She sat in a wheelchair, waiting her turn.
“Are you excited?” a woman asked. “Are you ready?”
"Yes," she answered.
When her time came, a volunteer took her on his back, and slowly walked into the waters. She plopped atop the surfboard, and they headed into the waves. Soon, she was surfing for the first time in her life.
The one word Emma Greenfield, 19, used to describe it: “Flying.”
Greenfield was one of around seven surfers, most from the Henry Viscardi School for the disabled, who rode the waves of Long Beach Thursday, while close to 40 friends, family and staff cheered them on.
The surf outing, part of NYSEA’s 10th New York Surf Week, is hosted by Surf For All, a nonprofit dedicated to providing a surfing experience for the disabled.
“It goes much further than just the waves,” said co-founder and Long Beach native Cliff Skudin. “The moment of the wave goes into their everyday life, being able to overcome small barriers that we’re now breaking down.”
Each surfer, with help from volunteers, is carried onto a surfboard, usually belly down. The board has jet propulsion built into the bottom that helps the surfer advance to catch a wave.
It can take a lot of effort and nerves, but for Greenfield, it was worth it.
“The waves are crashing into you, and you’re trying to close your eyes and close your mouth and remember everything that everyone said,” she shouted excitedly, describing her experience. “Once you’re up there, it’s like you’re free, and you enjoy it.”
Her father, Robert Greenfield of Hicksville, was just as excited.
“Anything that can make her feel normal … is great for her self-esteem, is great for her healthwise,” he said.
Surfing is only one of the many things she has done, he said. Emma, who has cerebral palsy, played the piano, danced ballet, works out and even wants to ride a zip line. He’s been there along the way.
“A lot of parents don’t let their kids do that, and it’s a mistake. You got a handicapped child, you got to let her loose,” Robert said. “If you didn’t have a kid with a handicap, you wouldn't stop him from running or falling or riding a bike or from hurting himself.”
Another parent, Floyd Flynn of Queens, was a bit nervous when he saw his son Zion, 9, who also has cerebral palsy, out in the ocean.
“I was scared,” he said, laughing. “But kids like this, who may not be able to physically do the stuff, mentally they want that experience. And he’s like that.”
As the surfers rode the waves over and over again, parents and onlookers took pictures and shouted encouragement. When Zion was carried back from his surf, the whole crowd erupted into applause.
“It’s almost as much as they’re giving to us as we’re giving them an experience,” NYSEA director J.R. Jensen said. “It’s an honor … for us to be part of it.”
Emma, after her surf, said she already looks forward to doing it again.
“I would love to go back tomorrow," she said.