At each of the many tents at the 3rd annual SEV Chamber of Commerce, you could meet and talk with community members for hours — and get free swag in the process. One of our favorite tents where we had some of the most impactful conversations was a blue and yellow tent that read Oceans for Hope.
Oceans for Hope, co-founded by Danny Paltjon, offers adaptive ocean access for individuals with physical disabilities, including specialized wheelchairs or assistance to enter the sand, customized surfboards, and more in New Smyrna Beach. The organization currently puts on 4 adaptive events per year, and works in partnership with the Wounded Warrior Foundation. They also take children on the autism spectrum surfing — as Danny says, “we don’t say no to anyone who wants to surf.”
We talked with Danny about why he co-founded Oceans of Hope, the incredible impact he’s seen surfing have, and how he thinks riding a wave is therapeutic.
Photo: Oceans of Hope
ASM: Why was Oceans of Hope founded?
Danny Paltjon: I had my own construction business and in 2003, and broke my neck. I felt like my world came to end.
I had a couple of friends in Jersey get me back in the ocean, and I felt like I was normal again by being in the water — the buoyancy, tasting of salt, riding of waves on my belly. It was one of the best days of my life.
I knew right then and there that life still rolls on and there's still life out there. That was one defining moment I’ll never forget.
Being a Jersey guy, the sand was always so thick and I wasn’t able to access the beach. My in-laws bought a house in New Smyrna Beach, and the sand was so hard that I realized I could roll my manual chair on the beach. I was thinking that I had to do something to impact others because I knew the power of the ocean.
Ironically that night, my in-law's neighbor, who’s a big surfer, asked me what I had been up to and I said I had been riding waves. He said we should do something to help others experience surfing, and I said let’s do it! We had our first event in 2014.
Co-Founder Danny Paltjon. Photo: Oceans of Hope
Talk to us more about that first Oceans of Hope Event in 2014.
I made a phone call to Safari Surf Club here in New Smyrna Beach, and they had 12 volunteers show up who weren’t familiar with adaptive surfing. We put bumpers down on the back of the surfboard so participants wouldn't fall off. I installed handles on boards and wedges so the participants could look forward instead of down. I met 5 people at a rehabilitation facility prior to this and invited them to surf, and they had a blast.
It seemed like the event even had an impact on the volunteers — they were so happy, and some were in tears.
On that day, we all knew we had the potential, through surfing, to help others who experienced a tragedy or illness realize that anything is possible.
When you look back over the organization's 9 years, is there one powerful moment that affected you the most?
6-year-oldAt our third event, we had a 6 year old boy who hadn’t been able to get out of his wheelchair. We got him in the water and pushed him on waves, and his mother said she saw a smile on his face that she had never seen before — not even during Christmas, birthday parties, etc. I saw his smile too, and it’s a moment I can picture as clear as day now. Since then, I’ve had numerous moments like that.
And that’s why I continue to do Oceans of Hope — because it’s changing their lives and helping them realize life is still precious.
Photo: Oceans of Hope
How is surfing therapeutic for you?
It’s freedom. Being out of the wheelchair is always a great thing. Riding that wave ... I’m not standing up, but I'm at the point where I can lay on my belly and get in a crouched position.
It’s just being out of the chair that is complete freedom.
How can readers get involved in Oceans of Hope?
Number one would be to physically come here and spend a day with us volunteering. Option two is to donate. We’re 100% nonprofit — not one person takes even a penny out of our bank account for themselves.
Learn about how to volunteer and how to donate at OceansofHopeFoundation.org.