A benefit for Project Surf Camp is set for Friday, June 25 at Movement for Life Physical Therapy clinic, corner of Harbor Street and Shasta Avenue in Morro Bay. Pictured here are (from left) PJS founder John Taylor, clinic owner
Michael Williams and PSJ volunteer Matt Makowetski.

As summer approaches and the coronavirus pandemic wanes, one local tradition is returning in a big way from a long, COVID-19 nap, to help those with disabilities experience the thrill of the ocean and recharge the emotional batteries of the people that make the magic happen.

“We are back!” exclaimed Project Surf Camp founder, John Taylor. Project Surf Camp is a day camp held on Morro Strand Beach that takes children and adults with autism and other conditions and teaches them about the beach environment and surfing.

The camp’s ability to bring people out of shells is legendary and Taylor, himself a leg amputee, can’t wait for it to start.
“At the end of March,” he said, “we decided to go for it.”

Last summer, they canceled surf camp, just as everything else was canceled during the height of the pandemic. Taylor said they worked out how to adhere to the CDC guidelines to keep everyone safe. “We figured out ways that we can make this work. So we decided to pull the trigger.”

When signup for surf camp was opened in April, he said, they were 70% filled up within a few weeks (See: www.projectsurfcamp.com).
They cut the size down a third to make it easier in what is still an uneasy situation with masking and social distancing still being recommended. It also gives them some flexibility.

“We can always make adjustments,” Taylor said. “The crew is itching to get going. We talked about Project Surf Camp as being a family. It starts ultimately with the staff. We’re all best friends. And man, we missed each other.”

Surf Camp, he said, “Fills up my emotional cup.” Surf camp also makes use of volunteer buddies to work with the campers while in the surf and perhaps none are more enthusiastic than Matt Makowetski, a special needs teacher in Orcutt who always seems to have as much fun as the campers.
He and Taylor, who is also a teacher, produced a video about surf camp that was posted to the organization’s website, and the word spread quickly among the camp’s patrons.

And with the camp’s return comes the return of an annual tradition by local businessman Michael Williams of “Movement for Life Physical Therapy,” formerly known as San Luis Sports Therapy, who for 19 years has held a pre-4th of July benefit barbecue, raising money for high school sports programs and now for surf camp.

In 2019, the last time they held the barbecue, Williams said, they raised $13,800, plus more on T-shirt sales, hats and sweatshirts. “Every year we break a record,” he said.

Taylor said, “The barbecue is an integral part of our budget. It would be significantly more difficult to run Project Surf Camp without Mike’s support.”
For Williams the annual event is a bit of relief after a most trying year.
“Last year was devastating for all of us,” he said. “On March 23 [2020] I had to lay off three-fourths of my staff. It was the hardest day of my life.” His crew in one day had to be reduced from 20 employees to five. But enough of that, he’s looking forward.
“Let’s find normalcy again,” Williams said. “I felt the barbecue was one of the biggest steps.”

The barbecue is set for Friday, June 25 from noon to 4 p.m. at the therapy clinic, corner of Harbor Street and Shasta Avenue, across from the Morro Bay Library.
The event is a potluck, Williams said, and members of the community are welcomed to bring their favorite dish to share. He’s providing the trip-tip.
There will also be a big raffle of items donated by local businesses, whom Makowetski praised for stepping up once again.
Among the items in the raffle is a 43-inch TV set from Coast Electronics, a day of bass fishing and an ocean fishing trip on the Black Pearl. “I got saltwater and freshwater covered,” laughed Williams, who personally solicits donations from the business community, which have always been very generous.

They are accepting donations for the raffle and monetary donations for Project Surf Camp at the clinic, which is open weekdays. Tickets for the barbecue are also available at the clinic.

Perhaps the magic of Project surf Camp will smile on the barbecue just like the campers’ smiles. “I’m just happy,” Williams said. “I know we can make this a successful event.”