Saturday morning started out gray and overcast in the Ewa Beach area of O‘ahu, as volunteers made their way to the sandy parking lot at White Plains Beach in the early hours. They were arriving in droves to attend a monthly event held by non-profit organization AccesSurf—an event that has been bringing joy to many, with the help and support of an experienced team of passionately enthusiastic volunteers.
What is A Day at the Beach?
AccesSurf’s signature program, A Day at the Beach is designed to create An Ocean of Possibilities for participants and their families, by making ocean access and therapeutic recreation available to everyone. AccesSurf is an entirely volunteer-driven organization that comes equipped with loads of water safety knowledge, a team of expert surfers, lots of love, and some specialized equipment. Their seasoned team of volunteers assist those with disabilities–both physical and cognitive challenges–to get in the ocean. More specifically, their mission is to help children and adults with disabilities, and wounded veterans to discover their level of abilities in the ocean.
The AccesSurf team stresses that for many participants, this is the one time each month that event participants are able to get out of their house or care facility in order to splash in the waves. Their excitement is palpable.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before the participants start streaming in, the day begins with a lot of unloading. The regular roster of volunteers from AccesSurf haul heavy beach mats from vehicles in the parking lot. They lay these across the grass and the sand in order to make the area wheelchair accessible. They erect a small army of tents to provide shelter and waiting areas for those wishing to get in the water. They unload tents destined for keiki activities, tents for lunch, tables and chairs, food and drinks, coolers and equipment. These folks don’t mess around. This event is well orchestrated.
First time or sometime volunteers arrive an hour later and begin to gather for announcements, introductions, and a Hawaiian blessing before the nuts and bolts of the day begins. Our Hawai‘i Life team begins to stream in at 7:00 a.m., setting up our own tent where we supplied volunteer shirts and hats to our staffers from across O‘ahu. By 8 a.m., we joined the ranks of what looked like about 80-100 volunteers and participants for instructions and announcements.
Introductions and a Blessing
AccesSurf’s Executive Director Cara Short and the charity’s program coordinator, Ryan Kohara, gather the huge group of volunteers together at about 8 a.m. to make introductions. The morning has, to this point, been run like a military operation, but with plenty of cheer, joy, and camaraderie. Once all the housekeeping is out of the way and the rules of the day have been established (safety first, slow down, have fun!), a Hawaiian blessing is chanted. Then the entire group holds hands in a circle. Together, with a tremendous sense of community, we enjoy a moment of silence, in gratitude for the day ahead.
Volunteer Roles & Training
Next up: the various volunteers gather in groups to be briefed on their unique responsibilities. Color-coded, long-sleeved rash guard-style shirts are given out by volunteer role: navy blue rash guards are for the Assisted Swim volunteers, white ones for the Water Transfer team; red shirts are for the Water Safety volunteers, the construction-vest yellow shirts are for the Surf Instructors. Orange are for the Beach Coordinators—the very experienced, long-term volunteers who are the core of this well-established organization, originally founded by Mark Marble. Everyone’s volunteer role is clearly indicated on their shirts. And yes, on this particular Day at the Beach event, Mark Marble is there, too.
The choice of volunteer roles is a casual affair and volunteers can join whichever group suits them best. The Assisted Swim volunteers help participants stay afloat as they take a swim. The Surf Instructors are highly experienced surfers from around the island, who help participants ride some waves on regular boards or specialized equipment. Thoughtful training is provided on-site, with long-time volunteers leading the newbies with an informative instruction session.
For example, the Transfer team learns how to safely transfer participants in and out of the water, in some cases using AccesSurf’s specialized equipment. They are taught how to approach issues like range of motion and safety, as well as how to respectfully approach and touch participants. They are shown how to lock forearms and wrists for more secure transfer of participants from their wheelchair to and from a surfboard or a beach access wheelchair. They are also taught to be mindful of their own bodies, with tips on how to lift safely to protect their own back muscles.
The Assisted Swim team gathers to review the ways they can best help participants into and out of the water. Founder Mark Marble gives the instructions to this group. Once the instructions are given to the various volunteer groups, small clusters of volunteers, clad in their appropriately colored jerseys, station themselves at their various posts. The Water Safety and Surf Instructors gather in two groups by the water’s edge. The Transfer team waits under the transfer tents, where the bulk of the beach matting is laid out. This is where participants are assisted on to surfboards and specialized equipment.
