One Saturday morning each month at beautiful Hanalei Bay on Kauai, autistic children and adults, people in wheelchairs, stroke and other brain injury survivors are safely escorted into the ocean by an army of volunteer lifeguards, firefighters and other experienced watermen and women. As participants ride waves into shore with volunteers at their sides, their thousand-watt smiles beam their joy to be alive.
Kurt Leong’s passion for surfing led him to co-found the Kauai non-profit organization Kauai Ocean Recreation Experience (KORE) in 2009.
Kurt Leong: I knew surfers would want to help other people experience the ocean and the good that it does a body, soul and mind. We wanted to spread that feeling to people who haven’t surfed before or who used to surf and can’t anymore.”
It saves your soul when you surf. It gets all the negativity out of your body and mind. I can’t explain it scientifically, but it works. It’s like fishing. It’s good for your mind and soul even when you don’t catch anything.
KORE volunteer Bruce Cosbey, a general contractor, surfer and longtime Kauai resident, has watched the ocean transform people with disabilities. He motions toward an autistic 19-year-old, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with KORE volunteers, looking at photos in a book, laughing, clearly enjoying himself.
Bruce Cosbey: I’ll never forget his first day with us at KORE about six months ago. He was extremely shy, real stand-offish. He didn’t want to be touched. He needed a minimum of 10 to 15 feet space from anybody. One volunteer gently coaxed him in the ocean and on a surfboard. He is now a changed person. Now when you see him get out of a car or off the bus in the morning, he runs to get to us. He’s so fired up. He’s a seal now. He can’t stay out of the water.
A friend of ours who is in his mid-20s is a triple amputee. He likes to come visit our KORE ohana (family) and show everyone how easily he can surf, even without legs and only one arm. He often says, “Impossible is only an opinion, not a fact.” That’s the power of the ocean. It brings it all back.
Read more about KORE in Pamela Varma Brown’s book, “Kauai Stories.” Visit www.korekauai.com