It’s hard to know what’s in the mind of a 5 year old. It’s harder still when that 5 year old is non verbal. But when Maggie’s cousins were coming to visit and they all wanted to go surfing, we thought, Maggie would probably like to do that too.
In the last few months her arms have lost a lot of strength and are now barely functional, so we weren’t sure how she’d be able to push up on the board. Her left hand, which has retained some function for a long time is now barely usable so we weren’t sure how she’d be able to hang on. Her balance is so bad that we can’t let her walk without being close enough to catch her in case her legs just give out on her so we weren’t sure what would happen if she fell into the water.
Because of all this, any activity is going to be fraught with extra danger. I mean, adapting intrinsically dangerous activities doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Ultimately we were putting our daughter who isn’t particularly water safe on a board in the ocean and hoping she wouldn’t fall into the water.
We called around to a few places and found one that does adaptive surfing – Surf Divas in La Jolla. I had to explain Rett Syndrome to them and they assured me that she’d be able to do it. I assumed that there was additional equipment she’d need to stay on the board. I thought maybe they would strap her to the board, or, at least be tethered to it, in case a wave were too strong.
When we got there, we learned that the three surf instructors were the only adapted equipment we would need. At first I was nervous, unsure as to whether or not this was going to work. At first, Maggie seemed a little nervous too.
But when we put her in the water and the instructors pushed her out to sea, she immediately started smiling. We were amazed at how well Maggie could hang on. She didn’t fall once, which is more than I can say for any other first time surfer in the history of surfing. She laughed the entire time and her gleeful squeals could be heard over the sound of the crashing waves.
We were scared to put her on a surfboard, just like any parent would be. But once she got on the board, Maggie wasn’t scared. She was a typical kid. And in her mind, it was pretty clear, there was nothing but joy.