Blind World Magazine

Surf's up -- even for the blind and visually-impaired.

August 29, 2005.
North County Times, California.

CARLSBAD ---- "Are you guys ready to surf?" San Diego Surfing Academy founder Pat Weber asked the crowd of surfers gathered on South Carlsbad State Beach on Sunday morning.

"Yeah!" came the enthusiastic reply, and with that, dozens of surfers took off toward the water.

Just another day at the beach ---- except that these surfers can't see.

For the tenth year in a row, members of the Encinitas Lions Club, Swamis Surfing Association and San Diego Surfing Academy treated participants from the Blind Community Center of San Diego to a day of sun and surfing. The event was co-founded by Bruce King of the Swamis Surf Association and local surfer Larry Graff.

Graff said he got the idea for the event when he saw blind people water-skiing on television. Graff, was treasurer of the Encinitas Lion's Club at the time, and pitched the idea to the club.

"They focus on sight-related charities, so it was a natural match," he said.

Ten years later, it has become a much anticipated event.

"It was so great that someone came up with the idea," said Lee Morton, Director of the Blind Community Center of San Diego.

Morton, 53, who was born blind, has been participating in the surfing event all 10 years.

"It's so much fun," she said. "Once you've tried it, you want to go back. It'll be a moral victory if I get up, but as long as I'm riding the wave I'm cool."

At the start of the event, Weber gathered the group on the sand for a quick lesson. The surfers practiced lying on their surfboards and getting to their feet.

Moments later, they headed out into the waves accompanied by a team of "pitchers" and "catchers." Two instructors guided the surfers one by one out into the ocean, turned them around and pitched them onto a wave, while volunteers waited in shallow water to catch each surfer as they came ashore.

While most surfers kneeled or lay down on their boards, Aurora Ortiz stood up on almost every wave. While this would be an accomplishment for any surfer, it is all the more amazing considering Ortiz, 63, is blind, partially deaf, and one of her legs is longer than the other due to a car accident.

"I can't swim, but I'm not afraid to go out," said Ortiz. "It's easy except it takes me longer because of my leg."

Ortiz has been surfing since the first event 10 years ago.

"I was scared, but I'll try anything," said Ortiz, who also participates in marathons.

Ortiz said she is grateful to the volunteers, especially Graff.

"They're giving us confidence and a sense of freedom," she said. "It's a great group of people. They give us a lot of love."

As Ortiz headed back into the waves, Pamela Beaty came ashore for a break.

Beaty, 40, a native San Diegan, lost her sight a few years ago and hasn't had the opportunity to get to the beach that often.

"It was great being back in the ocean again," she said. "Kind of like meeting an old friend."

Weber said he was proud of all of the surfers, as well as the volunteers.

"It's extremely rewarding and fulfilling," he said. "It makes me feel good. We're all very fortunate to have the gift of sight, a passion for surfing and a passion for the ocean. This is a unique opportunity to share it."

End of article.

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