August 21, 2016 - 4:30 PM
MARTINIQUE BEACH, N.S. - Surfers of all abilities hit the water at a Nova Scotia beach this weekend for They Will Surf Again, an event that allows people with disabilities to enjoy the freedom of riding the waves.
More than 40 people with disabilities, including 14 recent immigrants from Syria and Iraq, signed up for the event at Martinique Beach near Halifax on Saturday. Organizers say it is the only Canadian stop for Life Rolls On, which sets up similar events in cities across the continent.
Jesse Billauer, who founded the U.S.-based organization after a surfing accident rendered him quadriplegic around 20 years ago, flew in from California to support the roughly 115 volunteers assisting with the event.
"It makes you feel weightless ... A lot of people in wheelchairs don't get that sensation," Billauer says. "By being able to get out into the ocean, (they) have that freedom and independence they might have lost."
Justin Burdon, who has a brain injury, experienced the ocean for the first time in 12 years as he rolled along the waves with a full-faced grin, his surfboarded guided by a group of volunteers.
His mother, Elizabeth Burdon, says "his smile says it all." She says it's usually hard for individuals with disabilities to get to the beach.
"When you're restricted physically in your body ... I think being able to move along effortlessly on a surfboard in the water must just seem like freedom," she says. "(You're) on par with everybody else."
Ali Allawi, who came to Halifax from Iraq two years ago, swam behind his sons Hussein and Ayoob, both of whom have disabilities, as they surfed for the first time.
"When I see all the people with disabilities, not just for my sons ... enjoy (themselves), I am happy," Allawi says. "We're very happy in Canada."
Vicki Morton and Rick Rector held hands as they made their way into the water.
At the inaugural Nova Scotia event in 2014, Morton, balanced on her one leg during her first time on a surfboard. She brought Rector, who lost part of one leg, along this year.
"A lot of people look forward all year to something like this," Morton said. "Beaches and bikinis can be intimidating for some of us. Just getting out and feeling like it's our beach, we can do this."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016