Waves of Strength Is Changing Lives One Surfer at a Time

Waves of Strength helps children and adults with cognitive and physical challenges.

waves of strength event
Waves of Strength's signature annual event features surfing lessons at the beach on LBI. Photo: Courtesy of LJ Hepp

Robert Simek, a lifelong surfer, didn’t want anyone to be excluded from the intense feelings that riding waves can bring. So six years ago, Simek and his wife, Lisa, started Waves of Strength, a nonprofit that brings surfing to children and adults with cognitive and physical challenges in the Ocean County and Long Beach Island area.

“There is this sense of freedom, there’s a sense of exhilaration, like you are on a wave of energy,” says Simek, who lives in Montville and LBI.

The organization’s signature event is a massive day of surfing lessons at the beach on LBI. This year’s takes place on July 14th from 8 am to 1 pm at 68th Street Beach in Long Beach Township. Get registration and volunteer details here.

The benefits of surfing can be mental and physical and are shared by the participants (85 percent are under the age of 18), their families, the volunteers, and the locals who always gather to cheer on the first-time surfers. Last year, MSNBC Stephanie Ruhle, who has a home on LBI, volunteered at the event.

“The kids laugh and smile…You get choked up,” says Simek. “Some of the parents are like, ‘I haven’t seen my kids smile in [so long].’ One father actually had a nonverbal child who basically became verbal for a month after the event.”

waves of strength event

Participants, their families, volunteers and spectators all feel the benefits of Waves to Strength’s big surf event. Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Karp

There are three volunteers for every participant. Two experienced surfers go out in the water with the newbie, holding onto the board and helping to navigate. One volunteer stays closer to shore, so that “as they ride the wave in, there’s someone there to catch them.”

Other volunteers help with checking people in and other logistical tasks.

Simek says many of the participants are not only surfing for the first time, but heading into the ocean for the first time. “Some parents tell us their kid never went into the ocean because they couldn’t handle them in a safe manner,” Simek says.

That’s not a problem at the annual Waves of Strength event.

After the event, the organization helps some kids continue surfing, even if they cannot afford it. In March, Waves of Strength held a wave-pool event at American Dream in East Rutherford.

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