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Surf club focus on Abilities Not Disabilities

A North Clare club for children with special needs is embarking on a fundraising drive and is calling on the public to support its unusual endeavour. No Limits Surf Club, Abilities Not Disabilities, facilitates young people with special needs in learning how to surf.
Volunteers from the Fanore-based club will set off on their inaugural fundraising cycle incorporating a 60km circuit from Ennis to Gort and back this Saturday.
No Limits Surf Club is a non-profit organisation established in 2010.
“Since 2008 we have been voluntarily running surf lessons for kids with autism and, building on that success, last year we decided to set up an independent surf club for kids with special needs here in Clare,” explained Peter Hynes of Aloha Surf School in Fanore, which helps run the club.
The No Limits Surf Club is made up of the parents and families of the children who attend for lessons and volunteers from a range of backgrounds including care workers, paramedics, surfers, lifeguards, instructors and water sports enthusiasts.
“The reason we set up the independent club is that we wanted to involve the families as much as possible with the aim of giving the parents and family members the confidence and the skills to go with their child to the beach outside of the sessions, as opposed to just taking the kids surfing on their own and sending them home.
“The way we work now, parents are involved and each month they get more confident about taking their child into the water outside of the lessons,” Mr Hynes explained.
No Limits Surf Club currently caters to children aged between six up to 18, however, criteria for membership is flexible.
“If we can run the lesson safely with a child, then we will. The lessons are very labour intensive in that we need three to four volunteers per child in the water so this is really only possible on a voluntary basis as the manpower necessary would make it prohibitive in terms of cost for parents who would like their kids to get surfing lessons,” he went on.
Because of this, the club is always on the lookout for volunteers who Mr Hynes says need not be experienced surfers.
“We have members from Limerick, Ennis, Galway city and across Clare. They come from quite a distance and from a wide range of backgrounds and while we have some volunteers who have experience working with children with special needs and others who might be trained lifeguards, these skills aren’t necessary to volunteer. Ideally, people would be interested or experienced in water sports or alternatively working with people with special needs but it isn’t necessary because before the season begins we run a training session for all volunteers covering water safety, autism awareness and child protection,” he continued.
For the children taking part in the lessons, the experience is transforming.
“The majority of sports in Ireland are team sports and often these kids are excluded from those, so surfing being an individual sport lends itself to them. The freedom they would have in the water and on the beach is very beneficial to them. We have had parents tell us that they have seen their kids expressing emotions during the lessons that they wouldn’t normally see in their kids. It could be just smiling or laughing or general expressions of emotion,” Mr Hynes outlined.
Catherine Sides volunteers with the club and is its fundraising officer.
“We have the backing of Clare Sports Partnership, who have been very helpful. Our club relies completely on voluntary help. Each session requires a minimum of 15 volunteers whose roles include safety, instruction and catering for the six young people who benefit from the surf sessions each week. There are no rewards better than the pure delight and sense of achievement which radiates from the children’s faces and provides huge payment in kind for the volunteers and parents,” explained Ms Sides.
The sponsored cycle in aid of No Limits Surf Club leaving Ennis at 10am from the Gort Road Industrial Estate. Cyclists will travel the old road to Gort via Crusheen before returning to Ennis via the same route. All money raised from the cycle goes directly to the No Limits Surf Club.
“The fundraising cycle is part of a larger programme aimed at providing the financial backing required to purchase the specialist equipment needed to run the surf sessions. People who wish to make a contribution can contact the club via the website www.nolimitssurfclub.com or sponsor a cyclist for the day or by offering support along the route on the day,” Ms Sides continued.
A further fundraising event is a showing of the surf film The Big Wednesday in Glór on October 27.

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