On January 31st, the TODAY show aired a segment featuring Double Good and our work with several non-profits, one of which was of course Surfers Healing. As the segment aired and for days after, our phone lines EXPLODED with calls from all over the country. Being a member of Customer Success at the time, I saw first hand how our mission personally touched so many.
I was lucky enough to answer a call from Trish Bolander. She and her son, Matthew (who has an autism diagnosis along with many health concerns), were watching the show and immediately felt drawn to us. I spoke with Trish for about 15 minutes discussing her family’s journey and learned they were coming to town a few weeks later. We made plans for them to visit our facility, and I was able to give them a tour.
During the tour, Trish and Matthew expressed their interest in Surfers Healing and were eager to know what ‘one perfect day’ looked like. Tim, the owner of Double Good, sat down with them and shared his experience from one of the Surfers Healing camps. They left with armfuls of popcorn to bring home to Iowa and a bunch of information on Surfers Healing. I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, that was amazing. I can’t believe all that happened just from a phone call.” I thought giving the tour was the end of my story with the Bolanders, but little did I know this was just the beginning.
Trish kept in touch on Facebook, commenting here and there on the Double Good page. Once dates were released for camps, Trish applied and Matthew was able to receive a spot in Wrightsville, North Carolina! I was beyond excited for the Bolanders to experience all Surfers Healing had to offer. Excitement was then met with gratitude for being able to play the smallest part in their journey simply by answering a phone call. Matthew wrote Double Good several letters expressing his excitement, asking “What do you mean I am going to rip the wave?” and signing his letters “Your buddy, Matthew.” A few short months later, the time had come for Matthew to ride the waves, and my story continued as I was given the opportunity to join them on their Surfers Healing adventure.
After a full day of flight delays, cancellations, and unsuccessful standbys, Russ and I arrived in Wrightsville a full day late. Walking onto the beach we were greeted with shouts of “Hey, it’s Double Good — finally!” along with hugs and the smiling, familiar faces of the Bolander family. Sadly we missed a majority of the camp, but we got there just in time to catch Matthew preparing to hit the waves. Not quite knowing what to expect, we cautiously walked closer to the water while Matthew got fitted for his life jacket. We watched several other kids in the water having the time of their lives with their surfers. There were smiles stretching from ear to ear as the calm of the waves rushed over them. Alongside us on shore were families overcome with awe at how happy their children were. Choruses of “You can do it, you got this!” and clapping hands joined the sounds of camera shutters documenting this amazing experience. Finally, it was Matthew’s turn.
One of the volunteers walked Matthew down to the water to meet his surfer, JR. JR walked with him into the water, and Matthew jumped up and laid down on the board like he had been surfing his whole life. They paddled out and waited for the right wave to come along. A couple waves came by and they rode them to shore, but Matthew hadn’t been able to fully stand up yet. JR took him out one more time, found the perfect wave, pushed so the board caught on and along Matthew went. In just a few seconds, Matthew hopped up, found his balance and was able to ride the wave standing all the way to shore. Safe to say he now knows what “rip the wave” means, and he knows how to do it like a pro!
My story with Matthew and his family started in February, and I never thought I’d be standing on Wrightsville Beach watching him have ‘one perfect day’ with Surfers Healing. Seeing the confidence each child had after stepping back onto the sand was incredible. The Surfers Healing Autism Ohana is a community of the most supportive, caring, kind, and beautiful humans who are changing the lives of children and families affected by autism. This ohana creates an open, nonjudgemental environment where everyone is encouraged to be who they are and are truly treated as family. I stepped away from this experience forever changed and energized to do all I can to help make the world a kinder, more accepting place. Mahalo to the Autism Ohana for instilling in these children the confidence they deserve and being the reason they walk with their heads a bit higher. Mahalo to the Bolanders for letting me play a role in their crazy, beautiful adventure and for welcoming me into their even more beautiful family.
If you would like to support Surfers Healing, you can use code SURFER when you order popcorn, and 50% of your purchase will go toward helping them continue to provide these incredible camps free to kids with autism.