Finally, with all the volunteers in place, the dozens of participants queue up under the shade of the tents on the beach, or close to the Swim Assist team to take their turns in the water. You can feel the excitement in the air. This is fun for the whole family, as kids and adults alike get to share this experience with one and all. It’s clear from the smiles on everyone’s face as they get into the ocean that this is something participants have been looking forward to. It’s a lot of hard work and lifting from volunteers, but incredibly rewarding when you see the simple joy this experience brings to the families in attendance. The volunteer ‘ohana appears to be having as good a time as anyone. This is truly a special community here on island, one that is now extending to other parts of the world (check out AccesSurf Okinawa for a taste of how this event is spreading).
All of this tremendous effort is funded by donations, as well fundraising events the AccesSurf team puts together throughout the year. All of the tents, equipment and shirts cost money‘an estimated $67 per participant for every Day at the Beach event held, according to AccesSurf’s website. With the organization’s monthly Wounded Warrior beach days, that’s 24 events per year, in addition to other programming.
Needless to say, to keep this programming going, their fundraising efforts are epic. The AccesSurf team is a group of highly dedicated volunteers, tasked not only with water safety, but also with continuous fund development, in order to make these signature events happen each and every month. There is only one paid employee amongst them and for the volunteers, their reward is this day, this sense of community, and the smiles on the faces of participants.
On Land, There’s Plenty To Do
Back on the grass, there’s a merchandise tent selling shirts, tanks, visors, hats, and donated art prints, as well as AccesSurf stickers—with all proceeds going to fund AccesSurf’s activities. There’s a keiki tent with crafts and activities to keep the kids occupied and entertained. The equipment tent is where attendees can pick up their color coded rash guards. Finally, there’s a food tent that serves lunch to participants and volunteers, of which there there about 100. Today, the lunch is sponsored by Hawai‘i Life.
On this day, there is also a tent hosted by staffers from the Developmental Disabilities Division of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Hawaii Neurotrauma Registry. They are handing out swag bags and pamphlets that describe their services. We spoke to them briefly about their lobbying efforts to secure for more support services for patients with neurotrauma, once they leave critical care or rehab.
AccesSurf volunteers, including about fifteen real estate professionals from our team in attendance this past Saturday, can choose to work some of these tents on dry land. Our own Julie Archambeau (O‘ahu BIC), a bundle of energy and forever a sales professional, put herself in a sales role at the events tent, where she signed people up for future AccesSurf events and fundraisers. One of these is a partnership between AccesSurf and Habilitat. Locals may know them from their Christmas tree sales around the state, fundraisers held in the lead up to the holiday season. Julie’s expert salesmanship convinced some of us to pledge our commitment to buying Christmas trees on the sign-up sheet provided.
Another sign-up opportunity included an upcoming, $200/plate fundraiser dinner where the AccesSurf team will be honoring two of their dedicated volunteers. They were also promoting the AccesSurf checkout code (#78795) for the Give Aloha Community Gift Matching program at Foodland stores across the state.
How Hawai‘i Life Got Involved
At Hawai‘i Life, we felt privileged take part in this community event and to serve up lunch to all of the volunteers and participants. Our efforts were spearheaded by the experienced surfers on our O‘ahu sales team, who have been a part of the AccesSurf volunteer group for a while now. From their encouragement, we came out in larger numbers to experience what they had been raving about. We encourage you (and your professional peer group, too) to register for upcoming AccesSurf events, as well as to help support their worthwhile efforts in whatever ways you are able to.
How You Can Help
Customize your own one-time donation amount. Every contribution helps AccesSurf create life-changing ocean experiences for those with disabilities.
Customize your own monthly donation amount. Support from sustaining members helps AccesSurf create An Ocean of Possibilities for their participants and their families.
To volunteer, you may attend AccesSurf’s new volunteer orientation at 8 a.m. at any of their Day at the Beach events, after you complete their online volunteer form. You can find a calendar of their events here.
As part of the annual DUKE’S OCEANFEST, AccesSurf’s Hawaii Adaptive Surf Team (HAST) takes parts in the Hawaii Adaptive Surf Championships (HASC) every August in Waikiki. As a company, you can sponsor their participation in this event, or donate needed materials.