Erica Macklin stood on Cox Bay in Tofino and cried.
But it wasn’t tears of sadness or sorrow that were running down the Steveston mom’s face; the raw emotion was that of pure, unbridled joy.
It was the sight of Macklin’s two sons – Lexx, 15, and Charlie, 7 – being at one with the surf and being released, even temporarily, from the daily pain that is living with autism.
Both boys are autistic and, although described as “high-functioning,” have different and profound behavioural challenges.
On the surfboard, however – thanks to the SUPA Society, sponsors and a team of surfing instructors and behavioural interventionists – their baggage was lifted at the Surf's Up event.
“My boys can be anxious and very tense,” Macklin told the Richmond News.
“My older son, especially, has had a very difficult time. He is a gifted learner, but only goes to school part-time and does the rest online.
“But when he walked into the water, I could see his shoulders relaxing. And after a couple of runs at it, he could stand.
“Everyone was cheering in the water and everyone on the beach was cheering. I think it gave him a great sense of achievement and a great sense of self.
“I just stood on the beach crying. My older son doesn’t smile that much. He did that day.”
Macklin said, initially, she was trying to hide her sobbing eyes from the crowd, “but then I realized other parents were crying as well.”
“(Charlie) was beaming the whole time; he was so happy. What you don’t see in the pictures, however, is the walk to the beach.
“He was crying and shaking and having a meltdown. And afterwards, it was the same. He gets overwhelmed by things.
“But for those few hours, he was completely free.”
The SUPA Society was established in 2012 by Richmondite Dennis Nerpio and Rip Curl Canada after Nerpio took his autistic son surfing in Tofino.
The premise, according to the society, is to “offer a unique experience for children and families who face the ongoing challenges of living with autism.”
And since 2012, over two days in Tofino in early September, the society and its sponsors host dozens of families living with autism.
The kids with autism get to go surfing in the morning and then the siblings can join in the fun in the afternoon.
This year, the Wildside Grill provided lunch and Long Beach Lodge provided dinner.
Macklin said she found out about the event while on an education program and one of people on the course was from Tofino.
“I signed up last year for the event, but didn’t make it in. This year, we did,” she said.
“The one thing that you hope for your kids is that they’re happy. So when you see them struggling, it’s very hard.
“But this showed them that it’s possible to feel this way. I wanted to tell my story, as this could benefit so many other families.”