Dylan Hronec was stoked – the waves in Long Beach, generated by offshore swells during the height of hurricane season, were about to start pumping over the Labor Day weekend, and he was excited to go surfing.
“I’ve been waiting for weeks,” said Hronec, 24.
Four years ago, the North Bellmore resident, who has cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair since the age of 2, never imagined that he’d be riding waves. That all changed after he connected with Cliff Skudin, a professional big-wave surfer and co-owner of the Skudin Surf camps in Long Beach, during a surf outing for the Testaverde Fund for Spinal Cord Injury.
Skudin is also the co-founder of Surf for All, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching people with disabilities how to surf, and Hronec said that the organization has changed his life dramatically. The two would often ride in tandem before Skudin releases the back of the board and sends Hronec into the waves alone.
“It was the second time I had ever surfed and it was about shoulder-high waves,” said Hronec, recalling his first outing with Skudin. “They had the Jet Skis out so it’s easier to get everyone out. He was towing me into waves and I must have wiped out every single time, and I’d come up laughing. And he must have thought, This kid is nuts. I ended up talking to him afterwards, and over the years our friendship grew from there.”
On Aug. 29, SVS Fine Jewelry in Oceanside presented Surf for All with a $4,000 check to help support the organization. The money was raised as part of a fundraiser for the group during the Long Beach International Film Festival last month.
SVS, in association with Forevermark, was a presenting sponsor of the festival this year and hosted the “Bling & Bubbly Experience” during the LBIFF’s Taste on the Beach event. For a $20 donation, one lucky festival attendee had the chance to win a one-carat Forevermark diamond in one of the 400 champagne glasses that were given out, with all of the proceeds benefitting Surf for All.
“The Long Beach film festival was brought to our attention and they asked us to do something with them, and being from Long Beach … we wanted to give back to the community — it was a no-brainer for us,” said SVS owner Sami Saatchi, 36, who attended Long Beach High School with Skudin. “I loved being a part of it.”
Former State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, meanwhile, donated an additional $1,000 to Surf for All, and Jayse Catering gave $250.
“This is just one example how the film festival bring the community together through a good cause,” said Ingrid Dodd, a festival co-founder. “The fact that we can help people with disabilities focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do means a lot to us.”
“We’re very grateful for all the support from the community to help carry Surf for All’s mission,” Skudin added. “Special thanks to SVS, [LBIFF Co-founder Craig Weintraub], Ingrid and Harvey for their generous efforts.”
Hronec — known as the Surfing Samurai, a nickname he was given for his fearlessness in the water and his long hair, which he often keeps tied in a knot while surfing — was the subject of a documentary that was screened at the festival. He has also been featured in the New York Daily News and on ESPN’s “Sports Center” and News 12. He said that while the media attention he has received is “bizarre,” the support has been overwhelming.
“I’m a pretty shy kid … I don’t really like the attention,” he said. “I never thought I’d be in this position just because I like to surf. I understand where it comes from, I get it, but at the same time, what do you think is so special about me?”
Hronec said that he hopes to eliminate stigmas associated with people with disabilities, and many say he’s doing just that. He now rides a WaveJet surfboard, which includes a hydro-powered electric engine and takes the place of paddling. The board was a gift from the Tommy Brull Foundation, a Rockville Centre-based nonprofit focused on improving the lives of those with physical, mental and emotional challenges.
“I can ride waves on my own now,” he said. “Four years ago, I never thought that would be possible. Now, I’m able to make bottom turns and carve the waves if I really want to. Wherever I want to go, pretty much.”