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Visually impaired get surfing lessons in Long Beach

Members of Camp Abilities, an athletic camp for

Members of Camp Abilities, an athletic camp for children who are visually impaired, rode the waves with the help of surf instructors from the nonprofit Surf For All during the 4th annual ocean surfing outing, held at Long Beach. (July 17, 2013) (Credit: Amy Onorato)

Ariel Bergman, 13, of Bellmore, sat in the middle of her surfboard on the Atlantic Ocean wrapped in a life jacket, waiting for the next wave.

Treading water next to her was surf instructor Brian Olson, 29, who also served as an extra pair of eyes; Bergman is visually impaired and it was her first time out on the water to surf. Her father, Brian Bergman, 46, watched from the sandy Long Beach shoreline.

“I want her to try something new all of the time,” Brian Bergman said. “I can imagine her doing whatever she wants to do. I’ve never surfed and she’s surfing.”

A small, rolling wave picked up Bergman and Olson, and Olson steadied Bergman’s board until she found her balance. Slowly, Bergman rose to her feet and glided from the sea to the shore, never losing her balance. A round of applause rose from bystanders as she landed on the beach.

“It’s not so hard once you get used to it,” Bergman said, smiling.

On Wednesday, nonprofit Surf For All teamed up with children from Camp Abilities, a nonprofit athletic camp for the visually impaired based out of Adelphi University, for the 4th annual ocean surfing event. Members of Third Eye Insight, a West Islip martial arts studio for the visually impaired, also joined in.

Surf For All is a Long Island-based nonprofit that provides free surf lessons for people with disabilities. The group is made up of professional surfers and other volunteers who work one-on-one with students out on the water. The group began in 2002 and works with local community groups that represent a wide range of disabilities, from children with autism to disabled war veterans.

“Just seeing the self-confidence building in these kids from riding a wave; for anybody, riding a wave is an accomplishment,” Surf For All co-founder Cliff Skudin, of Long Beach, said. “This shows them what they can do.”

For Camp Abilities, the ocean surfing outing is one of the more popular events. More than 16 campers, ranging from the visually impaired to the completely blind, participated.

“They love it, they come back every year just to have this,” Camp Abilities founder Lisa Innella, of Long Beach, said.

John Gilroy, 17, of West Islip, has attended the event as a Camp Abilities camper for the past four years. Even though Gilroy considers himself a more experienced surfer, he still comes back every year to improve his skills and hopes to one day do a full run without falling off his board.

“We’re all visually impaired and we’re all doing something that tough, sighted people wouldn’t even try,” Gilroy said.

Tags: Long Beach , surfing , visually impaired

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