Photo by Michael Dunker

How these surfers are changing children’s lives

When you’re surfing, you don’t simply catch a wave. You seize it. You feel the wind in your face, salt water between your toes, and the immortality placed in front of you. To share that feeling with another person is almost impossible. For Pat Notaro, he shares that feeling every chance he can with A Walk on Water, his non-profit organization that takes special needs children out surfing.

Photo by Michael Dunker

Notaro (pictured above surfing and below talking to A Walk on Water families) was raised on the waves of Southern California. He loved the water and competed in surf competitions throughout his youth. The power of surfing and connection to the ocean provided a way of life, but it was unfulfilling. It wasn’t until his father passed away that Notaro refocused his life to volunteerism.

Photo by Michael Dunker

Pat’s father was a celebrated surfer who volunteered at Varity — A Children’s Charity, which also works with special needs children. Though they butted heads, Pat and his father bonded over surfing. “When my father died, I realized the power of surfing,” Pat recounted. “And his great lesson was caring for those in need” which inspired the idea for a non-profit organization that got kids into the ocean. Pat named the organization A Walk on Water.

Photo by Michael Dunker

A Walk on Water is made possible by the unselfish efforts of volunteer surfers wanting to help the special needs community. Every year, hundreds of children make their way to the beach to experience the therapeutic benefits the ocean provides. The special needs children, named athletes by the volunteers, are escorted by a professional surfer, safely paddled out, and hoisted up on a board to feel the glory of surfing. Some kids fight it. Some kids kick and scream, but everything settles when they get in the water. “The ocean is calming and that’s what we see with the kids that are most reluctant…as soon as you get them out there, it’s totally calm,” said volunteer Doug Hedin. The kids are safe, secure, and loving every minute of the experience.

Photo by Michael Dunker
“After a week or two weeks, they [the kids] feel the energy. They are talking more, have more energy, everything” — Parent of A Walk on Water Athlete

Notaro continued, “It’s a day for mom and dad at the beach that they don’t have to worry about anything. We take their kids out off their hands, so they have a day together to watch their child do something amazing. Everyone here accepts them as equals. No one looks at them strange because their children can’t walk, can’t talk, or a child is having a tantrum.” For the families, A Walk on Water is a breath of fresh air. Literally. The volunteers provide a much-needed break from the constant care and attention their child needs. It’s a 24-hour job, but several times a year there is a group of people who give up their time with family and friends to spend the afternoon surfing with these children. It’s this act of kindness that forever resonates with the parents. “It blows my mind.” Yet when speaking with the volunteers about the experience, they all gave the same answer, “it’s all about seeing the kid’s faces light up and smile. That’s all that matters.”

Photo by Michael Dunker
“Then you have the siblings and the athletes out there, high-fiving each other, creating a stronger bond between them.” — Pat Notaro

With A Walk on Water in its infancy stage, they face countless challenges. Fundraising the number one. “No one is getting paid. All the money goes directly back into the organization and helping the families,” Notaro said during the event. When KIND® came across their story, they offered to help. Using a portion of the proceeds from the New York Times bestselling book, Do the Kind Thing, written by Daniel Lubetzky, Founder and CEO of KIND®, KIND® contributed to A Walk on Water for their continuous generosity and spreading kindness throughout the world. It was unexpected, but well received. “They [KIND®] kicked ass out here,” Notaro said with a smile. “And it all goes towards taking more kids out into the water. Getting more people out surfing and empowering more lives,” Notaro added.

Photo by Michael Dunker

After two successful events on the East Coast, A Walk on Water heads to the Baja Peninsula and plans to work with special needs children in Mexico. This April, they’re planning for their season kick-off and fundraiser party in Malibu, California. For Notaro, it would bring everything back to where he and his father once surfed. “He would be proud of me that I’ve taken surfing to the highest level and evolved it into something beautiful,” Pat said about his father. “We all have the responsibility to give back. No one has an excuse to not give back. Whether you’re a banker or song writer, it’s your responsibility to help others,” Pat concluded.

A Walk on Water is a brotherhood of men and women (pictured below) wanting to share their love of the surfing with others. They participate in beach cleanups. They teach surf lessons. They understand the power of the ocean can settle the unsettled. In life, we all have a chance to give kindness to another person, yet we rarely seize the opportunity. For the volunteers down in Southern California surfing with those kids, the opportunity presented itself much like waves they ride into shore. They didn’t catch it. They seized it.

Photo by Michael Dunker

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