Surfers Paddle to Raise Awareness and Funds for Autism

One month ago, Ginny and Scott Cohen made their way over to Ocean Avenue in Sea Bright New Jersey where they were joined by 154 stand up paddlers. The paddlers were getting ready to take part in the 4th Annual Surfers Environmental Alliance 28-mile paddle around the Island of Manhattan. Paddlers from around the world of all levels and ages came to participate in the event in order to raise awareness and funds for autism and for SEA. The $277,232 raised through online fundraising software as well as monies from auction items and a celebrity poker tourney brought in almost $400,000 to benefit six organizations this year, including Surfers Healing.

The Cohen’s were instrumental in bringing the Surfers Healing Foundation to Virginia Beach over six years ago. Surfers Healing is a non-profit California based group that takes children with autism surfing. The effects are profound. On her pledge page,  Ginny describes a mother who broke into tears when her son broke five years silence after a surf session with “that was awesome!”   “Not only is it great for the kids,” Ginny explains, “but it’s a day at the beach where families can feel ‘normal’ because everyone is on the same page and the entire family can participate.  Here, they can all share the day together.” The camps are free of charge to the families and include lunch, drinks, and over thirty informational tents that povide resources on city offerings, clubs, and sports therapy.

The yearly event has become extremely successful. The first camp had between 50-75 kids.  This year, online registration was full in the first two hours and brought 217 kids and their families to the beach.  The Cohen’s have begun “Guardian Angel mini-camps” to allow more kids to experience the healing benefits of the ocean. This year they’ve held a minicamp—usually between 30 to 40 kids—every month from June through September.  The minicamps are a smaller version of the annual event and receive help from local surfers, whereas the big camp flies in the founding group of surfers from California, Hawaii, and New York.

An eight-member board fundraises throughout the year to avail these camps to families and their autistic children.  This year was the first time that Ginny and Scott decided they would participate in SEA’s paddle around Manhattan. They didn’t know what to expect, but knew that they would be around like-minded athletes that wanted to give back to their communities.  Surfers Healing was also one of the six beneficiaries of the SEA paddle which was another great reason to support the cause.

The day before the event, paddlers dropped off their 11 foot + boards in a secure place which enabled an easy start the next morning.  Before entering the water, paddlers were given precautionary instructions and were told what to expect. This was also a time of community where many charity and surf industry representatives were able to meet and greet the athletes. Before entering the water, a prayer circle formed and the paddlers felt blessed and united.

The paddle itself was very well organized. There were support boats, police, the Coast Guard, plenty of refreshment, and cheers from spectators and volunteers. As with all endurance events, once an athlete begins their journey, they enter in their own focused meditation and in this case, for 28 miles.

Another favorable aspect of SEA’s paddle event was the ease of fundraising. Ginny appreciated the easy template (DoJiggy Pledge) she used to create a webpage to share with friends and family. Since participants all had a goal and a minimum of $1000 to raise, their personal websites kept track of their progress.  It was also nice to have everyone’s emails to send updates and thank yous to. Ginny shares, “The program made it easy and helped us do a great job.  It’s nice when something this easy is handed to you that covers all the bases.”


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