One of the most common birth defects in this nation, Spina Bifida often robs children of their mobility and cognitive ability and has no cure.
"It's great to have people understand his limitations and not push him aside," Nathaniel's mother Gretchen Soares said, "It gives him a lot of confidence and he feels accepted."
Taylor is an athlete, recreational therapist and special education teacher. He founded the Project Surf Camp in Morro Bay three years ago to make sure that kids with special needs get the chance to get on a surfboard.
Kids like Nathaniel, as well as those with autism and other physical disabilities have all enjoyed the four-hour camps. Taylor knows what it’s like for those kids. Born with a birth defect, he's lived his life with a prosthetic leg. He says for him, water was the great equalizer that leveled the playing field and allowed him to compete in the sports he loves.
"I never thought, 'I can't do that,' I thought 'How can I modify that so I can do that,'" Taylor said. He discovered surfing about 12 years ago and quickly realized how therapeutic being in the water was for him, and how quickly can build confidence and self-esteem.
The families who participate say the experience will last a lifetime. Soares said, "It's not just about the kids, they embrace families. Surfing is something my four kids can do all together and that's very hard to do."
Project Surf Camp taps the surf pros from Morro Bay Surf Company who volunteer their services. This summer, nearly 200 are signed up for camp in Morro Bay. A day of camp costs the Project about $165 per child, though they only charge a $50 registration fee. That’s why Taylor and his staff work so hard seeking out private donations, grants and also doing fundraisers.
Good causes cost money, so the folks at Project Surf Camp are hoping viewers of NBC’s “Today Show” will like what they're doing. Starting July 1, viewers canvote for Project Surf Camp as it competes with other selected charities for a $100,000 grant. If Project Surf Camp wins the $100,000 grant, Taylor says it would allow them to serve more kids in more coastal communities, and perhaps, add sleepover camps over the next three years.
"Raising awareness of what we do is enough. Winning would just be the icing on the cake," Taylor said as he watched his surfers celebrate their victories in the water with sandy smiles and high fives all around.