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Special Needs Surfers: 'Riding Those Waves Makes Me Feel Free'

LONG BEACH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - Thanks to a program trading land for sea, kids with cerebral palsy and other special needs are surfing, and the benefits are physical and especially psychological.

On a summer day on Long Beach, Long Island, parents and children can be seen playing in the sun and sand, surf boards ready to ride the gentle waves coming in.

A closer look shows that some of these kids are in wheelchairs, yet they're here to surf, reports CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez.

"It's a lot of fun, it's soothing once you're in the waves and its calm," said cerebral palsy patient Sidorela Lessy from Queens. "Riding those waves makes me feel free."

Such praise is common from all the kids and parents from the Lerner Children's Pavilion at the Hospital for Special Surgery and hosted by the Skudin Surf Camp at Long Beach.

The surf camp is a once a year outing from the Adaptive Sports Academy, which also sponsors horseback riding, tennis, basketball and even rock climbing for kids with special needs, from ages 6 to 22.

Theresa Moriarty's daughter has spina bifida.

"It's wonderful to see her free, and just able to see her surf and just do these other activities that are now normally as accessible for her," she said.

"I really enjoyed it," said 11-year-old Kara Wollemboog.

"It was really fun because I got to stand up on the surf board three times, which is a new record," said 9-year-old Maya Vega.

There's something about being in the water that seems to be therapeutic.

"They feel more comfortable in the water than out of the water," said Michael Salerno of the Skudin Surf Camp. "I don't know how to explain it."

Some children may be able to do things in the water they might not be able to do on land, which has medical benefits.

"It helps them with balance, it helps them with body awareness, and I think most importantly it helps them with self esteem and confidence," said physical therapist Bridget Assip.

And then there's something all the therapy in the world can't provide in a hospital or clinic...

"Exciting and fun," said 9-year-old Alexandria Vega. "It was really fun."

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