Ricochet has been providing therapeutic assistance and creating unique surfing experiences for kids and adults with disabilities for over seven years. In that time, we have witnessed some pretty amazing life-saving, and life-changing transformations in the people that she has helped. Those transformations led to an organic evolution with Ricochet’s newest program called Waves of Empowerment (WOE).
The WOE program is about inspiring and empowering kids with special needs, people with disabilities and military with physical and emotional challenges like PTSD to help themselves by helping others. These individuals are now volunteering to assist new people with disabilities who want to surf with Ricochet. The interactions in the water or on the beach cultivate renewed spirits and a sense of purpose for both the participants and volunteers.
"This model honestly has the potential to be my favorite event ever because it is just about love and inclusion. Everyone is included and out there because of love". ~Lauren, West's mom
Last Sunday, Ricochet hosted a surf session at La Jolla Shores in San Diego. Individuals who volunteered were matched one-on-one with new participants who are also disabled. 10 year old West has autism and first surfed with Ricochet in 2013. He used to be afraid of water and dogs until Ricochet helped him overcome his fears. He was matched with Adaptive Jim who recently lost his leg in a motorcycle accident.
Janina, a military veteran originally met Ricochet through a Canine Inspired Community Re-Integration program through Paws’itive Teams. She was matched with Alesha who has cerebral palsy.
"What a great event Waves of Empowerment is! To see so many Canine Inspired Community Re-Integration participants out watching, helping others out and bringing their families out to be a part of this great community, is so rewarding. For our warriors to be able to give back and help someone else is more healing than you could know. Thank you for your vision in connecting people and animals together. Powerful!" ~Kim, Recreation Therapist
Every 65 minutes a veteran with PTSD takes their life by suicide. We are dedicated to improving the lives of our physically and emotionally wounded war heroes.
Military service members like Esther volunteer to be on the water team to help K9 assisted surfers like Alesha. This responsibility fosters trust and gives them both a sense of connection to each other and the team.
"The team effort is exactly what I took away from this as one of the most beautiful values learned." ~Jim
One of the effects of PTSD and other disabilities is social isolation. We provide a safe environment where participants and volunteers are embraced with an abundance of compassion, encouragement and positivity. So much so, that service members Amy and her husband were eager for their two year old son to surf with Ricochet. Scroll to the bottom of the page to watch video of Aiden catching a wave!
"I thought it was the best event we’ve had yet. The energy was amazing. Everyone was there for the right reasons. To see West transform into a helper/leader and watch the service members smile and help out so freely in that environment was uplifting and healing for all. Also, Adaptive Jim was an inspiration for everyone." ~Lauren, West’s mom
We focus on facilitating engagement and building new relationships which fosters camaraderie and belonging.
"I liked how there wasn't a sense of "us and them" or "the disabled and the abled." Everyone was just doing what they could to contribute to creating a joyful day." ~Janice, Amy’s mom.
West has become Ricochet’s junior handler and took Jim under his wing to show him how to ride with her.
Things didn’t go exactly the way West had planned, but an incredible bond formed between the helper and the surfer. Click the video below to watch their mutual concern for each other, and Ricochet when they wiped out.
"It was fun and cool. My favorite part of the day was helping." ~ West, Ricochet’s junior handler.
"The word I would use to describe my interaction with West is profound. He is great and I’m so happy I got to meet, and learn from him!" ~Jim
Then, Jim changed gears and became a helper for Alesha's next ride. Ricochet originally met Jim in Lake Tahoe at a dog friendly resort. His leg was amputated due to a motorcycle accident. Since then, he’s become interested in adaptive sports and is active in the amputee community & Amputee Coalition of America.
Alesha has cerebral palsy. This was the first time she’s surfed without another human on board. She became so empowered, she rode a couple waves on her own!! Scroll to the bottom of this page to see Alesha's video!
"Yesterday was amazing! Surfing with Ricochet really allows you to feel free and forget about your disability. For me getting to surf with Ricochet for the first time was a whole other level of freedom that I've never experienced before when surfing with people on the back of the board. Yesterday was definitely empowering and that bond that Ricochet creates with you on the board is just incredible, we are able to trust one another and I know that she has my back to balance the board and keep me safe while allowing me to go much faster on waves because she does not weigh as much as a person." ~Alesha
Six year old Sasha has autism. Kids with special needs typically have an adult supervising them at all times. But when they surf with Ricochet, it’s often the first time they’ve done something completely on their own, which can be very empowering for them. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see Sasha's rides.
After Sasha was finished with her rides, she changed into a pink Ricochet shirt and was ready to help others!
10 year old Makena also has autism. She is pretty much non-verbal so she can't tell her parents what she likes or wants to try. In this case, we had an adult on board to monitor her reactions. Her mom later shared that it was a thumbs up! Scroll to the bottom of this page to see video of Makena's rides!
"Surfing with Ricochet was an awesome experience for Makena and our family. Getting to be part of this day was an opportunity to get Makena out of her comfort zone and try something new. It was neat meeting Ricochet and the people who she has helped that come back to volunteer. We felt welcomed and knew Makena was safe out on the water with Ricochet and her volunteers." ~Amber, Makena's mom
Amy has Xeroderma Pigmentosum/trichithiodystrophy complex. It is extremely rare, life-threatening and progressive. She was matched with military service member, Esther. Amy has surfed before, but never without another human on board.
