Friday, August 17 , 2018, 3:27 am | Fair 68º


Waves of Excitement Roll In with Autism Society’s Surf Day

Santa Barbara chapter's annual celebration at Leadbetter Beach thrills children and parents alike.

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With his dad manning the board, Isaiah Sykes gets in some fancy footwork before taking his technique to the water. (Brad Elliott photo /

Eight-year-old Steven Holm wet-suited up, eager to catch some waves at the Autism Society of America-Santa Barbara Chapter’s annual Surf & Beach Day on Saturday.

His mom, Christy, and sister Haley watched as Santa Barbara Seals surf instructor J.P. Garcia patiently went through a tutorial with Steven before they hit the water.

“The first time he came (to the ASASB beach day) we hadn’t seen him smile in months,” said Christy, who got teary-eyed at the memory. “He got on the surfboard and at first was shy, but the minute he got out on the water he had this smile and you could see this joy around him.”

The event serves not only as a special day for kids with autism and other disabilities, but also as a support network for parents. Only in its fourth year, it drew both local families and out-of-towners to Leadbetter Beach.

“I cry every single year when I see those kids up on the surfboards, smiling from ear to ear and waving to their parents on the shore,” said ASASB president and event coordinator Marcia Eichelberger. “I just can’t help myself.”

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J.P. Garcia of the Santa Barbara Seals helps a grom catch a wave to shore. (Brad Elliott photo /
The Santa Barbara Seals have been volunteering with the event since its beginnings, bringing wet suits of all sizes, beginner foam boards and plenty of instructors who spend individual time with each child who wants to try surfing.

Dave Letinsky, one of the veteran Santa Barbara Seals volunteers, thinks surfing can be extremely therapeutic for the kids. “Any time anybody can get in the sea for any reason, it’s a good thing,” he said.

A few recognizable names got their feet sandy, including Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who watched the surf instruction for quite awhile and said she was very impressed with the Seals.

“I was out here watching them and they are so patient, you can see the kids when they put their arms out and it looks like they are flying,” said Wolf.

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Eddie Estave makes a run to daylight through a tunnel of parents and Santa Barbara High football players. (Brad Elliott photo /
Kids who weren’t interested in surfing went kayaking, boogie boarding, visited a crafts table staffed by local high school student volunteers or simply splashed happily in the waves.

Santa Barbara High football players also helped with the heavy lifting to set up the event.

“It’s something that helps the parents,” said Barbara Bazeghi, a teacher at Santa Barbara Community Academy. “All the activities are brought in, and (the kids) have a chance to play with kids who are similar to them. There’s a lot of understanding here.”

A.B. Sotello, 8, had been literally asking about the ASASB event all year, said Bazeghi, his former teacher, who brought him and his sister, Star, on Saturday.

“I like playing in the water, I like eating and I like surfing — the little one,” said Sotello, referring to boogie boarding.

At the end of the event, parents and volunteers showed their enthusiasm, forming a human tunnel for all the kids to run through while everyone cheered them on.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at [email protected]

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