Gnome Surf: creating a wave of inclusivity and kindness for autism families
Gnome Surf is a Massachusetts based 501(C)(3) nonprofit surf therapy organization focused on creating a culture shift towards inclusion, diversity, equality, and acceptance for kids of all abilities through surf therapy, arts and cultural activities. Based on the belief that every athlete that walks through the door is a unique, amazing individual- capable of changing the world, Gnome Surf provides families with an inclusive and accepting, tight-knit community that builds self-confidence and lifelong friendships.
Thanks in large part to corporate sponsors, individual donors and grants, such as the Norma and Malcolm Baker Recreation Grant funded by Autism Speaks, Gnome Surf is able to provide individual surf therapy sessions as well as free weekly camps throughout the summer for children of all skill and need levels. In the winter months, they offer art classes as well as off-season fitness classes related to surfing to keep in shape in preparation for when students can be back in the water.
In 2020, while the coronavirus touched people around the globe, for people with autism and their families, the effects of the pandemic were especially profound. Many lost or had limited access to vital resources. Understanding the importance of their programs, Gnome Surf created strict cleaning protocols out of the water and put social-distancing guidelines in place for surfers in the water. As a result, the non-profit was able to provide vital recreational and fitness services to over 1,200 families!
“When other businesses were forced to close, we were fortunate to be able to be there for our community and provide an escape from the new norm in a fun and supportive environment,” said Chris Antao, Founder and Owner of Gnome Surf. “Our autistic athletes proved once again that labels are better left on paper, and they thrived on the waves. I can’t thank the individual donors, partners, and supporters like Autism Speaks for all they’ve done to provide us with the fuel to keep helping more people - we couldn’t do it without you.”
Mackenzie P. has twin 12-year-old boys, Cash and Hollis, both of whom are on the spectrum. She said enrolling them at Gnome Surf was a no brainer, not only because it would provide an outlet for them to burn energy in their favorite element – the ocean – but Chris and his dedicated staff are second to none when it comes to working with people of all ages and ability levels.
“Surfing has improved the boys’ life so much! To watch them interact with Chris and his other “Gnomies” showcases that the yes-you-can environment fulfills parts of them that the world rarely gets to see. As a special needs parent, we are conditioned by doctors, specialists, therapists and most of society to pay more attention to what makes our children different, or atypical if you will. But when we are watching them from the shore with faces full of joy, we - feel what parents of typically developing kiddos feel...PROUD...proving that Vitamin Sea does ANY body good! Gnome Surf, Mother Nature & the board can truly give you and your family an overwhelming feeling of unity if you give it a shot.”