In waist-deep water off Cocoa Beach, 32-year-old Dawn Blanchard is taking only the second surfing lesson of her life, yet she manages to stand, however briefly, on nearly every wave she catches. And each time she does, she flashes a double thumbs-up, beams joyously and announces, “I did it! I did it!”
This continues for two hours. Yet no one — not the surf instructors, not the considerable crowd of earnest spectators on the beach, certainly not Blanchard herself — seems to weary.
“It’s awesome,” said Deb Spence, a Special Olympics swim coach who cheers from the beach. “She’s actually doing a lot better than I did when I started.”
Blanchard is one of Spence’s Special Olympics swimmers, and this surf lesson is part of a grand experiment to try to introduce surfing as a Special Olympics sport. It’s a collaboration between Cocoa Beach’s iconic Ron Jon Surf Shop, which is picking up the tab, and Special Olympics Florida. The program launched a week ago with eight athletes, ages 18 to 43. All of them have intellectual disabilities, from Down syndrome to autism.