Surfing Camp Makes Waves of Impact in Ship Bottom

Aug 02, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy Julian Bozarth rides a wave with the help of instructor Daniel Smyth during the Waves of Impact surf camp in Ship Bottom on July 27.

Sure, Grace Weidenhof had been in the Atlantic Ocean at various points throughout her life, but never quite like what she was experiencing off the 26th Street beach in Ship Bottom. It was her first time surfing, after all.

“I swam for a long time, but this was a lot different,” said Grace, who along with an estimated 50 individuals took part in the Waves of Impact surf camp on July 27. “I’m not very good with balance, so I listened to the instructor and tried not to fall off.”

But when it came time to stand up on the surfboard as it glided along the front of a wave, Grace decided riding on her hands and knees was good enough.

“It looks easy, but it’s not,” she said. “I just wanted to try it and see if I could do it. My goal was to ride a wave all the way to the beach, and on my last try I did it. It felt good. I wanted to take another challenge and it was a total victory for me.”

And that was the beauty of the surf camp – victories, to the north and south, as dozens of young men and women rode the waves.

“For a lot of these kids, getting in the ocean is scary at first,” said volunteer Daniel Smyth, who came down to the Island from Toms River to help with instruction for the day. “Getting them to take that first step, and just get them out on the water to feel what it’s like, is the key. But once that happens, they just light up. Then you see them come out of the water with the biggest smiles on their faces, and it’s a real joy to see.”

Waves of Impact, a completely volunteer organization, was started by Josh Harper and Keith Lovgren about six years ago, and since that time they have assisted some 2,300 youngsters with special needs experience the enjoyment of surfing. During their surf camps – in which they enlist the help of area businesses and dozens of volunteers to make it all happen – each participant gets a half-hour session to cruise some waves, with the assistance of three instructors. Up to 15 camps per year take place along the coasts of California, Texas and New Jersey.

“When we first started it, we saw the joy it brought to the kids and knew we had found something special,” Lovgren said. “It was such a great way to share surfing with people who otherwise wouldn’t be doing it. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into doing our camps, but it’s awesome to see all the volunteers come together. It’s a labor of love, for sure.”

This year’s camp was sponsored by Farias Surf and Sport. The Ship Bottom Beach Patrol provided its services in support of the event as well.

“This is a big team effort, and it’s amazing,” said Mary Ann Schino, who volunteered as the camp’s coordinator. “I’ve been involved in a lot of things, but this is the most rewarding one. Keith and Josh do all this as a voluntary thing, and the sacrifices they make to give this opportunity to kids are incredible. It’s really awesome. And the people we get to help are amazing, too.”

One of this year’s volunteer instructors, Kevin DeWald, a pro surfer from Cape May Courthouse, joined the effort for the first time and was blown away.

“I have a friend, Chris, who is paralyzed from the neck down and I help him do some surfing, but this is absolutely awesome,” DeWald said. “The ocean connects with everybody. It has its own energy, and you can see it on the kids’ faces when they get out there on the water how it makes them feel. They get so excited, and it’s beautiful. I love this. I’m really happy to be here, to be a part of this.”

Of course, most of the parents spent their time shooting video on their phones or tablets as their children experienced surfing for the first time. Alyssa Bozarth, whose twin boys, Julian and Owen, turned 12 a few days later, said she had found out about the camp from a friend and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give them an experience they had never known until that day.

“My husband, Donald, got a little emotional,” she said. “This was their first time getting on a board in the ocean, a chance to do something new. Julian was petrified at first, but once he got on the board and did it he just wanted more. The instructors were so great with them. It’s just an unbelievable feeling to see our boys do this and to see their smiles as they’re doing it. As soon as I find out when this is coming back here, I’m going to sign them up again.”

— David Biggy

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