During a recent surfing outing at Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk, the waves weren’t that big, but the smiles were epic. On June 17, nearly 90 children with a range of disabilities took part in Special Surfer Night, a program organized by Nanci Boutet of Aquaholics surf shop in Kennebunk. It’s the 10th year of the program, which is held on the third Tuesday of June, July and August.
“It’s super cool to see these kids have so much fun,” Boutet said. “It’s a gift to play with these kids. It’s such a joy.”
The disabilities range from Down syndrome to autism to cerebral palsy. Everyone gets on a board, even children with physical disabilities who use wheelchairs. Joseph Shortsleeves, 14, of Biddeford smiled broadly as he rode waves while harnessed into a beach chair that was strapped to a surfboard.
Surf shops from South Portland to Wells contribute boards for the event, which is free and staffed entirely by volunteers. With the popularity of the program increasing, Boutet is always looking for more volunteers.
During the June session, some children didn’t want to get out of the water after two hours. Maxwell House, 5, of Biddeford, who has Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD, immediately headed back into the waves after each run.
His mother, Laurie House, said it was his first time surfing. “He loves the water,” she said. “Water and speed – does it get any better for a kid?”