Heart of Surfing Brings Fun in the Waves to Autistic Kids | Local News

ATLANTIC CITY — More than 100 families signed up for a day of surfing through the Heart of Surfing on Sunday organization, an event that gave children with autism or other developmental disabilities a chance to surf the waves with support.

In cool waves on a hot July morning, a group of Pennsylvania Avenue volunteers worked with the young surfers. Some had never been on a board, while others were regulars at the event.

“We don’t do this to produce great surfers. Some will not get up on the first day. Some will never stand on a board,” said Cindy Fertsch, one of the organizers.

Other participants will, she said, including a former participant who now surfs for Ocean City High School. But the day was all about giving the kids an experience they might never have had otherwise and boosting their confidence.

That’s what brought Debbie Phillips back from the Marmora section of Upper Township. She was on the beach with her husband, Jay D. Phillips, while their daughter, Erin, surfed with volunteer Chase Frieman, of Voorhees.

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Each surfer was paired with a buddy in the water. In some cases, the buddy would guide the young surfers or push them through oncoming waves, while others rode with the surfers.

Erin, 12, has an extremely rare form of Down syndrome called Mosaic Down syndrome, which affects around 2% of people diagnosed with Down syndrome. Debbie said Erin had been attending Heart of Surfing events for around five years and said it was wonderful, boosted self-esteem and a fun experience.

Erin is very shy, her mother says, so the buddy system helps her bond, and riding the waves is fun. Erin said she had fun.

Phillips also praised the volunteers in and out of the water. There were more surfers than volunteers, so they took turns all morning.

Bob and Cindy Fertsch started Heart of Surfing in 2014. Their son, Jamie, loved riding the waves with his dad, who said the water tended to calm him down. Jamie was diagnosed with autism at a young age.

Jamie died in 2020 after a seizure. He was 25 years old. Cindy said she and Bob decided to continue with Heart of Surfing.

“It’s the best way to honor his legacy,” Cindy said.

As she spoke, a member of the Atlantic City Beach Patrol approached to see if she needed more guards on the beach. There were three at the nearby stand, two of whom were surfers themselves, he said.

Fertsch said if they could spare a lifeguard or two to act as buddies, they could use them. Bob Fertsch was in the water as one of the buddies.

Each summer, the Heart of Surfing hosts Saturday events at area beaches including Atlantic City, Margate, Ocean City and North Wildwood. Sunday was a bonus surf day, she said, sponsored by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.

Surfing continued from 9:00 a.m. to noon, followed by lunch.

The casino also encouraged staff members to volunteer and donated new long and wide soft-top surfboards perfect for the project, along with life jackets and new neon-colored rashguards that have made it easy to spot volunteers and surfers from the beach. .

“We are so grateful,” said Cindy Fertsch. “We are all security conscious.”

Heart of Surfing offers other activities for kids, including blueberry picking, but surfing is central to the effort. Cindy Fertsch said the organization seeks to introduce children to the fun of surfing in a safe and supportive environment.

For more details and a schedule for the rest of the summer, check out heartofsurfing.org.

Contact Bill Barlow:


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