VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- A group of autistic kids got some down time over the weekend as they hit the water on surf boards. The 8th annual Surfers Healing Camp offered the kids the chance to do something some of their parents thought they'd never do.
More than 225 kids took part in the event. Lily Olsen braved the rain to catch the waves. Her mother Felissa says she loves to watch her daughter surf.
"She doesn't really talk so I don't really know what she's thinking," Felissa Strickland said. "She looks like she's having fun."
The Surfers Healing Event is bitter-sweet for Lily and her mom.
"The first year she was part of Surfers Healing her dad went into a coma from melanoma," Strickland said. "Two days prior to she surfed and then he passed away two days after, so every year it's kind of like a special thing for us to be able to come out here and remember him and she's out there surfing for her daddy."
Volunteers hope the water has healing power for the kids. Duane Webster was a pro-surfer for 20 years before he volunteered at Surfers Healing.
"That's the biggest reward right there is, uh, seeing that the kids are just having the time of their life," Webster said.
Children of all levels of autism showed their excitement and joy of taking time to just be a kid.
"It's so empowering to be able to see her out there and actually doing something that she enjoys that I never in a million years thought she would be able to do," Strickland said.
Some who are involved in the event say the surf event may help family members as well as the kids.
"I'm just so grateful that there are things like this and there are people out there that have creative minds and come up with programs like this, so it's just awesome," she said.
The Surfers Healing organization was founded by a former competitive surfer and his wife who had a son diagnosed with autism at age three. They say he often suffered from sensory overload, but the ocean was the one place where he seemed to find respite.