interview: Mark Marble
President and CEO, AccesSurf Hawai'i / United States
Mark is a therapeutic recreation specialist who truly exhibits the Hawaiian spirit of "pono," or righteousness. Through AccesSurf he is helping people with disabilities enjoy the ocean through beach access, adaptive surfing instruction, and other water activities.
AccesSurf empowers people with disabilities by providing adaptive surfing instruction and therapeutic educational programs on water recreation and enriches lives by assisting families to access the beach and ocean in a barrier free environment.
After moving to Hawaii in 2004, and being a recreation therapist working with people who have disabilities for more than 20 years, I was surprised to learn that there were no programs that focused on helping people access the beach and ocean. Hawaii is the capital of surfing and yet the people of Hawaii who had some sort of disability are unable to enjoy an activity that is such a huge part of their culture. I wanted to try and bridge that gap by providing a solution to those families who desire to unite with their families near and in the ocean.
Nonprofit organizations are important to every community, providing services that protect our environment, care for our children and elderly, and empower those that are less fortunate.
I have been fortunate to have had many inspirational figures throughout my life, from family members to mentors to friends.
I admire people who dare to look beyond their egos to ask the question, "What are my gifts and how can I use them to better my current World and generations beyond me? Then passionately pursue your dream for others, even if no one else follows." "Because you hear the heart cries of thousands that go unheard or unrecognized in your World today." People like Mahatma Gandhi, Father Damien of Kalaupapa, Leonardo Da Vinci and others who follow their heart when others will not.
Absolutely. Since AccesSurf is the only organization in Hawaii and less that 10 in the nation that provides these types of programs, we have a huge need to fill. Already, in the past two and half years, we have seen participants receive therapeutic benefits such as increase in range of motion, social interaction, initiation if tasks, cognitive and speech recognition, weight loss, decreases in depression, isolative behavior, decreases in the voluntary use of sedative/pain medication and a increase in quality of life for volunteers and participants alike.
I was so surprised and honored that Explore decided to highlight our program through a documentary short film. The genuine interest of Charlie, Cynthia, Tom and Liz was evident from the first time I met them and the quality of the film truly captured the essence and spirit of our organization. Since then, we have received such positive feedback from people around the Hawaiian Islands and was recognized at the Maui Film Festival this year. I never expected such a wonderful gift of friendship paired with international recognition that this team has provided for us and that continues to this day. We are eternally grateful.
Absolutely. We always encourage people to visit our program, as seeing miracles and dreams finally actualized, puts everything in perspective.
Since we are a volunteer based organization with one full-time staff member, it is our main goal to raise general operating funds so that we can hire part-time staff to implement our programs on a consistent basis in Waikiki and to expand our free “Day at the Beach”© program to Maui County and outer Islands.
I would like to explore coastal areas around the World to bring AccesSurf’s therapeutic ocean programs to anyone who has the desire but not have the means to experience our oceans with a disability.
My dream is make beaches and oceans worldwide accessible for all, and to share the therapeutic benefits of connecting to the ocean to it’s people who desire it by learning how to surf, swim, snorkel and recreate like everyone else.
There are so many things we are proud of. I think one of the top accomplishments is being able to start up the first therapeutic ocean program in Hawaii that is consistently carried out in a seamless manner, allowing over 300 volunteers, 400 participants and families to feel safe in a barrier free environment, thus enjoying a relaxing day at the beach together.
AccesSurf has very strong values that affects the way in which it operates, from major decisions to day-to-day interactions:
- We strive to be pono (Hawaiian word that means being righteous, doing what is right, being open and honest, listening to your heart, and always considering what is best for all involved).
- We are all inclusive. We try our best to help anyone with any type of disability and make sure that we do not lose sight of our mission and vision.
- Safety and quality first. The safety of our participants, families and volunteers come first. We consistently look for ways to improve our programs to ensure activities that are of exceptional quality.
Yes, we have been very fortunate to have had support from local, national and international media. Each tells a story in a different angle, but all captures the true spirit of AccesSurf.
Three ways: donate, volunteer, spread the word.
As Winston Churchill once said,
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
“When your able to step outside yourself and give freely to others you harmonize with a infinite source of life that is essential and empowering to everyone.”
That each person begins to take steps, big or small, to improve our world. There is a Hawaiian word that incorporates it all: kuleana. If each person would take care of their own kuleana (personal responsibility to their families, co-worker, acquaintances, environment, etc.) the world would be a better place.
As in the earlier question, I believe our planet is in danger from the environment to the economy because of the lack of each individual ignoring his or her kuleana. We need to start with our own selves to creating a ripple effect.
In order for us to avoid problems in the next 10-50 years from global warming to yet another downfall in our economy, we need look for ways to collaborate, share and assist each other to make a greater impact in our communities across the world.
Be present in every moment, be pono, realize you are a key part of a global ohana (family) be accountable to your kuleana.
Most of our participants are from Hawaii, although we have seen an increase in visitors calling to arrange equipment rentals or reservations to assist them while on the islands as well. Most of them find out through our website, magazine articles, word of mouth, or through another nonprofit organization.
Ages vary. We’ve have participants who range from 3 to 83 years old.
Participant impairment varies as well. We assist people with all type of cognitive or physical disabilities — from paraplegics and quadriplegics those who have suffered from strokes, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy. We also work with autism and post-traumatic stress disorder.
