Surf dog & boy with autism help disabled kids catch waves of empowerment! This video will amaze you!


Surf dog & boy with autism help disabled kids catch waves of empowerment
Surf dog & boy with autism help disabled kids catch waves of empowerment

Ricochet’s new Waves of Empowerment (WOE) program is about inspiring and empowering kids with special needs, people with disabilities and military with PTSD to help themselves by helping others. These are individuals that Ricochethas previously surfed or worked with, who are now volunteering to help the next wave of disabled surfers get on board with her.

Children with special needs are matched with military with PTSD for the surf session. 10 year old West has autism and first surfed with Ricochet in 2013. He used to be afraid of water and dogs until Ricochet helped him overcome his fears. He was matched with Adaptive Jim who recently lost his leg in a motorcycle accident.

West’s transformation was so remarkable, he became Ricochet’s “junior water handler” and is now helping other surfers with disabilities catch waves with her. West took Jim under his wing to show him how to ride with her.

Things didn’t go exactly the way West had planned, but an incredible bond formed between the helper and the surfer.

For kids with autism, making eye contact can be difficult. This slow motion video shows a very deliberate interaction between West and Ricochet. As soon as they jumped off the board, Ricochet looked at West and didn’t take her eyes off him until he made eye contact with her. Although it was only for a second, it was powerful communication. Then, and only then did Ricochet feel West was safe and she ran to the beach.

Dogs and autism
Dogs and autism

One of the effects of autism, PTSD and other disabilities is social isolation. We provide a safe environment where participants and volunteers are embraced with an abundance of compassion, encouragement and positivity. We focus on facilitating engagement and building new relationships which fosters camaraderie and belonging.

Everyone involved is developing relationships with each other as they are working side-by-side. They tend to start interacting more, their social skills improve and their compassion & empathy are enhanced.

Relationships between the kids also blossoms. 13 year old Ian (on the left) first surfed with Ricochet in 2009. He suffered a brain injury in a horrific car crash that claimed the lives of his parents. He was afraid to go back in the water afterwards, but Ricochet gave him the confidence to conquer the waves. 

West’s mom said that four years ago she would have described her son as a “hermit” and “pretty severely impaired”. But now West (on the right) is eager to talk with others and makes friends readily.

Six year old Sasha has autism. Kids with special needs typically have an adult supervising them at all times. But when they surf with Ricochet, it’s often the first time they’ve done something completely on their own, which can be very empowering for them.

Bonds between the kids & military are powerful. Randy, is a veteran with PTSD who worked with Ricochet in the Paws’itive Teams Canine Inspired Community Re-Integration program. The bond between Randy and West is unbreakable.

If you are an active duty service member or veteran that would like to volunteer to help Ricochet surf with kids who have special needs, or if you’d like to become a volunteer, or if you have a disability, PTSD or a child with special needs that would like to surf with Ricochet, please send an email to
In addition to our veteran and disabled volunteers, we are always looking for water men and women, photographers, videographers, cheerleaders and friends! Just send us an email if you’d like to volunteer in any capacity.

For additional information and to follow Ricochet on social media, click the links below:

Surf dog & boy with autism help disabled kids catch waves of empowerment!
Surf dog & boy with autism help disabled kids catch waves of empowerment!

Photo & video credit:
Barb McKown
Jordan Hedrick
Vernon Gilmore