Where Can We Bring Surfing?

A Walk on Water brings surfing to new places, and more importantly, people. Surf instructor Pat Fallon gives us an account.

When we are first learning how to surf, one of the many thoughts that comes to mind is the idea of where the sport can bring us. There really is no concrete answer to that question as surfing has the influential power to take us to all corners of the world. Tropical, arctic or somewhere in between. Maybe a remote, but popular surfing location—an Indonesia, Africa, Central America sort of an adventure. Maybe a major city—the Sydney, Cape Town, New York City kind of destination. Or possibly it’s somewhere surfing isn’t quite as popular, maybe partially unknown—Namibia, Northern Canada, now Lemoore, Calif. or in this case NLand Surf Park in Austin, Texas.

This sense of travel and exploration drives us—which is where, for some, another question arises. We as surfers get to a point where we ask ourselves, not where surfing can take us, but where we can bring surfing. Surfing isn’t an object, it isn’t tangible, but it is a special feeling, it’s an experience and for some it’s therapeutic.

The whole idea at A Walk on Water, with the slogan “We Are Surf Therapy,” is to bring the power of the surfing experience to those who can benefit from it, as far and as wide as the movement can reach. For AWOW (as highlighted numerous times in previous Whalebone stories) it’s about using the surfing experience as a form of therapy to bring children with special needs and their families a new, invigorating and sensory stimulating experience to carry with them forever. A lasting memory and bond with the sport to last a lifetime.

So, that question of “Where to next?” lives infinitely in our minds as the mission to spread the love of surfing grows. For A Walk on Water, now bi-coastal with 7+ events annually—making differences from Montauk to Malibu—an uncharted territory was entered into. This time the team touched down in Austin, Texas at the NLand surf park. That’s right: Texas. NLand is a state of the art, artificial wave pool produced by Wave Garden technology, located smack dab in the heart of the Lone Star state. NLand and the Wave Garden team are at the forefront of bringing artificial waves to the public and for the surf therapy movement, this created an unprecedented opportunity.

That’s right: Texas.

Having a wave in Texas meant one thing for Pat Notaro, founder of AWOW—an open door to bring Surf Therapy to yet more people, in a place where surfing, with a fresh sense of new surf culture and added shock value, could possibly bring the most impact to the athletes they provide therapy to. “As soon as I caught word of NLand breaking ground and becoming a reality, I instantly reached out to the park, thinking of all the potential ways we could make an event happen there,” said Notaro.

After some back and forth, the mission was a go. A small test event to take place on Nov. 13, 2017, at NLand Surf Park in Austin, TX—2 hours, 12 children with special needs, 52 waves and a small team of 10 surf therapists made up of AWOW and NLand park professionals. What transpired was nothing short of a dream come true.

What started off as a long shot, the thought of bringing surf therapy to Austin, TX, turned into a small-scale miracle, with projections of a much bigger event and the possibility of bringing surf therapy to more than 100 athletes and families.

A Perfect Wave

As one of the surf instructors, I can personally say the experience felt almost unreal. The wave was perfect for what we do as surf therapists. It was predictable, manageable and a very similar sensory feeling to surfing on a real wave with an athlete, which is most important. It eliminated some of the safety issues we face in the ocean—especially with our luck in always holding events when the waves are pumping—and allowed us to really focus on spending time with the athletes in a controlled environment. There was very little intimidation factor considering it was so predictable and allowed for the athletes to really take it all in, observe and experience surfing to the fullest.

As always the reactions from the athletes said it all. From watching their reactions after each wave alone—the surfers were smiling, the families were smiling, the park staff was cheering, even the customers (as the park was still open to the public) were cheering, and we couldn’t have been more fulfilled as surf therapists. It was truly a monumental breakthrough when it comes to surf therapy in my mind, and the thought of bringing surfing to many more athletes and families both inland and on the coast, potentially all over the world, is a very cool opportunity to be a part of.

Looking into the future at NLand, A Walk on Water plans on holding a full-scale Surf Therapy event to kick off their event schedule for 2018. There are talks of a one, or possibly even a two-day event, where AWOW will provide the opportunity for not only children with special needs but war veterans and their families as well. Being that Texas holds one of the largest population of discharged veterans and war heroes of any state (second only to California), it allows us a unique opportunity to provide surf therapy to more of those who need it most.

It’s an exciting time for surf therapy, and we at A Walk on Water are humbled and honored to be a part of spreading the love of surf therapy above and beyond where we could have ever imagined.

Everyone at A Walk On Water would like to extend a big thank you to NLand Surf Park, Doug Coors, the city of Austin, as well as all of our donors, volunteers and of course athletes and families for allowing us to do such an amazing event. Even more so, for the opportunity to bring surf therapy to Texas for children with special needs, war veterans, their families and many of the other athletes in the Texas area who can benefit from the work we do.

Visit awalkonwater.org, follow @awalkonwater, and be on the lookout for updates on how to get involved, learn more about AWOW, or to support future events.