Clinic puts surfing within reach

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Jack Wallace, 14, of Franklin Lakes stands up for the first time surfing with his prosthetic leg during the AmpSurf event in Ventnor.

VENTNOR – Local surfers welcomed many new brothers and sisters to their family Tuesday and shared the wonderful feeling of catching a wave for the first time. Volunteers from AmpSurf, a California-based organization dedicated to teaching the joy of surfing to amputees, veterans and disabled people, joined local volunteers on Avolyn Avenue beach in Ventnor Tuesday, July 17 to host participants from throughout the state.

Among the four participants was Jack Wallace, 14, of Franklin Lakes in Bergen County, who was attending his second AmpSurf event. Wallace lost his right leg in a boating accident in 2008 and learned how to surf balancing on one leg at an AmpSurf event in Maine last year. Tuesday was his first time surfing using his prosthesis.

“I caught two waves and I stood up on both,” said Wallace. “It’s easier than I thought.”
He said it was a great program that helped him get back on a surfboard.
“I think they accomplished their goal – I’m surfing, and I’m sure hundreds of other people have learned how to surf from them.”

Traveling across the country leading volunteer surfers is AmpSurf founder Dana Cummings of Pismo Beach, Calif., who began the program 10 years ago after losing his leg in an automobile accident. The Maine native and U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield said veterans have accounted for 70 percent of participants over the years. Cummings said ages have ranged from 4 years old to an 89-year-old veteran of World War II.

“I didn’t know how to surf before losing my leg,” Cummings said. “The Hawaiians call this the sport of kings. When you catch your first wave, you can’t help but feel like a king or queen. You feel like you’re on top of the world.”

Former U.S. Army Sgt. Heriberto Vidro of Sayreville and his dog Houdini were having a blast in the water for their first time surfing.
He spoke highly of the program.
“I do a lot of adaptive sports, but never surfing. This is a workout and it gets us out there,” Vidro said. “It’s something new to learn and it gets them out of the house and in the community.”
Vidro suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder following a brain injury while serving in Iraq.
Vidro and Houdini have been ice skating, skiing, kayaking and fishing together. Next, Vidro said, is white water rafting.
“I just need to get him a life jacket,” he said.

John Crane of Anaheim, Calif., has been volunteering with AmpSurf for three years. Born without a right arm, Crane taught himself how to surf when he was a kid and uses a webbed glove on his left hand while catching waves.
“I keep all the rights (gloves) from the pairs so if someone has their right arm, I’ll give them to them,” said Crane. 

He said all of the AmpSurf events have been rewarding, especially when he can be paired up with an armless surfer so he can share some of his tricks like using his forearm to push up off the board.

Prior to Ventnor, AmpSurf held an event Sunday at Rockaway Beach, New York. The volunteers will travel to Virginia Beach, Va., Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and will conclude the trip in St. Augustine, Fla., this weekend.
In addition to AmpSurf volunteers and participants, local surfers and community members pulled together to make it a memorable event; one that organizers said they are hoping to repeat next year.

Mayor Mike Bagnell was on the beach early Tuesday morning helping set up for the event and was busy helping out the organizers for most of the day.
Bobby Acosta of Ventnor contacted local musicians to provide entertainment including John Higbee and the Boys from Atlantic City, the Outer Limits Ensemble and Big Whiskey.
“I’ve got to give it to the people who did come out. Learning to surf is not an easy thing to do and they did a great job,” said Commissioner Frank Sarno.

Senior Vice Cmdr. Bob McNulty of Egg Harbor Township was on the beach representing VFW Post 3361 in Ventnor and having some fun while doing it. The post also pitched in by finding accommodations for the volunteers.
“It’s fantastic. These people continue to serve their nation by helping out others,” McNulty said. “We’re just trying to give them a little Ventnor hospitality. Life at the shore is pretty great this time of year.”

Amateur surfer Cassidy McClain, 17, of Ventnor is known for tearing up the waves at coasts around the world, but Tuesday she was shooting video and helping wherever she was needed.
“I think it’s really great for them to do it. It must be really challenging, but it’s awesome they are getting out there,” McClain said.

Pamela Smejkal of Manchester Township stood up on her first wave Tuesday.
“It felt so surreal,” Smejkal said as she walked out of the water. “I thought, ‘Am I going to fall?’ And then I thought, ‘Just keep looking up, you’re not going to fall.’”

Annette Reder of Cayucos, Calif., was right behind her, cheering her along. She, like the other volunteers, was focusing on the participants’ abilities and said it was a great feeling to show them what they can do.
“Sometimes I think about who is most blessed, and it’s me,” said Reder. “I love to see the stoke – to see the smile, to show them you can do this. And they will say, ‘I can.’”

 

Photos by Shaun Smith

AmpSurf founder Dana Cummings of Pismo Beach, Calif. and AmpSurf board member John Crane of Anaheim, Calif. share a wave on Avolyn Ave. beach in Ventnor.   Jack Wallace, 14, of Franklin Lakes stands up for the first time surfing with his prosthetic leg during the AmpSurf event in Ventnor.   Heriberto Vidro of Sayreville takes Houdini for a ride on a wave in Ventnor. Houdini goes with his best friend everywhere – in and out of the water.   Pamela Smejkal of Manchester Township stands up on her surfboard with Annette Reder, of Caycucos, Calif. on left, cheering her on.   Pamela Smejkal of Manchester Township, left, and Annette Reder, of Cayucos, Calif., celebrate a day of surfing on the Ventnor beach. AmpSurf founder Dana Cummings of Pismo Beach, Calif., says the event is to demonstrate the ability, not the disability, of the participants. AmpSurf founder Dana Cummings of Pismo Beach, Calif. says the event is to demonstrate the ability, not the disability of the participants. AmpSurf founder Dana Cummings of Pismo Beach, Calif. says the event is to demonstrate the ability, not the disability of the participants.   Bobby Acosta and John Higbee, both of Ventnor, perform during the AmpSurf event in Ventnor.   Performing on Avolyn Avenue beach in Ventnor are, from left, Bobby Acosta of Ventnor John Higbee of Northfield, drummer Gene Kirby Egg Harbor Township and Marc Wasserman of Northfield.


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