Susan Schafer never imagined that her daughters, Elizabeth and Grace, could surf before they tackled their first waves Wednesday in Long Beach.
The Massapequa sisters suffer from albinism, a defect that impacts melanin production in the skin and their ability to see distances.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m really surfing!’” 11-year-old Elizabeth Schafer said. Seven-year-old Grace added, “It was like I was floating in the air.”
Schafer and her husband, John, took their daughters out to the barrier island for Skudin Surf School’s Surf For All program, which provides surfing lessons to underprivileged children and children with disabilities. Wednesday’s clinic was for 12 children who are visually impaired.
“It was a really amazing thing,” said Cliff Skudin, who owns the surfing school with his brother, Will. He has been volunteering with surfing-based not-for-profits for the past six summers. The business started Surf For All this past summer to give more opportunities to surfers who normally wouldn’t be able to participate.
“[Helping them] try something new for the first time, getting outside of themselves. It’s something for their self-esteem,” Cliff Skudin said.
Elizabeth and Grace were taken out onto the waves surrounded by more than 20 instructors who were positioned strategically at different depths so they could shout to them when they were at chest, waist, knee and ankle depths. The auditory cues helped the girls anticipate how much time they had left on the wave and jump into the arms of a waiting instructor when they reached the end. Volunteers also helped the sisters paddle out and held them in position to catch a coming wave.
Among the volunteers was Long Beach resident, veteran lifeguard, surfer and state Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg. The 77-year-old is a lifelong resident of Long Beach and avidly supports teaching those who need a little extra help to surf. He spent much of his time with Elizabeth and Grace on Wednesday.
“They’re not disabled children, they’re people first,” he said. “We want to show them what they can do, not what they can’t.”
Photo: With a surfboard, from left, Elizabeth Schafer, 11, Beth Skudin of Skudin Surf School; Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg, and Grace Schafer, 7. The girls participated in a surf clinic for visually impaired children d in Long Beach. (July 13, 2011)