Surf for Special Needs hosts its biggest event in memorial for slain lifeguard

  • Gabriel Lathrop surfs with help from Desi Mendoza at the Joy Mills-Ferren Memorial Surf for Special Needs Saturday at Kahaluu Beach. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Keiki get the chance to surf at the Joy Mills-Ferren Memorial Surf for Special Needs Saturday at Kahaluu Beach. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Keiki get the chance to surf at the Joy Mills-Ferren Memorial Surf for Special Needs Saturday at Kahaluu Beach. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Judging by all the smiles and laughter, it was a perfect day on the water for the Joy Mills-Ferren Memorial Surf for Special Needs Saturday at Kahaluu Beach.

The event honored Mills-Ferren, a lifeguard and Surf for Special Needs volunteer who was killed last August by her husband in an apparent murder-suicide.

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“Totally awesome,” Linda Leilani Mills, Mills-Ferren’s mother, called Saturday’s tribute.

“Joy’s legacy is aloha,” she said, adding her daughter loved the ocean and wanted those who didn’t have the opportunity to experience it in a safe environment. “It is what she did and what she showed.”

At the opening ceremony, Mills-Ferren’s hula sisters and kumu Keala Ching chanted as fellow lifeguards paddled out to offer hookupu, bringing tears to the eyes of those who knew and loved the former Magic Sands and Kahaluu Beach Park lifeguard.

But reflection and mourning turned toward anticipation as the pu was blown and excitement mounted as organizers and volunteers readied surfboards for the first round of keiki prepared to catch some waves. Ten of those surfboards, donated by Huggo’s, arrived just Friday by barge, a sign that everything was coming together to make the day a memorable experience.

And over 100 participants signed up for the event, making it the biggest one the organization has hosted. Surf for Special Needs founder and president Star Shortt wants to see that number continue to grow.

“Parents can relax and meet other parents here,” said Shortt, father of an autistic son, on the event that helps parents and caregivers as much as participants.

Other local businesses and scores of volunteers came together to bring joy to those with special needs, from keiki to kupuna.

“The community has really stepped up,” said Shortt.

Trixie Denis, whose son Rodeo has attended almost all the events put on by the organization, was grateful for a stress-free day at the beach.

Not being a water person, Denis did not have the means to let her son get into the ocean safely. With Surf for Special needs, he is able to enjoy activities while she can let her guard down for the day.

“Rodeo has been counting down the days till he could get back on a surfboard,” she said.

Rodeo’s excitement was evident as he stood up on the board and caught waves.

Started only 15 months ago, Surf for Special needs has already put on seven events. Beside surfing, they also hold stand-up paddleboarding and canoe rides to see the mantas. The organization is a growing nonprofit run solely by donations and volunteers.

“The support is amazing,” Denis said of the organization. “They have opened up doors for me more than they know.”

After the 20-minute session came to an end, Rodeo sported a big smile and proudly told his mom that he caught five waves.

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“I stood up on the board and did this!” Rodeo exclaimed, making a double shaka above his head.

For more information, visit http://Surf4SN.org.