Grace Gerenser, 10, thrives in the surf and all around the community
By Jon Vreeland
Santa Barbara is full of kids and adults who participate in the community and set an excellent example for their neighbors and guests.
Among them, soaring through the community and Southern California with her authentic spirit of happiness and life, is Grace Gerenser, 10. This summer, Grace surfed her fourth season with A Walk on Water (AWOW), a nonprofit organization that provides “surf therapy” to children with special needs or disabilities by holding events in Southern California and around the country.
“We were actually founded in the Santa Barbara area and our first events were held in SB and Ventura, and we hope to come back in the near future and host more,” said Sean Swentek, executive director of AWOW.
Since launching in 2012, AWOW says, it has helped 2,000 children and adults from more than 1,000 families. Surf therapy is the act of guided surf instruction — provided by trained experts — in concert with a carefully constructed support structure of volunteers and supporters.
The little Santa Barbara girl with Down syndrome attended AWOW for the past four summers, surfing in Santa Barbara, Ventura, Malibu, and the north side of the Huntington Beach pier.
“The ocean is healing for everyone,” Swentek said. “And Grace is always smiling and always happy; she has such a calming influence on others.”
The participants gain confidence through the magical thrill of “a walk on water,” experiencing the excitement of surfing and a sense of pride and accomplishment — all while being cheered on by family and friends, according to AWOW.
Siblings and even parents surf alongside the “surf athlete,” allowing the family to bond over a powerful shared experience. At the end of the day, each athlete is presented with the trophy in front of all their cheering fans.
Grace not only got her trophy but also got a photo with World Surf League champion surfer Felipe Toledo at her side.
“My husband Mike and I don’t want to limit her and don’t want others to, either. We don’t expect her to be treated any differently; she is more like the other kids than not. Grace is a happy, friendly, and kind little girl,” said her mother, Tammy Gerenser.
Grace entered fifth grade last month and attends the same public school she’s always attended in Goleta. She loves animals, especially her dog and two cats, and she loves to sing, dance and listen to music.
She dances hip-hop at Santa Barbara Dance Arts and takes ballet lessons at Inspire Dance Santa Barbara on upper State Street, and she participated in Fiesta as a flower girl.
She also does gymnastics and participates in Girl Scouts and Girls Inc. She loves to venture outdoors and go camping or ride horses at Hearts Therapeutic Riding.
In addition, Grace is an aspiring actress and model represented by KMR Diversity, a talent agency that says it “specializes in character actors and models with diverse disabilities.” She also likes to write and be artistic.
“Art is something we’d like to develop,” her mother said.
For more information on AWOW, log onto www.awalkonwater.org.