Amy was able to kneel on her first ride with Ricochet
She stood up on her next ride with her service member, Esther cheering her on! Then, she ditched Ricochet and rode her next wave totally alone! Talk about empowerment! Scroll to the bottom of this page to watch video of Amy surfing solo!
"I thought your plan of assigning military to support individual kids was hugely successful. There were so many layers of success to the event. The differences in our Canine Inspired Community Re-integration graduates from that first orientation to this event was something difficult to describe..WOW!" ~Carol, Paws’itive Teams
13 year old Ian McFarland (on the left) first surfed with Ricochet in 2009. He suffered a brain injury in a horrific car crash that claimed the lives of his parents. He used to surf with his daddy, but was afraid to go back in the water until Ricochet gave him the confidence to conquer the waves. Now he offers encouragement to other kids.
Ian cheers on other surfers, and gives them a pep talk before hitting the waves.
"The waves of empowerment program is cool because I got to help other people surf and I loved seeing their big smiles. It's a great environment." Ian
Everyone involved is developing relationships with each other as they are working side-by-side. They tend to start interacting more, their social skills improve and their compassion & empathy are enhanced. Safety is of utmost importance and there is always seasoned instructors in the water that have years of experience and expertise in adaptive surfing.
Click here to watch the video that started the whole journey.
Kleenex Alert! Over 16 million views on FB & Twitter!
Siblings are a big part of this program. Offering them volunteer opportunities keeps them involved, active and an essential member of the team. Here, Sasha’s brother Ben is making sure her wetsuit is zipped up all the way.
"I love being with Ricochet because she inspires me to always be helpful. I love being out there in the water and helping people. It's pretty much my favorite thing to do." Lauren (Ian's sister)
When kids are are allowed to help other kids surf with Ricochet, it gives them a sense of worth. Their self-confidence blossoms and their accomplishments are endless. Lauren and Lexi encouraged Alesha with a sign.
Reese is West’s sister and was an instrumental "Rip Curl Registrar" volunteer. She made sure everyone who attended was registered and she distributed "paw it forward" wristbands.
"This event brought people of all different backgrounds together by the help of Ricochet, to have an amazing day of surfing at the beach." ~Reese
We urge kids of our volunteers to become helpers too. They typically assist at the shoreline, catching the board when it comes in, and screaming cheers of encouragement.
"Everybody that has surfed with Ricochet and the people hadn't yet surfed got together and helped each other and had a blast!! I loved seeing everyone laughing and the ones I couldn't see was because I had sand in my eyes." 😃Luke (Ian's brother)
Sometimes taking a day off from school to help on the beach is warranted as kids learn a great deal about compassion and community service. They gain such powerful values that can't be taught from a book.
Bonds between the kids & military are powerful. Brandon, is a Marine who worked with Ricochet in the Canine Inspired Community Re-Integration program. He often handles Ricochet on the beach, showing kids just how strong her healing power is!
Sasha is given a helping hand. Although they started off as strangers, their bond quickly grew. Trust is paramount when you’re surfing!
Leslie met Ricochet through the Canine Inspired Community Re-Integration program. She has experience with autism, so it was a perfect fit for her to be matched with Makena.
There are many other volunteer opportunities for those who prefer to stay dry like military service member Monica. She first met Ricochet through the Cainine Inspired Community Re-Integration program.
Raising awareness is a big part of this program. Every child or adult that surfs with Ricochet has a cause. Whether it’s directly related to their disability or just something they truly believe in. We are grateful to the media for helping us with this.
"The Waves of Empowerment Day was spectacular!! The joy and self-confidence Ian gained with surfing with Ricochet was doubled as he could help the next wave of surfers!! There is such tremendous healing that comes with giving back!! In the past seven years - the outpouring of love
for our family has been extraordinary and has helped us fly. Having the opportunity to give back is indeed empowering and so healing for my three kids and me. Thank you for making this happen, Ricochet and Judy!!! We are so thankful for you!!" Melissa
Ricochet always offers an abundance of love and paws-on healing during these surf sessions. She knows what each individiual needs and provides it. Personal tragedies are turned to triumphs through the healing power of the ocean, and the healing power of a dog.
Although not every participant or volunteer fought in war, they have all fought health battles. Please join us as we take our first step in celebrating all warriors, regardless of their battle.
If you are an active duty service member or veteran that would like to volunteer to help Ricochet surf with kids who have special needs, or if you'd like to become a volunteer, or if you have a disability, PTSD or a child with special needs that would like to surf with Ricochet, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to our veteran and disabled volunteers, we are always looking for water men and women, photographers, videographers, cheerleaders and friends! Just send us an email if you’d like to volunteer in any capacity.
For additional information and to follow Ricochet on social media, click the links below:
Photo & video credit:
Note to media: High resolutions photos and video clips are available. Contact Judy Fridono at email@example.com or 707-228-0679
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