Ride Some Waves and Have the Best Day Ever!

The New Jersey Chapter of the Best Day Foundation Brings Kids with Special Needs The Best Day Ever!

Surfing Toward Shore At the 2017 Best Day // Photo By Scott Kennedy
Surfing Toward Shore At the 2017 Best Day // Photo By Scott Kennedy for The Montclair Dispatch

As summer comes around, and New Jersey becomes too hot to handle, the NJ chapter of the Best Day Foundation finds the best place to cool off and have some fun–the Jersey Shore.

Founded in 2008, by the NJ chapter, with eight chapters around the United States, the Best Day foundation works with children and young adults with special needs by having them participate in adventure activities in order to unlock passion, potential, and connect them with other people and families within their community. To fulfill this mission, every summer, the New Jersey chapter of Best Day organizes a surfing event, bringing participants into the water and onto the boards for a fun-filled day of water activities.

The participants, along with their families, and about 300 volunteers, enjoy an entire day dedicated to learning how to surf while making memories that will last a lifetime.

The Montclair Dispatch spoke with co-chairperson of the NJ Chapter of Best Day Foundation, Alexis Downham, about the importance of the Best Day Foundation, and what makes this day of surfing truly the best day ever. 

A happy and daring participant surfing (2017). Photo by Scott Kennedy for The Montclair Dispatch

“Best Day Foundation is unique for so many reasons.  Best Day events are open to children with a wide range of special needs, from autism to cerebral palsy to down syndrome to visual impairments and beyond.  Best Day events are unique because of the connections made between kids with special needs, their families, and volunteers. During registration, each child is paired with a beach buddy who hangs out with them all day at the beach.  This gives the participant’s parents a chance to step back and enjoy watching their child experience new things, but it also creates an opportunity for the participant to form a bond

Volunteers Bring Both Fun and Safety // Photo By Scott Kennedy for The Montclair Dispatch
Volunteers Bring Both Fun and Safety // Photo By Scott Kennedy for The Montclair Dispatch

with their non-disabled peer that they may not otherwise have a chance to do.”

Regarding the surfing day, in particular, Alexis explained, “Getting on a surfboard and boogie board challenges perceived limitations and allows them to participate in an activity they wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to do.  We receive emails throughout the year about participants who wear their medals all year long or who wear their shirt to school and tell their whole class about how they rode a huge wave.  It gives our participants confidence to try new things and overcome fear.”

Alexis also spoke to the reservations that some kids may have before getting on the board. “Many of the participants are excited to ride the waves.  They eagerly put on their wetsuit, life jacket, and helmet and jump on the board as soon as their name is called.  There are some participants who are more skeptical. You will sometimes see our volunteers walking around with life jackets and helmets on because they want to make their beach buddy feel comfortable putting on their life jacket and helmet.  There are beach buddies who spend 3 hours playing in the sand, slowly helping their buddy muster the courage to go on the board. You will see our surf teams lay a board in front of a child so he/she can touch the board to increase their confidence.  Our volunteers are dedicated, determined, and have an amazing ability to help children work through their fear to catch the wave of their life. It truly is the best day for everyone involved.”

The Best Day Foundation is a non-for profit organization and relies on donations to make events like this possible. Please consider donating.

If you are interested in registering your child for the surfing day, or other Best Day Foundation events, please sign up here.



The author of the article is a Montclair native class of 2017, currently a student at McGill University, studying history and communications within the Faculty of Arts.

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