that it had handles for me to hold onto. My arms are what really help me to do everything, so to be able to have a place for my hands was awesome.”
Surfing is such a simple yet complex therapy tool. Salt water is healing and the ocean has proved time and time again the amazing ability is has to help people from all walks of life, regardless of his or her situation.
“The mission of Waves of Strength is to empower kids that are disadvantaged through the experience of surfing,” says Waves of Strength founder Robert Simek. “I’ve had parents tell me this is the first time their kid has smiled in years—that’s pretty heavy.”
Learn more at https://www.wavesofstrength.org/about