Special Surfers: Building Confidence to Navigate Waves

August 18, 2023

Written by Sabrina Marshall, Business Development Manager with contributions by Joshua Altschule, Psy.D., Co-Founder & Executive Director


Surfing has been part of the Cornerstones culture since its inception. Its influence on the program can be found throughout the program and in our tagline: Building Confidence to Navigate Waves. “It started as a way for me to live a healthy lifestyle and be part of an amazing community, but it has grown into something so much bigger than that,” says Co-Founder and Executive Director Josh Altschule, Psy.D. 


When Josh was starting Cornerstones, some of the original staff consisted of those in the local surfing community. They were genuine people who wanted to come together and support Josh’s vision to make a difference in young adults’ lives. Clients started getting involved and enjoyed the opportunity to explore surfing for enrichment, health, and wellness. In the early Cornerstones days, Josh and Jason, our Facilities Manager, could be found surfing alongside clients, motivating them to learn a new skill set and immerse themselves in the supportive surf community in Maine. 


The connection in this tight-knit community runs deep, which led to Josh learning about the non-profit organization Special Surfers. Started by the owners of a local surf shop, Special Surfers shares the empowering experience of surfing with children and young adults with developmental, emotional, and physical challenges. The organization holds multiple events throughout the summer in Southern Maine, giving individuals with disabilities the opportunity to experience surfing with support from volunteers in our community. Cornerstones clients, staff, and some of their families have volunteered annually with Special Surfers for the past five years. Clients and staff look forward to these events and appreciate how this opportunity marries our collective interest in surfing with our programmatic goals around volunteering, altruism, and making the world a better place than we found it. 


One Cornerstones client who volunteered stated, “This experience has shown me that I really do have a passion for working with other people towards a fulfilling life. Just because you have things that limit you, doesn’t mean that you should let it hold you back from living your best life.” 


Another client shared their favorite moment of the experience. “My surfer started singing. She was having a hard time waiting in line to surf. It was hot, and the sand kept sticking to her feet. Instead of letting it get to her, she started singing “ Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles. It made me smile and I started singing along with her, making the time go by faster.” 


“These events offer a simple reminder that humanity really is all the same,” says Facilities Manager Jason McMichael, “Surfing does that”. 


To learn more about Special Surfers, check out specialsurfers.org.