Lumina News file photo
Volunteers take Eddie Brown of Virginia to the water for his surf session during They Will Surf Again, an event held by Life Rolls On, on July 28, 2012 at Public Beach Access No. 4.
Brock Johnson lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he has enjoyed beach, boat and water activities for decades. While diving from a boat anchored in a nearby waterway two years ago, Johnson said the tide might have shifted the boat that day when he mistakenly jumped into what turned out to be shallow water.
“I fractured my back … and I’m basically paralyzed from my mid-section down, with limited hand function,” he said on Wednesday, May 8.
Johnson was 33 years old when he had his accident and thinks his prior active lifestyle helped make it possible for him to recover and remain athletic today, competing in the Southeastern Regional Wheelchair Games last year, as well as surfing.
“I tell people that I surf and they can’t believe it, especially people with spinal cord injuries. The look on their faces is like, ‘You do what?’” Johnson laughed.
Johnson spent five months at the Shepherd Center spinal cord and brain injury facility in Atlanta, Ga., where he began his road to rehabilitation as a quadriplegic.
“They helped me kind of figure out life again, I was relearning everything and that’s where I found out about Life Rolls On,” he said.
Life Rolls On is a nonprofit organization, and a subsidiary of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, with the mission of helping others to see boundless possibilities beyond paralysis. Each year, it is hosted in nine cities across seven states for its surfing event, They Will Surf Again (TWSA). It was brought to Wrightsville Beach by Ocean Cure, a local non-profit organization, six years ago and will return to Beach Access No. 4 this Saturday, May 18 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Johnson participated last year for the first time and said that despite the injuries he sustained in the water he had no trepidations getting back on a surfboard.
“I had no fear to go back out, because I love the water so much. It was just not knowing that it was really possible and they make it really easy,” he said. “There are a lot of hard times that you go through with this and there’s not a lot of joy that comes inherently with it, but I found some with [Life Rolls On].”
Kevin Murphy is the president of Ocean Cure and director of the only North Carolina Life Rolls On event. Last week Murphy said that the organization helps many participants find ways to make surfing a part of their lifestyles.
“We have a custom board that has been donated to us from [Jody Becker] in Wrightsville Beach and we’re trying to see if it will work for [Johnson] and if it does, we’re going to get one made just for him so he can continue surfing,” Murphy said.
Additionally this year, Murphy said that as Life Rolls On tours the East Coast, WaveJet Propulsion will be at the Wrightsville Beach camp with its self propelled boards.
“That’s going to get people a little bit more independent, because with these boards there’s the possibility for people that have strong swimming ability to be able to do this somewhat on their own,” he said.
With more than 100 volunteers, businesses, local and professional surfers helping out each year, Murphy said that the community effort creates an almost seamless event, making sure the 30 to 40 participants have the best day possible.
Sharing the act of helping individuals with physical impairments to surf, Indo Jax Surf School will host its new and returning camps catering to children with vision and hearing impairments, autism, diabetes and more.
On the heals of their annual trip to Kochi, India for Homes of Hope to teach young girls how to surf, as well to instill self-respect and confidence, Indo Jax founders Jack Viorel and Jeff Murtha pointed to the whiteboard in their office filled with upcoming camps this summer.
“Every summer we try to add a camp or two, and in addition to that we get bigger numbers … and we always have the regulars that come every year and you see how much better and more confident they get, but it’s always neat to see when it’s their first time,” Viorel said.
“Our biggest problem is having the money to have our camps be unlimited,” Murtha said.
Viorel trains instructors in the highest safety standards and as the camps grow he said it becomes harder to keep up. Thus, through funding they want to add more instructors and equipment, and adjust the format of the camps.
By sponsoring as many activities on the beach as in the water, the duo hopes to sustain the growing number of participants alongside the number of trained instructors and volunteers.
This is the second year Viorel and Murtha are partnering with the Coastal Therapeutic Riding Program and the Horse Boy Foundation for autism.
“One of the things that’s come about through working with the Horse Boy Foundation is adjusting the format to where we can have 30 participants in the water and 30 on the beach doing just as enriching activities,” Viorel said.
“We’re working towards bringing the charity to the next level, so we can serve more children,” Murtha said.
“And we really do encourage everybody from the area to come down and see what we do, because to be on the beach and actually see what is happening to these children throughout the time we are working with them is an extraordinary event,” he said.
Camp registration is free for all Ocean Cure and Indo Jax Surf charity camps, with no maximum cap on participation.
For updates on Life Rolls On or other Ocean Cure camps, events or volunteering visit its Facebook page or www.oceancureinc.com
For more about the upcoming Indo Jax surf camps, visit www.indojaxsurfschool.com