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Surfing the Spectrum

For 5 years, Ocean Heroes has been connecting children on the autism spectrum to the water and helping them ride waves since 2016. Set up by three local WA surfers, Ocean Heroes brings together the Autism and surfing communities, creating a fun and inclusive environment for the participants, their families, and volunteers, with the aim of improving the wellbeing of those on the Autism spectrum through surfing.

The impact and reach Ocean Heroes has had in 5 short years is unrivalled - here’s a snapshot of their great work to date:

- 40+ free events held around Australia - events held in WA, VIC & NSW
- Over 3,000 kids with autism provided with the opportunity to go surfing
- Youngest participant being 3 years old, oldest being over 50

- 150 participant registrations book out in well under 10 minutes online once released
- Return rate of 85% or more (as bookings go so quickly)
- 15% new attendees each event

Meet Sam Moyle - one of the three local surfers behind Ocean Heroes & lululemon Here to be Partner.

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lululemon: What was the catalyst to starting Ocean Heroes?

Sam: Ocean Heroes first came about when co-founder Luke (a Personal Trainer for people with Autism) realised none of his clients had experienced the thrill of surfing. All were physically capable; however, the support networks weren’t there to facilitate doing so. That’s when Luke got together with myself and another good mate Bomber to create Ocean Heroes. It started on a cold Winters day with our close mates helping push a handful of children on the spectrum into surfing, to now holding monthly free events with up to 150 participants at a time!

lululemon: In your own words, ‘everyone deserves access to physical education’ - can you elaborate on this statement with specific reference to how Ocean Heroes breaks down the barriers.

Sam: Australia is known for its ‘beach and surf’ culture. We have the best beaches in the world, and our country is built on the coastline, so it’s crucial that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy it. A lot of the time, the Autism community may not see the beach as an inclusive environment for someone on the spectrum. It’s often loud, packed, and the ocean can be a dangerous place for those unaware of the risks, which is where Ocean Heroes comes into play. We provide the opportunity for anyone on the spectrum to enjoy the thrills of surfing, and all that the ocean has to offer, in a safe and inclusive environment. We cater for each individual’s needs, and ensure patience and understanding for the participants.

lululemon: What are some of the changes that you witness in the children from Ocean Heroes events and lessons? Is there a specific story that sticks out?

Sam: Each participant that experiences surfing through Ocean Heroes, whether it be at an event or through the One-on-One program, shows different levels of benefits and behavioural changes.

Autism being diagnosed on a spectrum, means each person is different to the next, and so each responds in their own unique way.

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Sam: Here’s a testimony from a participant’s mother that has been involved with our One-on-One program;
‘The job you do has a massive impact for these kids. To be honest I’d be happy at whatever pace my daughter progresses, I’m just glad that she feels safe and happy to be there learning; but standing up on the board today is pretty cool, and she’s feeling pretty good about it. The barriers to being active in normal sports groups for a kid like my daughter were becoming a big issue and I was concerned. There’s enough to deal with being an autistic tween/teen, let alone becoming unfit and lacking ability with physical activity. It’s so good to find a space where it’s OK to take the time it takes. Usually people would assume she either doesn’t want to join in, or it’s just too hard to teach her. I know she can develop skills with enough time and patience – and you guys make that possible. That’s actually huge. Just wanting to go along is huge. I really think that being able to do something like this plays a role in avoiding a bunch of mental/emotional health issues at this age and up ahead. Thanks heaps.’

lululemon: What is it about surfing that you believe elicits these changes in the kids?

Sam: Traditionally, surfing has always been always about getting out into the water, having fun and experiencing the thrill of catching a wave. Surfing creates an escape for anyone willing to give it a go. Not only does it help physically with balance, core strength and cardio fitness, it’s mental health benefits are just as prevalent. For many participants, surfing is a daunting experience which requires bravery, a sense of adventure, and an unspoken trust with the volunteer taking them surfing. Ocean Heroes creates a safe and inclusive environment for the Autism community to thrive in, and the benefits come naturally! The participants become distracted from their anxiety and stress for a 30-minute session, forcing them to think about only that exact moment in time, and nothing else.

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We assist each session, but allow a degree of separation that promotes the participants to tackle the waves and surf as an individual, and build self-belief and confidence in doing so.

lululemon: What does it mean to you; that Ocean Heroes is a lululemon Here To Be Partner?

Sam: Ocean Heroes are so grateful to have lululemon supporting our program at a grassroots level. Assistance from lululemon comes in many shapes and forms, from staff volunteering at our beach events, running yoga sessions for our volunteers at their local franchise, to financial support for more lifejackets and wetsuits, it’s all so beneficial. We love having the lululemon community intertwined with the Ocean Heroes community, and look forward to a long-term partnership!

lululemon: What are some of the ways you have used, or aim to use, the Here To Be funding and resources?

Sam: The Here To Be funding has come at a crucial time for Ocean Heroes, as it has allowed us to purchase much needed surfboards and lifejackets for our participants. We use the surfboards and lifejackets just about daily, and require a very specific type which aren’t cheap, so it’s great to be able to purchase them when required!

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lululemon: What’s next for Ocean Heroes?

Sam: We’re looking to keep Ocean Heroes growing at a steady rate, with the aim to continue to provide everyone on the Autism spectrum the opportunity to go surfing. We want to reach all corners of Australia, and provide free events as consistently as possible. With the limitations around travel due to COVID-19, we’re focusing on expanding throughout WA, and working on the fundamentals of what we do; one-on-one sessions, and free events that provide a safe, fun and inclusive service for the Autism community. We’re also working on creating more opportunities for the Autism community, which will involve creating an Autism-specific volunteer program at our local events, for those on the spectrum who wish to give back and become part of the Ocean Heroes team. We already have members of the Autism community who were once participants at our events, but now come down to help out and volunteer their time for others!

To find out more, book a one-on-one surf lesson, sign up for an upcoming event or make a donation, please visit Ocean Heroes.

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