Ten years ago I found out I was having my first son. I imagined weekends at birthday parties, baseball games, and spending time with the other moms while our kids played.

Then one sentence shattered my dream:  “Your son has Down Syndrome.”

All I could think about was the loneliness and obstacles that faced our son Luke…and us as his parents. In my grief, I did not realize that there was a whole community of parents and organizations waiting to welcome us. I learned that while things will be different, everything will be OK.

While we were stationed in San Antonio, we found Kinetic Kids. This is an entire league that offers kids the chance to participate in extracurricular activities. They teach everything from baseball to dance to theater, and Luke did it all.  The sessions last six weeks, which is the perfect amount of time to learn a new activity and meet some new friends. 

Then, as with every single military child (special needs or not), there comes a day when it is time to say good-bye due to a PCS. 

We were leaving our Kinetic Kids family, and we were not sure what was going to fill that void.  Yes, there are many very caring and compassionate coaches out there who will include a child with Down Syndrome. But as Luke gets older, the games are more complex and the physical demands are higher. Sometimes your child just needs a level playing field to truly enjoy an activity and not have it feel like a struggle. As his mother, I wanted to find a way to keep him active and included. I wanted everything to be OK.

After we arrived in Hawaii, I saw an advertisement for “Day at the Beach” sponsored by Access Surf. 

access surf banner
©️Access Surf

I was curious about the program and what it entailed. I found information on their website, and it states:

This free program is open to anyone with a physical or cognitive disability, both for local residents and visitors to our islands. Featuring assisted swimming and floating as well as surfing – our trained volunteers and specialized equipment are here to make sure you enjoy the happiness and freedom of a Day at the Beach, whether you’re going for a surf, enjoying a swim, or just hanging out on the beach soaking up the sun.

That sounded exactly like what Luke – and our family – needed as we settled in a new place. 

When we walked up to the sign-in table on our first visit, I was terrified.  Although the beach is a great place to learn to surf, the waves looked huge. How was my little boy from Texas going to ever get up on a surfboard?  And why was I about to trust a complete stranger with my child in the ocean while I stood onshore? This seemed anything but OK.

I tentatively asked, “What happens when he falls off the board?” And I will never forget what that surf instructor told me:

When he falls off, he learns not to be scared of the waves.  Instead, he will learn to paddle a bit harder….and over time, he will start to swim even stronger. I promise it will be OK.

I thought we were attending surf lessons and finding an activity for my special needs child. Instead, we received acceptance and caring. We were also reminded of a simple life lesson. When you are knocked down, get back up, paddle harder, and fearlessly try again. We were reassured that once again, it was really going to be OK.

Month after month, Luke gleefully tells everyone he is a surfer.

Surfing boy
My boy Luke surfing the waves!

The volunteers and other families enthusiastically wave as they recognize him from previous sessions. He confidently picks out his board, throws up a shaka, and paddles away from us with his instructor.  On some runs, he catches a wave; some knock him down. There is a moment of panic that grabs my heart when he goes under a wave, but then I see him climb back on the board and try again and again.

Thank you to Access Surf for teaching him to surf. But more importantly, thank you for teaching Luke (and reminding me) to kick harder, paddle stronger, and not be scared of the waves. No matter what, it is really going to be OK.


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Melissa is an Air Force spouse who enjoyed 13 years living along the I-35 corridor in North Dakota, Louisiana, and Texas. The Air Force gods finally broke her free of the Central Time zone this summer and sent the family to Hawaii - just five weeks after baby #4 arrived! She works remotely for a non-profit in Louisiana as the Director of Technology and Strategic Operations and is currently pursuing her Project Management certification. Her oldest son (age 9) has Down Syndrome, and her oldest daughter (age 7) has an undiagnosed genetic disorder, so there are a lot of therapy and medical appointments; however, the chaos is balanced with weekly trips to the beach, hikes, and trying new restaurants.


  1. Melissa Godinez,
    Thank You for writing this as there is nothing more gratifying than to get confirmation that what you are doing is really worthwhile and making a difference.
    Although the word “surf” is in our name and is a big part of what we do, it is really about life and the courage to take that first step.
    For us, the Aloha that is felt at our events works both ways. The volunteers often comment on how much they have received simply by giving.
    What a concept. 🙂

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