Surfing for Autism is a celebration of Outer Banks community

By on August 16, 2017

Catching a wave, a young surfer shows good style.

Walking along the beach next to Jennette’s Pier on Saturday, the impact of what Surfing for Autism has come to mean takes shape.

At first it appears to be all about the kids. Kids who struggle every day to understand a world that seems to use a different language; that seems to view the world in ways they cannot see.

This is their day. Their day to enjoy experiences that most take for granted.


But to limit the excitement of the day, the joy that is happening on the beach, to the kids and not include the parents, surfers and counselors, is to miss the most important part of the experience.

Because Surfing for Autism is about being human; it’s about doing something simply because it is the right thing to do.

Earlier in the week, the weather forecast for Saturday morning did not look good, but by Friday night at the award dinner and general get together, the forecast had improved.

After dinner, surfers were on the beach, talking to some of the kids, showing them how to paddle out, how to stand up and most importantly how to pose like a surfer.

Saturday morning was overcast, the water a bit chilly at 70 degrees, but the waves were close to perfect.


In the water every surfer had two to three people surrounding them; sometimes a counselor would be on hand if a child needed some extra help. Most of the kids really wanted to ride a wave.

Sometimes all they wanted to do was stand up on the board—and that was OK, because the event is focused on what the kids want and what will make them feel good about who they are.

The real story, though, might be the parents; the parents who are holding up signs telling their children that they can surf, that they can ride a wave, that they are somebody special.


There were over 90 families registered this year, and the organizers of the event have always believed that every child should have a chance to surf.

Dominque Dixon

That was certainly the case with Dominque Dixon from South Mills.

Dressed in a wet suit, wearing goggles, Dominque was riding a board through the surf and his parents, Cheryl and Fabiano, were cheering him on.

Last year, Cheryl said, the water was cold. Dominique’s body couldn’t adjust to the change in temperature and he had a seizure.

She and her husband were concerned their son would be afraid to go back in the water, and Surfing for Autism agreed.

The answer?

“They went out and rented him a wetsuit,” she said. “So that he would feel safe getting in the water.”

Dominque did ride some waves and he did stand up on his board — not while riding a wave, but he did stand, and his smile, the smiles of his family and everyone who helped him accomplish his goal told the story.

“It is always awesome to see the pure joy not only on the faces of the participants who were surfing but also on all who were involved and observing the day,” Eileen Lowery, co-founder and president of Surfing for Autism said, and Dominique’s story was just one of many.

The community support for Surfing for Autism has been tremendous since 2010, the first time the event was held. How the Outer Banks has embraced the event was highlighted Friday evening when the Eric Gardner Memorial Award was presented.

The award is given in memory of Eric Gardner, the owner of a local coffee shop who died in 2013 following a skateboard accident and was an avid surfer and early an supporter of Surfing for Autism.

Jesse and Whitney Hines of Surfin’ Spoon accept the Eric Gardner Award from Surfing for Autism co-founder Mark Slagle.

It honors a business that has contributed significantly to the success of the event. This year the award was given to Whitney and Jesse Hines, owners of Surfin’ Spoon in Nags Head.

Co-founder Mark Slagle mentioned the couple had donated $11,000 over the years. When the couple came forward to accept their award, an envelope with an additional $4,000 was given to Surfing for Autism.

That contribution comes from the change customers stick between the boards of the ceiling of their store on the Beach Road at milepost 10.5, honoring a tradition when it was the Jockey’s Ridge Restaurant in the 60s and how patrons left tips for their servers.

Next year’s Surfing for Autism is already scheduled for August 10-11. For more information go to


  • Rascoe Hunt

    Although I’ve donated surfboards and prizes thru-out the years for the Surfing For Autism fundraisers, this was my first year signing up as one of the surfer/instructors with the kids in the water. I must say it was a pretty incredible experience, and I can’t wait til next year. Thanks Mark Slagle for asking me, it was AWESOME!

    Thursday, Aug 17 @ 3:41 pm
  • Thinking about the future

    Always refreshing to read about an even like this that does so much good for so many. Many thanks for the article and to all who were involved in the Surfing For Autism celebration!

    Friday, Aug 18 @ 12:30 pm
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