NORTH MYRTLE BEACH — Surfing and the beach have been a part of Brock Johnson’s life for the last 15 years, and his passion couldn’t be deterred even after a diving accident more than two years ago that left him as a quadriplegic.
“That’s one of my first loves. Surfing,” he said.
Johnson heard about a Carolina Beach, N.C.-based organization called Ocean Cure, a nonprofit dedicated to giving free surf lessons to medically fragile and at risk youth and adults.
“That’s how I learned I could go surfing again,” Johnson said. “They taught me how to do it and we figured out a way to bring it to Myrtle Beach.”
Ocean Cure, coupled with the Coastal Carolina Adaptive Sports and Recreation program in North Myrtle Beach and Johnson’s spirit, brought the inaugural Coastal Carolina Adaptive Surf Off Saturday near 21st Avenue South in North Myrtle Beach. About 100 volunteers, participants and on-lookers enjoyed beautiful mid-70s weather while venturing out to the ocean with trained surfers to ride a few waves.
Participants were wheeled on the beach in beach wheelchairs and taken to shallow water. There, they were helped onto surfboards and brought to deeper waters where they waited for the right wave. Every time a participant rode a wave in, a crowd of people gathered on the beach clapped and cheered.
“It’s wonderful to see all ages out here participating,” said Melinda Chappell, president of Coastal Carolina Adaptive Sports and Recreation. “Another cool thing is to see people who may not have ever been in the ocean to actually be in the ocean.”
Chappell said her organization provides sporting opportunities, such as tennis, archery, golf and wheelchair basketball, for people with disabilities. She said the surf off was the first of its kind along the Grand Strand and families have been talking about the event for a while.
“They were nervous and they were excited,” Chappell said. “The anticipation was great. They didn’t know what to expect.”
Those were feelings echoed by Amy Fields, of Carolina Forest, who brought her 12-year-old daughter Maya DuBridge to surf for the first time.
For Maya, “It was kind of scary at first. I was really nervous,” she said. But after riding between 10 and 15 waves Saturday morning, Maya changed her tune. “It was really fun.”
Fields said bringing her daughter to the beach in a wheelchair isn’t always simple, so she made sure arrangements were made beforehand.
“It’s been a little bit of stressful week,” she said. “I was excited for her, but also had a little bit of fear.”
Fields was taken over with emotion as she let the realization of what her daughter accomplished Saturday morning sink in.
“My heart is so full,” Fields said. “I’m sure it took so much for them to put this on.”
Organizing an event like Saturday’s can take up to a year of planning, but Johnson managed to get it done within a few months. Volunteers from hospitals as far south as Georgetown and north as Brunswick County, N.C., came together to make the event a reality.
But nothing could compare to the sight of children who rely on wheelchairs to get around lining up to catch their first wave in the Atlantic Ocean.
“That’s the most special part of it,” Johnson said. “I didn’t even see that in my mind how special it could be to get kids out and people who have never experienced anything like this.
“That’s the most memorable part of it.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him on Twitter @TSN_jrodriguez.