Children with cystic fibrosis caught waves at Wrightsville Beach on Aug. 18, riding tandem on soft-top boards with internationally known surfers who volunteer for the Mauli Ola Foundation.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes a buildup of mucus in the lungs, leading to infections and lung damage. Studies have shown that salty spray can improve patients’ lung function, so the Mauli Ola Foundation, a California-based -nonprofit dedicated to helping those living with genetic disease, initiated an effort to travel around the country, taking children with cystic fibrosis surfing.
Eleven families with one or more members living with cystic fibrosis registered for the Wrightsville Beach Surf Experience Day, which was held at Oceanic Street from 9 a.m. to noon. Volunteers included Hawaiian pros Sunny Garcia and Jason Magallenes and Californian pros Anthony Ruffo and Hans Hagen.
Hagen said he wanted to help the children experience the happiness surfing had brought him, and it inspired him to see how much they enjoyed it. The children with whom he was surfing were determined to stay out the entire three hours, he said.
“They’re so bummed I came in to get a bottle of water,” he said.
Many of the participants, like 13-year-old Bree Labiak, have taken part in the Surf Experience Days for years. After surfing with her heroes at Wrightsville Beach, she planned to travel north to the Outer Banks for a Rip Curl contest. Labiak, who has collected both longboard and shortboard contest victories, dreams of being the first professional surfer with cystic fibrosis.
A few local families took part in the event, including the Shaws, whose 5-year-old son IV Shaw has cystic fibrosis. Despite his age, IV is another veteran of the Surf Experience Days. His mother, Holly Shaw, said she has a photograph of him riding a wave on one of the volunteer’s shoulders with a pacifier in his mouth.
Many families came from further away to participate, like the Hoaglands from New Jersey. They brought their son Reilly Hoagland, who has cystic fibrosis, to take part in the day, combining it with a family trip to Myrtle Beach.
Hoagland rode wave after wave, cruising toward shore and stepping calmly off the board onto the sand. He rode the board by himself, needing only a small push from Garcia. His parents marveled at his confident demeanor, remembering how timid he was during his first Surf Experience Day in 2013.
During that event, Hawaiian surfer CJ Kanuha convinced Hoagland to catch a few waves, and Hoagland instantly bonded with him. Kanuha wasn’t able to attend the 2016 event, and while Hoagland was upset at first, he quickly gained confidence in his new partner, world champion Garcia.
“He knows Sunny now,” Hoagland’s mother, Laurie, said. “He really likes talking to all the guys, and he looks forward to this all year.”