What does surfing sound like?
That question will be answered 24 ways when two dozen blind children and teen-agers from Los Angeles attempt to become wave jockeys in Malibu this week. They are participating in a special program offered by a local surfing school and the Braille Institute's summer camp.
The program, now in its third year, offers blind children a chance to learn how to catch waves with their bodies and their boards and enjoy a sport that is followed like a religion in certain areas of Southern California.
Ted Silverberg, who owns and operates Paradise Surfing Lessons in Malibu, was approached by the Braille Institute after he began giving lessons to handicapped youngsters several years ago. "They just asked me if I could teach some blind children how to surf, and I told them that there was only one way to find out," he said.
A tough sport for good athletes and often cruel to novices, surfing presents some particularly thorny problems for the blind. Imagine being propelled forward by a wave that's breaking behind you, not knowing what's in front of you and having no idea where the shore is once you fall in the water. Forget for a second that the water is the Pacific Ocean.
Unlike a sighted surfer who "gets stoked" from catching a good wave, the same ride can cause a blind surfer to just get scared.
"There's no doubt that they're scared when they first try it, but we try to reassure them," said Steve Lackey, assistant director at the Braille Institute's Youth Center. "The goal is to let them overcome their fears."
To help them achieve that goal, Silverberg and the surfing school instructors--Mikke Pierson, Bob Terry, Todd Roberts and Eric Tomooka--will stand on the boards with the students, guiding them through the twists and curls. The beginning rides will take place in shallow breakwater. Better swimmers will move on to the deeper areas as the lessons progress.
"The awareness that blind children bring to surfing is just amazing," said Silverberg, a surfing veteran of 15 years. "They're so much more sensitive to motion and sound and even the temperature of the water. Some of them told me that surfing was like being on a roller coaster."
Lackey said the Braille Institute's summer camp is designed to provide "recreational alternatives" for blind youngsters.
"Since they can't compete in sports with their sighted peers, we try to slightly modify sports activities so they can do them," he said. "One of the problems of being visually impaired is that a lot of the kids tend to become inactive. We're here to show them that they can do a lot of things, so we have them go rock climbing, water skiing, swimming and surfing."
In surfing, the biggest problem is getting the youngsters oriented in the water so that they know where the waves are coming from and where they are in relation to other water jockeys and swimmers, Lackey said.
The surfing expedition is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at an undetermined beach in Malibu. The site will depend on the size of the waves.
Lackey said the youngsters who participate in the program range in age from 7 to 18 and include several who attempted to ride waves last year. Silverberg said the lesson will include techniques on how to use "boogie boards" for body surfing and regular boards for stand-up surfing.
"It's a lot of fun for everybody," Silverberg said. "You can't believe their faces when they get up on the board."