July 25, 2017
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Cypress School and UCP visits Stinson Beach for surf camp

  • Six-year-old Jacqueline Johnson of Rohnert Park is seen giving surfing a try at Stinson Beach with instructor, Isabel Zavala. Photo by Robert Grant

By: Katheine Minkiewicz
June 30, 2017

The fog cleared and the sun came out over the white sand of Stinson Beach in Marin County, where children from the Rohnert Park Cypress Camp in conjunction with the non-profit, United Cerebral Palsy North Bay, got a chance to catch some waves and surf at the annual Spectrum Surf Camp last Friday.

Since 2013, the Cypress School Autism and Behavioral Services, has partnered with the surf camp based out of Bolinas to provide surf camp “for individuals with special needs,” according to and to provide students with cerebral palsy, (chronic conditions that affect muscle coordination and brain development and occur early in childhood) a chance to have some fun on the water.

The event started at around 10:30 a.m., when kids started arriving from Sonoma County and went on for about two hours, giving everyone time to suit up in a wetsuit and get out on the water with a board, which was followed by a picnic lunch provided by UCP.

Jen Whalen, who helps run UCP summer camps in the North Bay, said the goal for the day of sun and surf was to make the participants feel as comfortable as possible and to learn the new sport skill set of surfing.

   “The goal is to make sure the kids are comfortable and safe in the water and get an opportunity to boogie board and gain the surf skill set,” Whalen said.

   Surf instruction and equipment such as wetsuits and user friendly foam boards were provided by Spectrum Surf, which was all donated by local businesses, according to Whalen. 

  Instruction is catered to each skill-set and provided by Spectrum Surf Camp Director, Natalie Pepper. The program attempts to first get kids introduced to the water and to eventually get them on the board, Whalen said.

 “Everything is hands-on and some kids have specific skills, so some kids aren’t used to the water, so we start with toes in the water, then we progressively step up the skill until they are comfortable in the water and then we start introducing the board and every kid is going to be different in how we approach the water,” Whalen said.

 Natalie Pepper who was initially a special education teacher, isn’t only the director and one of the instructor’s for the camp, but is also the founder of the camp, which also staff’s behavior specialists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists in order to meet every participant’s needs.

 For Pepper, the goal of the day was to let everyone to get a chance to get in the water and to enjoy themselves.

  “The ultimate goal is to have fun,” Pepper said, who has been running the camp for five years.

 When asked, why choose Stinson Beach to host the day’s camp, Pepper said that Stinson is usually a safer place to teach due to smaller waves and has bigger and better amenities than other beaches in the area.

 “It’s a sandy bottom, it’s a big beach, there’s lifeguards, there’s bathrooms, picnic tables, a big park, but I think it’s a little safer because even when the surf is big, it breaks further out and then it kind of crumbles in,” Pepper said.

 As the waves “crumbled in,” around 50 kids made their way to the beach, some getting help from instructors with stabilizing their boards, some playing in the surf and some standing up and catching a small wave or two.

   Laura Briggin, founder of the Cypress School, was also in attendance and joined the kids in the water. Briggin started the school in 2007, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary of creating personalized curriculum and “enhancing the quality of life of people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities,” according to the school’s mission statement.

   Briggin said that she has always enjoyed being by the water and surfing, so she jumped at the idea of having a surf camp for the kids of Cypress.

   “Well, it (the idea) was Natalie Pepper’s, but I love surfing and boogie boarding… and I’ve always loved Stinson Beach. And Steve, who is our videographer and teacher of all sorts of photography and videography, met Natalie surfing in Bolinas and she said, “yeah I have this surf camp.” So we all came out and met her and said, “oh my god, this is great,” Briggin said.

 Overall Briggin said the kids were very excited to spend an afternoon in the water.

“Once they get the wetsuit on, it’s like “oh my god,” the freedom and the joy and the ability to just have fun with your friends and enjoy nature is just fantastic,” Briggin said.