Dylan McIlvain, 12, of San Clemente, was a little hesitant to enter the water at Oceanside Beach Monday, but with a little support from an instructor, he rode his first wave.
His mother, Stephanie, was excited to see the accomplishment.
“It’s huge,” she said.
Monday’s lesson was the first time Dylan—who has autism—had attempted the sport since he had a bad experience two years ago that left him scared to try again, Stephanie said.
“Hopefully it will help him not be so rigid and try other things,” she said, adding that his father, an avid surfer, will be very excited hear of his son’s progress.
Dylan was one of 27 students with autism who took part in a surfing class with the Carlsbad-based Surfin Fire surf school, which also has a campus in Encinitas.
Alongside Dylan, Nick Dean, 12, of Camp Pendleton, was also riding waves. Nick, who had been surfing before, said he really enjoys the adrenaline of the sport.
Monday’s students are highly functioning. In June, the surfing school will host some 40 students with more pronounced cases of autism.
The partnership with the Training Education Research & Innovation Institute’s Country School in San Marcos is now in its fifth year.
“Our kids look forward to it annually,” Principal Shane Hamilton said. “They feel empowered with the patience of the instructors.”
The instructors—who volunteered Monday—have to modify their teaching, said Jon Peterson, a 23-year veteran of Encinitas Fire Department who founded the school. They need more patience when teaching students with autism, he said adding that lessons need to be more visual and need to be broken down more for the children to grasp them.
Teaching the students with autism is a joyful challenge for instructor Riley Weatherford, of Oceanside, who coached various students to catch waves despite their anxiety.
“I think it changes them,” he said. “In the water, everything lets go and they’re super happy."