It is few and far in between that two activities, such as skateboarding and surfing, can be found to so completely deliver a strengthening of so many life skills, as well as provide therapeutic benefits all at once. Both individual sports require the dynamic interplay of executive function and cross-hemispheric neural connectivity at heightened levels, placing them in their own pantheon of ‘go-to’ therapeutic intervention activities to use. In addition, the proprioceptive component that comes on-line and gets toned is of particular benefit to youth and adults with neurological and/ or gross motor skill deficits, such as commonly found with those on the autism spectrum, downs syndrome or varied ‘special needs.’ Proprioceptivity is our ability to know where our body is and how fast it is moving through space. A surfer’s proprioceptive response makes them self-aware of the positioning of their limbs and stance on the board, as well as how fast they are moving on the wave, and in what direction. Along with the toning of abstract, soft skills, like grit, perseverance and commitment, both of these ‘extreme’ activities retain a constant novelty that allows both sports to stay fun and engaging enough that the practitioner can do it repeatedly without losing interest, even at strenuous levels.
Some of the executive function skills toned while skating or surfing include focus, sustaining attention, impulse control, foresight, goal-directed persistence and functional balance. From an emotional intelligence perspective, the ability to manage one’s emotions across a diverse set of circumstances, including interrelating with others during calm and high-pressure situations comes into focus quite often as both skater and surfer practice commitment and hesitation each time they ‘drop-in’ onto a skate bowl or decide on paddling and successfully surfing a wave. For beginner’s, especially those in the population of people with special needs, overcoming fear, modulating behavior and exercising emotional control all become very real experiences that need to be faced and surmounted as they get use to having their body’s propelling through space, inside the skate bowls or out in the water.
In contrast, surfing has the added feature of having the natural force of waves impact the body as it paddles out to the surf ‘lineup’ or deftly maneuvers surfing a wave in onto the shore. The skateboarder, on the other hand, learns to feel the functional effects of gravity on their body as they traverse the undulating skate bowl or skate ramp. The proprioceptive feedback is a welcome facet for individuals on the autism spectrum who enjoy kinesthetic stimulation finding it soothing or self-regulating. This entails rapid anticipating and predicting on how to continue to place one’s body as they move through their environment and thus adds a robust element of mindfulness to the whole endeavor. Mindfulness, or present-moment self-awareness of one self and one’s surroundings is a pivotal skill to sharpen for anyone and especially those with neurological deficits.
Both of these activities are recommended as fun, therapeutic hobbies which are both calming and riveting enough that they can be done repeatedly without losing their novelty. The parameters required for productive cognitive-physical development with both sports are met, hence making both practical options for typical families to consider and most definitely, families with youth on the autism spectrum or with special needs.
As a suggestion for families and individuals with special needs, organizations such as Surfers Healing travel America and the globe providing the opportunity to surf for children on the spectrum, with downs syndrome and all special needs to go out and surf in a safe, supportive environment of experienced coaches, many of which were or are professional surfers. In terms of skateboarding, parents can be that direct 1:1 help or look into the community offerings at their local skatepark. In the city of Stamford, Connecticut, for example, with the collaboration of others, I have co-founded a skateboard school, launching Saturday, April 30th, 2016 at Scalzi Park which will primarily be a service to individuals with special needs, like autism. The advent of introducing adventure into the educational setting creates a winning dynamic for the student as they hone twenty first century life skills.
Check out Coach Bill and the Scalzi Originals Skateboarding School through the below channels:
|Scalzi Park in Stamford, Ct.|
Twitter: @CoachBill007 & @ScalziOriginals.US