The 14 kids sat huddled in a tight circle less than a hundred meters from the ocean. Although tired and cold–they had just shed their wetsuits after two hours of surfing in the waters off Carcavelos beach and were now at the mercy of a chilly April breeze–all sat attentively as Nuno Fazenda reviewed the afternoon and the part each of them had played in it. Outside the circle was a second ring of family members, friends and some curious passersby who were watching the proceedings closely. Despite the distraction, all eyes in the inner circle were on Nuno as he engaged each boy and girl in succession, drawing forth a reluctant response here, toning down an overly zealous one there, and harmonizing the whole. Questioning, instructing, clarifying, praising, redirecting, encouraging, he was a joy to behold as he gave each young person in turn exactly what he or she needed in just the right measure at just the right time. It was a virtuoso performance. Exactly what one would expect from a seasoned T/C and group worker.
For Nuno, working with the kids was the easy part. The hard part was the long and arduous path he had had to traverse to make this moment possible. Each year the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Portugal hosts a “boot camp” where professionals from all walks of life come together to learn the intricacies of transforming ideas into realities. A year and a half before, Nuno and fellow surfer and Pressley Ridger, Paulo Canas, were chosen to participate in one of these boot camps. It was Nuno and Paulo’s belief that contact with the natural world in general and with the ocean in particular had a salutary effect on people. From this kernel came a proposal, and from the proposal a business plan, to develop a program for troubled kids that focused on surfing and out-of-doors activities, a program, in short, that would bring about competency development, behavioral change, and enhancement of their self-esteem.
The idea for therapeutic surfing with troubled kids had been germinating a long time with Nuno. Ever since he came to Pressley Ridge in 2007 and began working with at-risk youth in the Pes P’Andar after school program, he dreamed of getting his kids away from the mean streets of Damaia, a poverty-ridden section of Lisbon, and into the open air of the Portuguese countryside and the Atlantic coast. As he learned more about experiential education and conducted his own research on successful treatment programs in the US and Brazil, he became even more convinced that what strengthened him and brought him joy could do the same for others.
With proposal and business plan in hand, Nuno and PR Portugal Director Katia Almeida approached several potential funders in the months following the boot camp without success. Meanwhile, Nuno split his time working with the kids of Damaia after school, evenings and on weekends and supporting several other Pressley Ridge start-ups. Still, the start-up that interested him most eluded him. Then in the fall of 2012, the seaside municipality of Cascais learned of the proposal. Initial expressions of interest on the part of elected officials led to a meeting, and then to several more. Details were hammered out and agreements reached in the space of weeks. Cascais would fund the Surf.Art program, as it was now called, for six months. The pilot would target at-risk youth in the Red Cross District of Cascais handpicked by the municipality and would start in January, 2013. There wasn’t much time, and there was much to do, but Nuno was undaunted. Because the Red Cross District did not border the ocean, transportation had to be secured. Nuno arranged it. The kids would need surfboards and wetsuits, for January is a cold month even in sunny Portugal. In kind gifts of both surfboards and wetsuits appeared courtesy of Nuno and Paulo’s friends in the surfing community. Program details needed to be worked out quickly, and were. Referral procedures were agreed upon and evaluation protocols created, all in short order.
January came. Nuno and Paulo and other Pressley Ridge staff met with the kids slated for the program and with their families. Program goals were discussed; the activities regimen outlined. The program was highly unusual, they said, but it was voluntary. Not a boy or girl refused, and for good measure, all the families were on board as well. They came together for the first time on the beach at Carcavelos, just outside Cascais, on schedule. It was a cold day in January, and Nuno couldn’t stop smiling.
In the five months since the program’s inception, Nuno and Paulo have been interviewed on Portuguese radio and television about the Surf.Art program several times and had their story appear in print. In addition a professional videographer has captured their activities on film. Perhaps their most satisfying moment, however, came just six weeks ago when they hurried from the beach to the stage at the Institute of Social Entrepreneurship as honored guests. Their task: to speak to this year’s boot camp attendees about the art of possibilities. T/C dreams really can become reality. If you don’t believe it, just ask Nuno.