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When 12 year old Michael catches a wave, he feels “really giddy inside” - he loves surfing “more than anything”.
His younger sister, Josie, is no less enthusiastic.
“On your first wave it feels weird, but when you keep going… it’s, like, amazing,” she says. To her, riding a wave is like having a thousand of the “best tasting lollipops in the world!”
It’s hard to believe that Michael and Josie may never have learnt to surf, simply because they are on the autism spectrum.
Until 2016, no organisation in WA provided surf lessons to children with autism.
Then along came Luke Hallam and Sam Moyle.
Luke and Sam epitomise the laid-back, positive energy that surf culture is known for. And yet, there’s something extraordinary about this duo.
Their remarkable story began when Luke, a personal trainer, realised that his autistic clients had never been surfing before, “even though they had the physical capabilities to do so”.
In WA, that was an anomaly. “If you have 50 neurotypical people from WA in a room, I bet you about 45 of them would have tried surfing at least once,” says Luke.
So, why is that number so much lower for people with autism?
Luke believes it shouldn’t be.
“We have this amazing resource in WA – the ocean – and everyone should be able to enjoy it!”
United by this belief, Luke and his friend Sam (Marine Biologist and avid surfer) joined forces and started fundraising. In 2016, Ocean Heroes was born.
With the help of volunteers, they now run monthly events, offering one-to-one surf experiences for children in WA on the autism spectrum.
“It’s not just about keeping active, it’s about creating a community for these kids and their families too,” says Luke.
“The kids love it because it’s not school, it’s not traditional therapy, it’s just fun!” adds Sam.
It might not be traditional, but being active outdoors is therapeutic for these children.
“The experience of the water can help with everything,” says their student, Michael.
The Ocean Heroes duo agree that there are “so many benefits” and note that the children “feel calm” in the water.
Luke and Sam’s advocacy for an active lifestyle doesn’t stop at surfing.
This year will mark their third HBF Run for a Reason, which they regard as “a great opportunity to raise awareness” for their cause.
“We’ve got quite a few of the Ocean Heroes kids joining us at the HBF Run this year,” says Sam, “and they can’t wait to get out there!”
Stay stoked, Ocean Heroes, we’ll throw you a ‘shakas’ at the start line!