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Levi Bressan, 16, who is vision impaired, gets cheers from volunteers and friends as he rides a wave at South Carlsbad State Beach last year during the Encinitas Lions Club’s blind surfing event. The Club hosts their 21st annual event Sept. 11. File photo by Tony Cagala
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Blind surfing is all in the details

ENCINITAS — How would you describe the ocean to someone who couldn’t see — only then to explain they’d be heading out into it with a surfboard to catch some waves — quite possibly for the first time ever?

With a lot of detail, explained Saya Nodera.

Nodera, operations manager at the nonprofit Urban Surf 4 Kids, is participating again in the Encinitas Lions Club’s 21st annual blind surfing event Sunday.

“It’s really our signature event for our club,” Bob Mangini, one of the Lions Club’s directors, said. “We get a tremendous turnout from out club members.”

As a surfer, Nodera’s part is to help describe what’s happening for the surfer, who may be experiencing not only surfing, but the ocean, for the first time in their life.

From left: Encinitas Lions Club members Rinkie Pollack, Bob Mangini, Sandy Mangini and Saya Nodera, operations manager with Urban Surf 4 Kids. The 21st annual blind surfing event is Sept. 11 at South Ponto State Beach. Photo by Tony Cagala
From left: Encinitas Lions Club members Rinkie Pollack, Bob Mangini, Sandy Mangini and Saya Nodera, operations manager with Urban Surf 4 Kids. The 21st annual blind surfing event is Sept. 11 at South Ponto State Beach. Photo by Tony Cagala


For that, Nodera said it’s all about talking to them and making sure they’re comfortable, and trying to explain every aspect that someone with vision wouldn’t have to think about.

“You have to direct them with every detail, with comfort, so they feel comfortable and confident in the situation,” she said.

The surfers are carefully monitored, Nodera explained, as each participant has anywhere from six to eight buddies out in the water with them.

This year, the surfers are coming from as far away as Rialto, Calif., and Yucaipa, Calif., near San Bernardino, where on Sunday, they’ll be greeted by possible two-to-three-foot waves at South Carlsbad State Beach.

Bob, who’s been participating in the blind surf event for at least the last eight years, said this time around, they’ve been getting more response from people wanting to take part.

The participants’ ages run the gamut, though Sandy Mangini, a Lions Club director, said over the last couple of years, more kids have been heading to the beach and waves with the Club.

Born from an idea former Lions Club member Larry Graff had, the event has since brought the Club into the spotlight, when a couple of years ago they were featured on the Lions Club International’s float entry in the Rose Parade.

The Club is proud to boast that their event has inspired other Lions Clubs to follow suit, with the Seal Beach Lions Club to be the latest to host a blind surfing event either this year or next, Bob said. Others are taking place in Hawaii and Australia.

“It’s taking off,” Bob said. “Encinitas is probably the surf capital of the United States — maybe Hawaii.”

For Sandy, there are two people that stand out so far in her experiences with the surf event: a young boy and a 16-year-old girl.

The young boy, blind and autistic, she explained, cried and was afraid of the water and sand when he first came to the event.

Every year since then, Sandy has watched him grow and with it, his experiences, too, and last year, he caught a wave and stood up on a board.

“That took my breath away,” she said.

The other was a 16-year-old girl who had never been to the beach before.

The girl’s words to Sandy: “Please don’t let go of me.” To which Sandy replied: “OK, I won’t.”

Rinke Pollack, the Club’s treasurer and past president, said she prefers to stay on land during the annual surf event, but there’s plenty to do there also, including giving service dogs some company while their companions are out in the waves.

“That doesn’t sound like much,” Pollack said, “except the dogs see them in this water clearly out of control and that’s very scary for the dog.”

Volunteering for the fourth year in a row, Nodera always calls this event her “favorite of the year.”

“It’s just really special to see an experience — the blind community trusting us to take them out into the water,” Nodera said. “Even as a beginner surfer, it’s a scary experience, and to see their courage and bravery… to be out in the ocean with us and trust us, it’s just a really beautiful experience for everyone that’s participating.

“It gives you a lot of perspective,” she added.

The Encinitas Lions Club has been a community stalwart with its philanthropic endeavors — from installing the audible crosswalk signals in downtown Encinitas to collecting last year, 16,000 pairs of eyeglasses and distributing them free to those in need.

This year’s event is being sponsored by several local organizations and businesses, including breakfast from McDonald’s, and a hamburger lunch from Tip Top Market.

Hansen’s Surf Shop is also contributing to the event.

The blind surf event is Sept. 11 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at South Carlsbad State Beach.

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