Catching Waves for Well-Being
Surf therapy programs often focus on children with autism or anxiety, or groups like veterans or cancer survivors.
Agatha Wallen’s son, Mason, has autism, and when he was 7, she heard about an initiative in San Diego aimed at children with special needs. It involved an unlikely tool: a surf board.
She wasn’t sure how it would work for her son, who struggled with behavioral and sensory issues. “Even getting the wet suit on was difficult for him because it was a brand-new sensory sensation,” she recalled. “From the beach I could see the surf instructors calmly speaking to him, and his whole body seemed to change and relax,” Ms. Wallen said. “He was able to stand up and catch a wave, with a big smile on his face, and ran up to shore and said ‘Mommy, I want to do it again.’”
Mason has been surfing for five years, and now his younger brother, Trevor, 9, is also an active participant in the same program, A Walk on Water. It is a California-based surf therapy nonprofit that primarily focuses on children with special needs — mostly with neurological disabilities. Ms. Wallen serves as an ambassador for the program, helping explain surf therapy to other parents.
“In the ocean there are no cars or planes or people shouting or things buzzing around,” she said.
“It might be the calmness of the waves, but it’s also being with instructors that he could trust and who were patient with him as well.”