The Coast News Group
Hannah Silva having a blast at Surfing Madonna Special Needs Surf Camp. Photo courtesy of Stephen Simpson

Surf camps helps special needs kids in the water

REGION — Surfing Madonna Oceans Project is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its special needs surf camps in North County.

Since its inception in 2013, the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project has helped 1,800 special needs kids between the ages of four and 17 who frequently faces challenges accessing the beach to experience a day of surfing. The nonprofit relies on the expertise of instructors from the Surfin Fire Surf School, led by 36-year Encinitas firefighter veteran Jon Peterson.

The special needs surf camps are popular with local, youth civic groups who arrive to the beach early on Saturday mornings to help. Dozens of volunteers participate in each session to engage the children with beach toys, playing in the sand, building sand castles and helping surf instructors in the water.

One of those groups who help is the National Charity League, a non-profit organization designed to encourage community service and volunteering opportunities for mothers and their daughters between seventh and twelfth grades.

“These groups of energetic, multi-generational mothers and daughters bring a lot of fun and enthusiasm to the beach,” said Surfing Madonna Vice President Mike Redman. “The young ladies are experienced in the water and are great at making the kids in surf camp feel special and comfortable being in the water.”

Teen Volunteers in Action (TVIA) is another organization of young men committed to developing community leaders through volunteerism that helps with the surf camps. Many of the group’s volunteers are recruited to be paid instructors at the school.

“They also bring an exciting energy to the group,” Redman said. “Being close in age to some of our surfers really helps the kids relax and have fun.”

Surfing Madonna works with people who are professionals in the special needs community. Redman is a retired special needs instructor who worked for the San Marcos Unified School District for 22 years.

According to President Cathy Carey, the “secret supermen” of the surf camps are the volunteers from The Pendleton Surf Club, a group of surfers who are all either retired or active duty military at Camp Pendleton.

“Their organization sends a group of skilled individuals to every surf camp,” Carey said. “They are excellent surfers, conscientious about safety, respectful and courteous. These are the people you call if there is an emergency, so we are so happy to have them here as instructors.”

The California Coastal Conservancy also supports the surf camps through their “Explore the Coast” program, which encourages Californians of all abilities to cultivate their own, lifelong connections with the coast.

This summer, Surfing Madonna will host 200 children with cognitive delays and physical challenges to participate in surf camps at Oceanside and Encinitas beaches.

“It is our hope that by providing a wonderful experience for everyone who participates in our program, from special needs kids and their families to volunteers, that everyone involved will develop an ongoing coastal advocacy ethic that co-founder and artist Mark Patterson brought attention to with his Surfing Madonna mosaic,” Redman said. “Mark created the artwork in Encinitas because he wanted to encourage the public to appreciate the experience of the beach and become stewards of the environment in order to Save the Ocean.”

Surfing Madonna Special Needs Surf Camp registration starts May 13 at 9 a.m. Volunteers and Parents can sign up their special needs kids to participate at

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