Autism Awareness hits the beaches of Bali

Berawa Beach recently welcomed its usual surfers as well as children afflicted with Autism, their parents, guardians, and friends, to support Autism Awareness in Bali. People gathered at this popular surfing spot in North Kuta, Badung, with the aim of breaking the silence surrounding this disorder. “We thank everyone here today for helping spread information about Autism,” said local surfer Izzy, who helped organize and MC the event. “Together, we can make a difference in the lives of these children.”

Autisitic boy and his teacher both smiling and riding a surfboard
photos courtesy of Ryan Thorburn

The event was staged by the association of Berawa Board Riders. Sponsors included the moped-maker, Vespa, as well as Oka’s Bakery, Rojo’s Cafe, Mandira Cafe in Echo Beach, the Lingkara Photography Community Bali, Magic Wave Surf magazine, Image Bali Surf, the Kima and Chillhouse surf-camps, Tribun Bali, the Jakarta Post, and the association of Padang Padang Board Riders. Trays of heavy, gluten-free banana bread from Oka’s Bakery vanished almost as soon as they were sent out, disappearing into hungry mouths. Generous portions of regional dishes were bought as quickly as they could be served up. Proceeds from the sale of food and beverages were pledged to support Autism research.

young man wearing a Support Autism Awareness t-shirt at the beach
photos courtesy of Ryan Thorburn

Give And Get

From a small booth set up on the sand, staff members of a local school for special-needs children sold t-shirts, home furnishings, bracelets, and other fashion accessories made in part by people with Autism. Rugs fashioned from second-hand clothing twisted and sewn together served a triple purpose – providing jobs to local individuals, recycling otherwise unusable garments, and supporting a noble cause.

The shirts on sale were printed in bright and colorful strokes depicting scenes of domestic life, while others called in bold, block letters for Autism awareness.

Fifteen Autistic children spent the day making sand castles and burying people in the sand. They giggled and shrieked as the tide moved in and the waves crept closer, running frequently to the water to wash themselves clean. They painted a surfboard that would later be auctioned off, sang along with ensemble percussion group Bali-La, and sheltered from the hot sun in beanbag chairs under billowing cloth canopies. The highlight of the event was when the children – constantly chaperoned and covered with sun-cream – ventured out into the waves to give surfing a go.

“It’s great to see the community come together and support these kids,” said Justin P., a Canadian who had come to the beach to surf but stayed to support the kids. His contribution was to buy a hand-assembled mojito cocktail – the proceeds of which, of course, went to support Autism research. “One really can’t do enough to help out,” he said between sips.

Out Of The Shadows

a sulrfboard painted by Autistic children in bright colors
photos courtesy of Ryan Thorburn

The event marked the first time in Indonesia (and most likely the world) that children with Autism were taken into the ocean and instructed on the fundamentals of surfing. They learned how to stand, how to paddle, and how to read the waves for clues on when and where to go. As with most people learning to surf, they fell down a lot, but were back up on the boards soon enough. Wet and sopping with brine, their eyes widened in wonder and fascination as they rode their first waves.

Parents and guardians applauded and cheered from the shoreline as their loved-ones crashed through the spray and whitewash on foam-topped learners’ boards.

With energy levels falling and the sun setting, students and teachers alike left the ocean in exhausted elation. “I did not know kids with autism could learn to surf,” said a Balinese gentleman, whose niece has the disorder. As awareness of Autism spreads through the Indonesian archipelago, and its stigma is gradually broken down, there is hope that more events like this one will keep popping up across the island.

an Autistic boy sitting on the beach covered in sand making sandcastles
photos courtesy of Ryan Thorburn

Bali Beaches