Surfers for Autism coming to the Beach
Lee County Parks and Recreation and the Calusa Blueway have teamed up with a group of South Florida surfers to raise money for autism.
The ninth annual Gulf Coast Surf & Beach Festival is set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at Crescent Beach Family Park on Fort Myers Beach.
Surfers for Autism, a non profit group formed in 2007, hosts events all over the coast of Florida to help provide safe places and days of learning by sharing the art of surfing and creating more awareness in the community.
“This is the ninth year the event’s been in Fort Myers Beach, though it’ll be the first year I’ve missed it,” said Tracy Basante, Surfers for Autism spokesperson and recurring volunteer.
While many may not consider the Beach a prime destination for surfing, Surfers for Autism also offers paddle boarding events when the waves may not be up to standards. They also consider community the most important part of the festival.
“I was actually a volunteer at the first event, when I was a park ranger. So it’s amazing to help them promote and find volunteers. The event itself is amazing, the amount of smiling you get out of some of these surfers when they hit the water is life changing,” said Mike Hammond, Lee County Parks & Recreation coordinator, in a prepared statement.
The event is driven by volunteers, most of whom share some investment in the group, either having a child with autism, or having a loved one or family member diagnosed.
“I started taking my son, Damian, with me when he was 5 to volunteer and to see if it was something he liked. He’s now surfing for the Special Olympics finals in the state this year, which is the only reason we won’t be at this one,” Basante said.
The event caps out at 200 surfers and is designed to be a great day to bring your family out, whether they hit the water or not. It’s a judgement free zone and parents with children who are on the autism spectrum are encouraged to bring them out so they can experience the event.
“You definitely have to be there to see the impact. It’s awe-inspiring to see the surfers that dedicate their time, and it’s amazing to see them get into the water. I plan my year around it, honestly. It really has become an open gathering of friends every year,” Hammond said.
Lee County has been involved with the event since the its inception, and it has grown bigger each year they have held it.
“It’s important that everyone feels welcome; we want as many people to come out as we can get,” Basante said.
Parents who have a child or children with autism or a related disability who would like to participate in the surfing aspect can submit a surfer participation request on the Facebook event site, or the official website surfersforautism.org .
Surfers for Autism request reservations by Oct. 21.
Surfers, their families and volunteers will also be invited to participate in a Sunday Funday on Sunday, Oct. 27. Sunday Funday will include tours of the Ostego Bay Marine Science Center and the U.S. Coast Guard station. Registration for Sunday Funday will take place at the Surfers for Autism event on Saturday.
Crescent Beach Family Park is at 1100 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised and updated.