NYC hospital takes patients surfing in Long Beach


The Hospital for Special Surgery made a splash last week with a surfing trip for young patients. Giving new meaning to the term “patient care,” the Adaptive Sports Academy at Lerner Children’s Pavilion at HSS treated 12 patients, along with some of their siblings, to sand and surf in Long Beach.

The hospital, which is located in Manhattan and has an outpatient center on Long Island, has an office in Uniondale and offers a number of orthopedic specialties.

It turned out to be a great day for surfing on Aug. 15, and HSS patients enjoyed sunshine and waves. International big-wave surfer Cliff Skudin taught the lessons, along with his specially trained staff at Skudin Surf, choosing the appropriate surfboard for each participant.

The hospital’s Adaptive Sports Academy enables young people with cerebral palsy or another physical challenge to experience the benefits of exercise. The program’s trips and recreational experiences aim to build their self-confidence, encourage independence and increase physical activity and mobility. The excursions are offered without cost, thanks to the generosity of donors.

Adaptive surfing and other activities are competitive or recreational sports for people with disabilities. Rules and equipment are sometimes modified to meet the needs of participants. Some patients are nervous at first, but they exceed their expectations and have a blast.

Ranging in age from 6 to 22, many patients who signed up for surfing have cerebral palsy or another condition that affects body movement, muscle control, posture and balance. A number of the young people have had multiple surgeries by pediatric orthopedic surgeons at HSS and go there for physical therapy.

Some used a beach wheelchair to get to the water, but that didn’t stop them from climbing on the surfboard. Balancing on a surfboard while in the water would be a challenge for any beginner, but with help from their instructors, many patients experienced the thrill of a lifetime standing on the surfboard while riding a wave.

“These children are fearless — they did so well surfing,” said Bridget Assip, a pediatric physical therapist at HSS who attended the trip. “It benefits them because they feel free in the water. They can do things that they may have a harder time doing on land. The families and kids had a great day at the beach and so much fun in the water.”

Six-year-old Brooklyn McDonald was excited just talking about it. “It went great, I loved it,” she exclaimed. “I caught a lot of waves,” she added, already using surfer lingo.

Her mother was thrilled to see what her daughter could accomplish. “It was awesome,” said Andrea McDonald, who has taken Brooklyn on a number of adaptive sports trips sponsored by HSS. “We try to bring her to these events because it’s almost the only opportunity she has to participate in something that’s inclusive,” she explained.

The Adaptive Sports Academy at HSS offers a number of fun activities that benefit patients throughout the year, including horseback riding, rock climbing, tennis and basketball.