News / USA

On Special Day, Disabled Kids Ride the Waves

Austin Bramson takes a ride on a surfboard with the help of a Best Day at the Beach volunteer. (VOA/D. Grunebaum)
Austin Bramson takes a ride on a surfboard with the help of a Best Day at the Beach volunteer. (VOA/D. Grunebaum)

Austin Bramson is about to ride on a surfboard for the first time, and that will be quite an accomplishment. The 15 year old has a rare genetic disorder, and is unable to speak or walk.

His mother, Nancy Cruse, explains that since birth, he has been totally dependent on others for his care. "He will always be in diapers. He needs to be fed. He can not self feed at all, he can not self drink. He can not dress himself. He’s in a wheelchair which he can not operate himself."

Yet now, wearing a life-jacket and water safety helmet, Austin is getting ready to ride the waves rolling into this Atlantic shore. He's one of dozens of developmentally and physically challenged kids who've come to the popular seashore in Long Branch, New Jersey, to have one of their "best days at the beach."

Volunteers put their arms around his body, lift him out of his wheel chair, and lay him on his stomach on top of a surfboard.

The volunteers carry him out into the ocean about 15 meters from the shore and when the right wave comes along, Austin starts riding it in with the help of a volunteer who’s lying on the back of the same surfboard.

There’s a wide grin on Austin’s face as he comes ashore. His arms and legs wiggle with excitement.

His mother beams. "It just had to be pure joy. Just had to be pure joy. I just, the smile on his face I haven’t seen that smile in a long time from him. So I mean I started to cry. You wonder sometimes when you have a child with a disability: are they happy and to see that I knew he was happy. At that moment, he was happy."

Best Day at the Beach is a day when young people from ages 4 to 24 with developmental and physical disabilities can get help surfing, boogie-boarding and kayaking -- and draw cheers from their families, friends and volunteers.

"Really, it’s about showing kids what’s possible and showing everyone what’s possible," says Max Montgomery, a longtime surfer who co-founded Best Day at the Beach four years ago in his native California after being inspired by a similar local program. "We have parents come down and tell us 'Oh, my kid is not going to do this.' And then they’re standing there with tears watching their kid exceed their wildest dreams. We have kids come down here saying they’ve dreamed of being a surfer and yet maybe they’re in a wheel chair. And we get them out in the water, surfing."

While some of the kids very rare disorders, like Austin, most of the new surfers have disabilities such as Downs syndrome, cerebral palsy or autism.

Best Day at the Beach sponsors about 20 events each year at Atlantic and Pacific beaches. Montgomery says each one gives about 40 special-needs children and young adults the chance to ride the waves.

"There’s just something about tapping into the power of the ocean and feeling freedom and to be able to help someone experience that is truly a blessing," he says.

Dozens of volunteers come out to help Montgomery with his events. New York attorney Eliot Bickoff spent the day surfing with one kid after another.

Growing up, Bickoff spent his weekends on the Jersey Shore.

"I’m a surfer myself [and an] avid waterman," he says. "And it’s just a great opportunity to share the sport with other people, you know, let everybody have a fun time and try a sport that otherwise would be pretty tough or inaccessible."

"Awesome, dude!" says Jenny Heath-Kaplan,12, who is autistic, as she rides a surfboard, just as she did on her first trip to Best Day at the Beach last year.

Her mother, Wendy Heath, says the fun and social interactions help Jenny progress.

"Often times we find when we give her an experience like this she gets a language surge," Heath says. "On the way home, she’ll say things that we’ve never heard her say before. So I think that thrill, translates into that sort of surge."

Each time Jenny finishes riding a wave to the shore, she asks for another trip. The volunteers get ready to take her out again, giving her the Best Day at the Beach possible.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs