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The Bend Magazine

Making Promises Happen

07/01/2019 12:14PM ● By Jessie Monsivais

By: Jessie Monsivais

The Coastal Bend Surfrider Foundation hosts a swim camp for individuals with special needs every year with Make Promises Happen – a program north of Oklahoma City that serves youth and adults ages 6 and older with any disability. Make Promises Happen is one of the nation’s largest camping and outdoor recreational programs for persons with disabilities and serious illnesses. 2019 is the 20th year for the Make Promises Happen surf camp, and the 15th year for the Coastal Bend Surfrider Foundation to host the event. Cliff Schlabach, Chairman of the Coastal Bend Surfrider Foundation, started hosting this program in 1999. For him, painting a verbal picture of the Foundation’s origins is like a trip back in time.

“The first six years were run by my wife and I only,” he says. “The group we had at that time were visually impaired individuals from a Christian camp in Arkansas, who contacted me one day to help some of their campers catch their first wave. We came up with about three or four volunteers thinking it was going to be a few people. It ended up being a huge bus full of about 75 people.”

In 2005, the unthinkable happened: The director of the Arkansas camp lost his life in a car wreck, and the camp lost its funding. However, Cliff and his team knew their work needed to prevail. They rallied together and brainstormed ideas as to how they could continue to help the disabled and special needs families. The Texas Coastal Bend Chapter of the Making Promises Happen project is one of the biggest and best-attended programs they have.

The Coastal Bend Surfrider Foundation began hosting the “Make Promises Happen” camp the following year, and from that point on, the group from Oklahoma has come down for two days in Port Aransas to surf every single year.

About 15-20 campers, each one with a counselor assigned to them, come filing out of a bus for this one-of-a-kind surfing experience. This year, the surf camp has expanded the program to include campers from the local area. Most of the volunteers are from the Coastal Bend area, and Port Aransas lifeguards watch over the group and ensure all safety is taken into consideration. The surfers ride in waist-deep water with two to three watermen who help to control their surfboards, and push the campers into a wave down the center of a line of people. It’s an unforgettable experience.

Year-round, the Coastal Bend Surfrider Foundation receives donations specifically for this camp, and all the surfing equipment is provided by the Texas Surf Museum. The camp ends with a barbeque to celebrate all the hard work and fun had by the campers.

“You don’t know who has more fun by the end of it – the volunteers or the campers. They’re a very happy group and just happy to be doing what they’re doing,” Schlabach says about how much this camp means to everyone involved. “Everyone gets a chance to feel the stoke, and that helps all of us. These folks wouldn’t have any other chance of experiencing the greatest sport on the planet otherwise.”

To become a volunteer or find out information about the camp, email