Jacksonville Beach hosts 10th annual Riding the Wave of Autism Surf Camp


Volunteers came together to give a group of exceptional children an unforgettable summer experience this week, when the 10th annual “Riding the Wave of Autism Surf Camp” was held at Jacksonville Beach.

Held July 18-19, the annual event gives children with autism an opportunity to experience water-related activities, such as surfing, boogie boarding and kayaking. Organizations sponsoring the camp experience included the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, the City of Jacksonville Beach and HEAL (Healing Every Autistic Life).

On Monday, 22 campers and their families took to the water, which has been found to be beneficial in helping autistic children.

“One mother told me this is all her kids look forward to,” said Kim Sears, who along with her husband, Dr. Don Sears, was one of the driving forces behind the camp’s creation a decade ago. “It’s especially rewarding because the parents enjoy it as much as the campers. They get to see their kids get caught up in the exhilaration and having fun. They enjoy cheering them on and seeing them engaged with other kids.”

Don Sears recalled how the idea of starting a local camp experience for autistic children came to him after seeing how much a neighbor’s autistic child thrived when in the water. He began looking into similar camps around the country, and enlisted the support of the Rotary Club and other organizations to bring the idea to life. Dan Brooks of Sunrise Surf Camp and Jimmy Wilkinson of the Recreation Department were also instrumental in making the camp a reality.

The Sears Family – including sons Hobie and Kane – have been involved ever since.

“We always thought it would be a good idea for autistic children to get to experience this,” he said. “Even if they’re a little anxious at first, they’re always celebrating at the end. It’s as good for the families as it is for the campers, because after having this experience, they go back to their own lives and back to school and they do better, perform better.”