Participants in the first Athletes for Cancer / Team Duke Surf & SUP Survivorship Camp paddled their surfboards and SUP boards into a surfer’s circle outside the break zone in calm waters on Maui’s southshore. The incoming swell rolled in, gently lifting the group, connected by paddles and hands stretched across each other’s boards. The circle kicked off the beginning of their coast run, a 3.2 mile journey through flatwater, reef, and waves that completes their 5-day intensive introduction to surfing and standup paddling.
The nine participants ranged in ages from 21-40, having battled cancers with names that are too painful to pronounce: Medulloblastoma, Retnoblastoma, and Papillary Thyroid Carcenoma. All combined, they survived 24 surgeries. On this day they were paddling into waves as if their lives depended on it.
Athletes for Cancer kicked off its Survivorship Program in Maui last week with the first ever Surf & SUP Camp for young adult cancer survivors. With the generous support of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, Athletes for Cancer launched the camps as a channel to foster self-confidence and strengthen survivorship for young adults as they face life after cancer.
Athletes for Cancer designed the camp to present cancer survivors with challenges that each individual chooses to embrace with support and motivation from staff and their peers. Experienced instructors from Action Sports Maui provided athlete survivors with a solid foundation of surf and ocean safety fundamentals with daily focal points and exercises, but also allowed them the freedom to explore and learn on their own.
The atmosphere on day 1 of camp was one of intimidation and awkwardness. The skies were gray, as were the faces of our athlete survivors as they stood on the beach staring at the longboards at their feet. Unsure of the ocean, their confidence, and personal limits, survivors took small, hesitant steps as they attempted to simply lay or sit on a board in the water for the first time. Standing on a surfboard or a SUP board was an achievement on the first day. Despite the cautious aura, some started paddling into waves.
Day 2 started with a unique and special experience to further get comfortable in the ocean, but also to work together in a team setting — Outrigger canoeing on the Northshore of Maui. The local paddlers at Lae’ula O Kai Canoe Club at Kanaha Beach Park were our expert guides. As the early morning light graced the colorful hulls of the canoes awaiting us, local keiki performing a traditional ceremony and songs. Our entire group stood speechless and in awe of the incredible setting.
Apparently this was not an ideal morning for canoeing according to our guides — the wind was strong and waves were building. Despite slight apprehension from some, everyone was willing to give it a go! This was an incredible step in facing our fears — even staff were anxious! After a brief paddling and safety talk, we broke into teams of six and pushed the canoes in the water. We paddled in unison, following our lead paddler with alternating strokes. Each boat caught small waves. The experience was amazing and everyone made it back to the beach!
On day three, the atmosphere changed dramatically with clear sunny skies and an eagerness to get into the water. We started the day with a yoga warm-up and stretch on the beach, then a fun surf session for all. Instructors and athlete survivors did tandem rides, paddle-assisted solo rides, and even some yoga moves on the boards. The objective for the day was simply to spend casual fun time in the water without too much instruction.
On day four, an attitude and behavioral shift was very evident! That intimidation and fear from day one had started to fade, giving way to confidence and enthusiasm. Action Sports Maui introduced timing, positioning and turning techniques for surfing and standup paddling. Survivors did a short SUP run down and around a buoy for their first distance paddle. The day finished off with more surfing, with a focus on turning on the wave. Here, one of our participants, Rocky, paddles into a wave and starts her turns!
Day 5 – Achievement Day
The idea of paddling 3.2 miles in the ocean does not immediately bring comfort to any paddler. Some of the athlete survivors are excited, and others anxious. As we paddle out and form into our surfer’s circle, athletes are reminded that they survived cancer. Their journey with the ocean this week is about embracing challenge, transcending fear, and achieving growth and harmony along the way. And most of all, to enjoy the ride! Survivors and staff paddled the 3.2 miles, escorted by sea turtles and riding waves along the way. Everyone finished at Kalama Park with smiles and celebration! Watching the transformation from fear and hesitance on day 1 to confidence and empowerment on the last day was astounding.
Why we chose Hawaii
Athletes for Cancer chose Maui for its first Surf & SUP camp for its comforting warm waters and varied beginner terrain – the perfect setting for beginners facing fears of the ocean and learning to surf. The waters of Hawaii also offer relaxation and therapeutic benefits for survivors, as affirmed by one of the athlete survivors:
“My wrist and ankle joints were affected badly from the chemo – They stiffen up in cold water limiting my movement and making range of motion impossible. I could not have attended this camp in the cold waters of Washington, California or Oregon!”
A word from a survivor
“I just wanted to thank you for such an amazing week. The opportunity of a lifetime that completely transformed my outlook. I had an interview today for an internship and sitting there it hit me how much Athletes for Cancer and the Maui camp changed my life. I was able to tell them about the amazing experience and how excited I was to be able to help people as well.”
Athletes for Cancer is hosting its second Team Duke Survivorship Camp in Hood River Oregon August 17-23. We also added another Surf & SUP Camp in Maui October 20-26. Survivors can apply on our website www.athletes4cancer.org or directly at http://athletes4cancer.wufoo.com/forms/athletes-for-cancer-surf-sup-kiteboarding-camps/.
Athletes for Cancer hosts its annual fundraiser July 8-10, 2011 with Kiteboarding 4 Cancer and SUP 4 Cancer presented by Team Duke! Additional events include Skate 4 Cancer and Kayak 4 Cancer. This annual weekend of adventure raises money for Athletes for Cancer survivorship camps and our partner cancer programs including the Pacific Cancer Foundation, The Next Door Inc. and Children’s Hospital Seattle. For more information, go to our website www.athletes4cancer.org .
Athletes for Cancer would like to thank the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and Team Duke for their ongoing inspiration, support, and enthusiasm in helping make the Athletes for Cancer Team Duke camps a reality.
A HUGE thank you to everyone else who made this camp possible, adding so much to the campers’ experience…
Our photographers Tobin Daily, Suzie Dorn from Action Sports, and Peter McGowan! The Pacific Cancer Foundation and Paddle for Life , Lae ‘Ula O Kai , Action Sports Maui, Naish SUP & Naish Pro Center, Jimmy Lewis, Hui O Wa’a Kaulua and the beautiful tour of Mo’okiha O Pi’ilani, Buff Headwear, VANS, Maui Waveriders, Suzie Trains Maui, Hawaiian Airlines and Oregon Screen Impressions.