This a tough question because it really depends on the person’s ability coupled with their level of experience in the water. Children are always easier though because they do not have all these preconceived ideas about what they can and cannot do. So they are open to the world allow others to assist them to make their dreams a reality. Most participants whether kids or adults are a bit apprehensive at first, but once they realize that they come back again and again to get into the ocean.
Absolutely. Our participants are apart of the AccesSurf Ohana (family) and we stay in touch with them as much as possible to share of their progress or how we can further empower them to be all that they dream.
This is difficult because each month we receive wonderful stories and testimonials from not only participants but also volunteers.
Here are a few:
"Prior to starting with AccesSurf, (our son) was terrified of the ocean and had little to do with it. We are so very grateful for Access Surf's contribution with helping our son heal from all of the terrible anxiety and fears that were controlling his life. It has given him the confidence to face each fear, one by one and regain his life back. His Dr has noticed huge and significant improvements that are attributed directly to learning how to surf. All of you guys are such kind hearted people who give so much. You are truly an inspiration to my family each and everyday and are excellent role models for our children to see."
"Though we live a stone's throw from the beach, we rarely go since it is difficult to get my son to the beach without extra help. … I thank you very much for supporting this! It means a lot that people like us have not been forgotten and that the quality of our lives matter."
"My daughter participates in Hawaii's Access Surf events. In January of 2008, she had brain surgery with the goal of curing her intractable epileptic seizures. She had requested this surgery so that she could return to swimming, a sport she had once loved. Her brain did not respond well to the insertion of a grid map to locate the source of her seizures, and instead of a cure, she ended up with a venous infarce, very much like a stroke. Her left side became partially paralyzed. She was referred to Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, where we learned about Access Surf. It was with great joy that my daughter returned to the water with Access Surf. In August she had an epileptic seizure while in the water and the Access Surf crew immediately surrounded her and carried her to the shore, where her Rehab hospital physician was waiting to assist her. This was the event I feared most, and the Access Surf crew came through with flying colors. My daughter now tandem surfs and has the joy of being in the water for a day each month. We are grateful to the Access Surf staff and volunteers for bringing such joy into our daughter's life."
"After losing my legs in 2005 I figured my surfing days were over. Back to boring beach vacations! But the wave ski opens all of this up again. Thanks so much for giving me, and many other people, the ability to get back to doing the things that we love."
We are the only organization in Hawaii and less that 10 in the nation that provides a ocean programming for individuals with challenges. We are the only organization offering a comprehensive, inclusive program for anyone regardless of their disability to provide beach accessibility and ocean activities in a therapeutic and safe environment on a weekly basis. Having said that, we do stay in touch with organizations that work with people with disabilities such as Surfers Healing, They Will Surf Again, Disabled Surfers of Austria, Challenge Aspen, Intrepid Hospital’s: Wounded Warrior program in Texas, and others.
Due to our limited budget, we have a good grassroots effort going on through public relations and media stories, website and other web tools, word of mouth, and securing presentations and forming partnerships to various organizations and businesses.
Overwhelmingly supportive and we have received extremely positive responses from the public.
In five years, I see AccesSurf offering beach accessibility and its programs on a consistent basis throughout the Hawaiian Islands and establishing North America chapters. In 10 years, I would like to provide beaches and oceans with accessible, safe and therapeutic programs for coastal areas around the world, allowing people with disabilities to discover their own level of abilities in the water.
In July, we are going to host a community day which pairs at-risk youth with our challenged participants to engage in ocean activities to make new relationships and teach each other new skills. This will allow them to give back and give our participants the opportunity to show off their skills in the ocean to other children. In August, we will hold the 2nd annual challenged athletes division at Duke’s OceanFest. Challenged athletes from Hawaii and the west coast will have the opportunity to compete in their own competition heats with a specialized judging criteria that was developed by AccesSurf.
From individuals, foundations and grant writing. Who makes the specialized equipment? We have a number of specialized companies providing adaptive equipment based on the various types of equipment needed. In addition, we are working with the University of Hawaii’s Engineering Department to design new ideas and have several volunteers who are currently helping to develop various enhancements to existing equipment.
That’s hard to say… each piece of equipment helps to complete the puzzle for an individual. Equipment such as adaptive surfboards to the accessible beach path, beach wheelchairs, and adaptive life jackets all contribute giving our participants a memorable experience
The accessible beach path was actually created as an industrial pathway used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan for the transportation of their military equipment. Now, Mobi-Mat makes accessible paths for recreation, commercial, boat ramps and many other great uses. It’s made of a polyester mesh material that can be purchased in various sizes and styles of traction. The mats cost approximately $8,000 for a 5’x 100’ path without shipping.
Yes, I believe some use it as access paths at beaches, lakes and piers and campgrounds in places such as Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Massachusetts and parts of Asia and Europe. There are many factors that can contribute to not using these beach-mat paths including, variable beach conditions and erosion, lack of education, lack of funding, lack of on-going maintenance and upkeep by the city or organizations, and othe
It makes me frustrated because I know there are thousands of people, (disabled and not), who would utilize them if they were only there for the mothers with strollers, the grandpas with walkers and loved ones in wheelchairs who desire to get in the ocean, could if they would like to. Especially living in Hawaii, it really pulls at my heartstrings when I see visitors and locals unable to access the beach or the ocean. Living in coastal areas, the ocean is always such a big part of its culture, and this is especially the case in Hawaii, its culture and the healing exuberating the comes naturally and free to all who enter. So when I think of the thousands of people who sit at home or in their rooms or on the grass in Waikiki looking at the ocean and desiring to get in but don’t want to ask anyone to be a bother. I hear and feel their heart tears.