The first time that Dylan Hronec surfed two and a half years ago was one of the best days of his life. The Bellmorite, now 22, said he had always wanted to try the sport –– he just didn’t know whether it was possible.
Hronec has used a wheelchair since he was 2 years old because he has cerebral palsy, a lifelong physical condition that limits his muscle control and movement. Thanks to an adaptive surf board and a little help from his friends, however, he has not been kept from the water.
“I had never felt so much freedom,” he said of the first time he surfed. “When you get hit with that first wave in the face, it’s like getting hit with concrete. I was kind of like, ‘Whoa, what am I doing?’ But riding a wave is the best feeling in the world. It’s a way for me to forget about everything that I deal with.”
Hronec, who graduated from Mepham High School in North Bellmore in 2010 and now studies journalism at Hofstra University, said he knew that he could surf after watching YouTube videos of Jesse Billauer. The California native and professional surfer is quadriplegic, with limited to no movement in his arms and legs.
On March 25, 1996, Billauer, then 17, hit his head on a shallow sandbar at Zuma Beach in California after being knocked off his surfboard by a wave. The force broke his neck, but Billauer adapted his technique and equipment to enable him to surf, which Hronec has done as well.
Hronec and his parents, Emily and Bobby, researched organizations that offered lessons or hosted outings for adaptive surfers. They found Surfer’s Way, a Long Beach-based nonprofit group that gives children with special needs the opportunity to surf. When Dylan came home from one of the organization’s surfing sessions in 2012, he was hooked, his mother said.
“He was so excited, or as his surfing friends have now taught me the lingo, ‘amped,’” she said. “I’m happy Dylan found this. It’s good for his body and mind.”
Dylan said surfing is both recreational and therapeutic for him, because being in the water relaxes his muscles. His mother noted that he spent a lot of time in the pool as a child, and he has water-skied.
“It’s a lot easier to do things in the water than when I’m anywhere else,” Dylan said. “It’s just a place I’ve always been comfortable.”