"We travel around the world chasing swells, but at the end of the day, the waves during these sessions will be the only moments that really matter," Will Skudin explains. The Big Wave World Tour standout, and the only surfer on the tour from the U.S. East Coast, is still buzzing off his recent trip to the Surf Ranch with a handful of his friends.
The moments he's referring to are those threaded by Dylan "the Surfing Samurai" Hronec and Joe Testaverde. Dylan was born with cerebral palsy. Joe suffered a spinal cord injury when he was 18-years-old. Both are active participants and supporters of Will and brother Cliff's Surf For All organization.
The grass roots of the organization were founded in 2002 in Long Beach, New York, by Harvey Weisenberg, Jim Mulvaney, and Will and Cliff Skudin. The goal of Surf For All is simple: share the gift of surfing with others. Back in the late ‘90s Izzy Paskowitz, the founder of Surfers Healing, a non-profit that specializes in taking individuals with autism surfing, was in the New York area and inspired to, as Cliff puts it, "keep going in our local community once Izzy planted the seed."
"I think about it like he was the Duke Kahanamoku of this sort of thing. Duke did his surf tour, then all these years later Izzy came through town with his message of surf therapy. He came to our community and really left the footprint," Cliff explains.
"Surf For All stemmed from branching out to community centers, schools, and organizations within and exposing these children and adults to the ocean who may never have been given the opportunity of surfing," continued Skudin. "It was like, let's expose children who are blind and visually impaired to surf, our brave Soldiers who are going through physical limitations surfing in the ocean, and it went on from there."
Now Surf For All works with thousands of participants annually across all walks of life, impacting people with many challenges.
"It's incredible when you're on the beach and a mother says to you, ‘I haven't seen my child smile in two years.' Then all of a sudden mom's in tears and she can't even believe it because the kid's psyched out of his mind," Cliff continues. "It's really emotional. It's real."
Last month, the Skudin brothers, along with their friends Dylan, Joe and a handful of water safety personnel found their way from cold Long Beach to not-so-cold Lemoore to sample the Surf Ranch.
"You pull up and it's these golden gates…I watched all the videos when they first came out, I watched the contest, and it was even better than what I imagined in my dreams," Dylan said when he spoke with the WSL. "It's such a powerful wave. It's so perfect. It's a modern marvel."
"Surfing at the Ranch was a life changing experience, a real dream come true," agreed Joe. "It left me feeling like there's much more I can do that I may have thought to be impossible. Spending the day at the Ranch with Samurai was something we've spent countless hours dreaming about and talking about. We really had no idea what we were getting into heading out there, but it was so much sicker than we imagined!"
For Will and Cliff, not only was it an opportunity to get Dylan and Joe a few waves, it was a chance to fine-tune their water safety game. Making adjustments throughout the day, they were happy with the progress they'd made by the time the last wave was ridden.
"We learned a lot," testifies Will. "It's such a long wave, we had to figure out how to position people and things like that. Days like this are only going to make the experience that much better for others like Dylan and Joe in the future. They'll be able to really push their limits and take their surfing to the next level. People see the Surf Ranch and think of high-performance surfing, but it really is a game changer for adaptive athletes."
"I was talking to Dylan and Joe after, and I told them, this is about all of us. We're all here together, all helping each other out," Cliff continued. "I get so much out of it, just as much as they do. It's really a full circle. Surf For All really brings us together. When you help others you feel good. I've gained so much strength and confidence in my life seeing what all these individuals are able to accomplish. If some kid that is blind has the courage to go ride waves, that's so uplifting for everyone involved. We're trying to bring that sense that they're helping us just as much as we're helping them."
It's more than the waves ridden on the days of the outings, the experiences stem throughout their lives and lifts their confidence to do so much more.
Dylan's the first person with cerebral palsy to ride the Surf Ranch. Not only did the experience blow away any and all expectations, but Dylan also saw it as an opportunity to inspire others.
"I just hope that people realize that no matter what obstacles you face in life you're capable of anything you put your mind to," says Dylan.
Next Dylan and Joe are preparing to compete in the U.S. Adaptive Surfing Championships in Oceanside, California, in mid-June.
"Joe had his accident when he was a senior in high school. I was eight years old, but we lived close to each other and as he was having to learn how to do things I was having to learn how to do things the same way," Dylan says. "We've learned how to navigate this whole crazy life together. I've known him so long and I know what he's been through. To go to the Ranch together, it's like living in a dream. Nobody can stop us now."
A special thanks goes out to:
-Surfers: Dylan "the Surfing Samurai" Hronec and Joe Testaverde.
-Support and Safety: Cliff Skudin, Will Skudin, Rick Salomon, Anthony Salerno, John Byrne, TJ Gumiela, Mike O'connor, John Jensen, Ian Skudin, Jack Richards, Woody Skudin, Mike Silverstein, Mike Cimino, Jason Murray, Khalil Rafati, Conrad Carr, Austin Simkins.
-Video Production: Shot by Jason Belsky and JR Jensen, edit by Will Skudin and Jason Belsky, Music by Liily "Toro" Flush Records.