People with Down’s Syndrome enjoy a day of surfing at the Sunset Beach, Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: A 16-year-old surfer is helping youth with Down’s syndrome take to the waves as a way to give back to the community.

Antoine De Mascarel, from Jumeirah College, has been inviting volunteers in Dubai to meet up at Sunset Beach to train teens with Down’s syndrome, while also giving them an opportunity to interact with the wider community.

A project he has run for the last two years, the French teenager believes there is nothing more rewarding than sharing a passion for surfing with teens with Down’s syndrome.

“I wanted to link my hobby and passion for surfing with helping others, so I created this community, volunteer-based surf club two years ago called Surf For All and it’s been a wonderful journey since then. Being able to see them smile and be happy has been very rewarding,” Antoine told Gulf News.

The group, which started off with only two teens with Down’s syndrome, has now expanded to include nine, with almost the same number of volunteers, many of them young, who help in the practice.

“We meet every two weeks on Sunday afternoons. The teens have been very determined to surf. In the beginning, it took some time until they became confident in the water. Now they are fully participating in the activity,” said De Mascarel.

On Sunday afternoon, all nine teens took to the water with their surf boards brimming with confidence as volunteers assisted them. The parents cheered as they watched their children display their skills in the water.

Claire Coward, British expat and mother of one of the teens with Down’s syndrome, watched her 14-year-old daughter, Grace, confidently get on the board for the second time. “They are some really nice volunteers helping our kids be normal and to hang out. They are not treated as special,” said Coward.

“I would have never been able to get my daughter on a surfboard by myself as she is nervous of the sea. I was blown away when she was straight out there.”

Surf House Dubai has supported the programme by lending the group surf boards for free and also sending their coach to train the teens.

Andrea Fraser, from Colombia, proudly pointed to her son Santiago, aged 23, who eagerly climbed on top of his board as another volunteer gave him a push.

“My son loves coming here. He started one and a half years ago and it has been fantastic. These teens are all amazing and can do anything but they need more opportunities. Here, they are given that opportunity. Sports is so important for everyone and they are not any different,” she said.

Her son Santiago said he considers the group his family. “They are like my family and I enjoy talking to everyone. Surfing can be difficult, but I’m learning fast.”

A voluntary support group for children and adults with Down’s syndrome, called Teen Scheme, helped Antoine find the teens for the activity. The group, which aims to get abled teenagers with teenagers with special needs, also runs different activities for its members with Down’s syndrome, such as Zumba, tennis, soccer and many more.

“Education can cost as twice as other children when having a child with special needs. To have people give their time for free, is very special,” said Rebecca Corley, a British mother of a 19-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome.

She stressed the importance of stimulation. “It’s important for our children to not miss out interaction with mainstream children because they can actually go backwards.” She said.

Filipe Delaunay, a volunteer and surfer believes there’s a lot to learn from the teens. “I try to help when I can. It’s a nice group having fun together out in the waters. The teens have some good talents and we are learning so much from them and hope they are learning from us too.”

As winter makes its soft approach and the waters get colder, Antoine said the activity could pause until the warmer months begin again.