Gurney's Inn
September 13, 2017

Walking On Water

Morgan McGivern. (click for larger version)
Under a cloudless blue sky, the young athletes faced the crystal-clear waves with their instructors by their side. While many of the children were first-time surfers, they leaped in with little hesitation.

This past weekend, over 100 athletes braved the strong swells of the ocean brought in by the impending hurricane Irma.

But the sea's wrath could not diminish the overwhelming excitement shared by the hundreds of volunteer instructors, sponsors, and organizers. The volunteers for A Walk on Water were prepared to face any waves that allowed them to teach surfing properly and provide a form of water therapy for anyone with disabilities.

A Walk on Water is a not-for-profit organization that uses water therapy, and specifically surfing, to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The participants ranged from those with various levels of autism, to those with spinal cord and paralysis disabilities.

Ocean Cohen, a young athlete who has participated in several Walk on Water events, proudly displayed her trophy and said with a large smile, "I really enjoyed this!" She did add, however, that, "The water was very cold!" When she was asked about her instructor, Adam, Ocean said enthusiastically, "He's my boy!" and that she would definitely do it again. Another young athlete, Ella Folger, said proudly, "I didn't know how to surf before, but now I do!"

Sean Swentek, vice president of A Walk on Water, said that the charity started in Los Angeles in 2012. Swentek explained that the board of directors are "like-minded souls who share the same traits in their desire to want to help people." He indicated that, in the case of the disabled, there seems to be "something really comforting about the water. There is scientific research that substantiates the benefits of surf therapy." Swentek pointed out that Karena Cristea from the University of Canada is conducting her Master's thesis on the benefits of surf therapy, and he is excited to see the results of her research.

While surfing is used as fun and exciting sport, "surfing is really used as the tool to building relationships and earning trust," Swentek said. "We build bonds over the shared experience."

When asked about those who might be frightened to even attempt to surf, he smiled. "It seems that the ones who protest the most actually get the most out of it," he said. "Each child is first introduced to their instructor who spends quite a bit of time sitting and playing in the sand with them and later sitting on the surfboard in the water once the child is comfortable before any surfing is actually attempted." He added that, "To boost confidence and help develop trust, siblings of the disabled athlete are encouraged to participate in the event."

A Walk on Water conducts their water experience on a one-to-one basis, uses tandem surfing only, and once in the water there are always three volunteer instructors for each athlete. As an added precaution, every athlete is required to wear a life vest. Although the event is normally geared toward children, this year, Swentek said they invited disabled adults to participate as well. Sixty adults, including seniors, arrived by bus to take their places in the water.

The board of A Walk on Water was grateful to all of their donors and sponsors who made the charity possible as well as giving them the opportunity to bring surf therapy to Montauk. They plan to have at least three events on the East Coast in 2018. The event ended with a fundraiser at the Montauk Beach House and featured a silent auction with music by DJs Alexandra Richards and Jack Luber.

For additional information about A Walk on Water, visit or call 1-805-991-AWOW (2969).

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