Special needs

Surf school in Chile treats children with Down syndrome

At Playa Paraíso in the northern city of Antofagasta, classes are being run by trained surf instructors with support from the local municipality.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011  
The beaches in northern Chile are famous for their waves. (Photo: hunter~/Flickr) The beaches in northern Chile are famous for their waves. (Photo: hunter~/Flickr)

For the past month, a group of children with special needs have been taking to the waves at Playa Paraíso (Paradise Beach) in the northern port city of Antofagasta.

Aged between seven and 12, the kids with Down syndrome have been participating in a specially-designed surf school which combines sport, training, stimulation and hydrotherapy.

The program kicked off in late July with a pilot class attended by six children, who received lessons on surfing techniques from the school's professional instructors.

“By the second class, all of them were in the water,” the camp's director Andrea Bravo told El Mercurio. “It’s very difficult for children with these disabilities to trust people so quickly, but we’ve seen, surprisingly, that they seem to be [trusting us] without any problems and they even seem excited.”

It is an idea that has come to fruition after much planning and preparation. For years, the Municipality of Antofagasta's Office for the Integration of People with Disabilities has been working with the Hope Color Group, a local non-profit organization formed by the parents of children with Down syndrome, and the Antofagasta Surf School to get the project off the ground.

The idea gained ground earlier this year when the surf school successfully organized the first-ever Interschool Surfing Championship in Antofagasta. Following the event, Mayor Marcela Hernando asked the club to develop new projects and the plan to put on a surf school for children with special needs was finally given the nod.

The Hope Color Group has welcomed the school, pointing out that alternative therapies like hydrotherapy allow children with Down syndrome to develop their self-esteem and sense of self-worth while building their muscle tone.

“This is an extraordinary initiative for the children with Down syndrome because there are few programs dedicated to them in general,” the club's president, Patricia Araya, told local media. “This is a marvellous program and I am really grateful to the municipality for inviting us to be part of it.”