Tim Motyka lay on his stomach, then pulled his knees up underneath his torso, and, looking forward, rose to his feet on a surfboard as a wave courtesy of Hurricane Florence carried him almost into the shoreline of Ditch Plains in Montauk on Saturday, September 8.
Then it was over. It was only the 22-year-old Southampton resident’s fourth time surfing since 2015, and he was happy he lasted longer — five to 10 seconds — this time around under the watchful eye of his tandem surf instructor.
“It’s very intense. It’s like a piece of adventure when you actually ride it,” recalled Motyka of the surf as he exited the water, albeit dripping, but still looking like a boss.
It was like magic. “You just feel like you are airborne — whether you go out to the wave and you make your way out or if you come back in. It actually feels like air, only that you are riding a board in the water,” he said.
Motyka was one of about 200 grommets — fledgling surfers — to get a taste of the waves at the world-famous surfing spot with top instructors from the east and west coasts, and even as far away as Costa Rica, for A Walk on Water, a non-profit group that offers surf therapy sessions to disabled children and adults. It was the west coast-based organization’s fourth event in Montauk, made possible entirely through donations from major sponsors such as John Paul Mitchell hair products, the Sax Leader Foundation, the Corcoran Group, the Montauk Beach House, and private donors Reg Miller and Adam Sender. The organization, which is in its 13th year holds clinics all over the United States, and is spreading out to the east coast, offering clinics in Spring Lake, NJ and Virginia Beach, VA.
Mom Rosemarie, who did not wish to give her last name, carpooled from Westchester with a friend and their two children. She said the surf therapy session did wonders for her nine-year-old son, Lorenzo, who is on the autism spectrum. “The water is very therapeutic,” she said. “Lorenzo has been doing aqua therapy for years and this has helped with his body awareness.”
During the two-day event, surfers were provided with donated wetsuits and rash guards, then paired with tandem instructors who brought them out into the ocean and rode with them. Some instructors even carried their diminutive charges onto the shore as family and friends cheered from the sidelines.
“We have done other surf therapy events before, but this one was great because it allows the siblings to go as well, which is great because this it includes the whole family,” said Jonathan Blagdon, who made the trek from Queens to bring his two sons, 10-year-old Dario, who is autistic, and Arjun, eight, to surf in the event. “The staff is really friendly and I’m glad the weather held out. It’s a beautiful day.”
A Walk on Water’s Executive Director Sean Swentek said he left corporate life behind to follow his new path of providing surf therapy because of the wonders he has seen it bring about. Some children have even come out of the water leaving their afflictions behind, he said. “We have had stories where children who are non-verbal, who can’t speak, come out of the water and they start to talk for the first time in their life.”
Swentek said he knows of a four-year-old who did not speak until after his first surf therapy session. His first words: “Surf” and “water.” “Those were actually his first words,” he emphasized.
“You don’t get the feeling of elation surfing for yourself as you do doing this,” said Kristin Senese, an organizer from Corey’s Wave, a group of surf instructors who donated their time to the “cause.” She explained some of the instructors might have started off believing that they couldn’t handle a tandem ride, but they are now very committed to their work. “It takes a way higher level of skill. It’s not just about being a good surfer — the control that it takes. It’s so delicate. But these guys are superhuman,” added Senese.
Each session is different for everyone, according to west coast surf instructor Chito.
“It’s not an exact science whatsoever,” he said, noting surfing isn’t the same every time you go out. “You are dealing with the ocean — it’s the most ever-changing thing in the world. You have to take it as it comes every time you go out. With every person that you surf [with], everyone has different circumstances that they are dealing with. It’s a cool thing because it makes you fluid, like water.”
James Bogetti, an instructor from Air and Speed, who guided about 12 children through surf therapy sessions on Saturday, described the feat of finding the balance point on a surf board no easy task at first, but once done, he said it becomes easier if you maneuver your body as close as possible to that of the other person and then move as “one big person.” The second you figure that out, you are riding waves all the way to the beach.
“With the wind in their face — there’s some pretty big surf here — you can’t really compare it to anything else in the world,” he said of tandem surfing in a therapy session. “As soon as you get to the beach and they turn and look you in the eye, you know that you did something unreal,” he added.
Until his next therapy session, Motyka will continue to enjoy the ocean body surfing at Cooper’s and Flying Point beaches in Southampton, though he does look forward to the day that he will be able to surf independently, riding the waves at the bowl at Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays. “I’d like to learn how to do tricks,” he said.