Image by Nathan Fagan
Giving back is important. So much so that photographer Steven Lippman has dedicated a big chunk of his life to it. He is the the President of A Walk On Water, a nonprofit that gives special needs children and adults the opportunity to experience the therapeutic joys of saltwater and surf. Prior to their almost sold-out upcoming Malibu Wines fundraiser this weekend (tickets here) we chatted with Lippman about his experience with AWOW, an inspiring boy named Jacob and the transformative effects of the sea. Read on, wanderers. And we’ll see you this Saturday, April 29th, at Wine for Waves.
What does “giving back” mean to you?
Giving back means doing something for others without any expectation of thanks or acknowledgment. It’s a part of my life.
Take us through your first surf experience.
I was a pro skateboarder before I was ever a surfer. I lived in the Valley and my first experience was in the water at Malibu Third Point. I was 16 or so. Dave White, who was at the time a pro surfer and a Malibu local that ruled with an iron fist, deliberately ran me over. He then punched me in the face, held me underwater for 20 seconds or so (AKA “1,000 bubbles”) and told me to get the hell out of here. That’s what being a surfer in the late 70’s and early 80’s in California was like. There was a pecking order. I paddled out of the way but didn’t leave the water. About a half an hour later he called me back over, told me it was cool and invited me to join him and his crew in the water. We became close friends, which is true to this day.
How’d you get involved with A Walk On Water?
I was donating my time as a surf instructor to Surfer’s Healing. Through that I met Pat Notaro at the events and we became friends. 5 years ago Pat called and asked me to get involved with A Walk On Water and I said yes. At the time I don’t think any of us had any idea that AWOW would grow so fast, affect so many families in a positive way and I’m incredibly proud to be part of such an incredible movement.
Image by Ana Lemes
Any particular moment that really moved you? Tell us about it.
There are too many to count. But if I have to pick one...one of my favorite stories has to do with an athlete who I’ve been taking surfing since day 1 of AWOW: Jacob. When I first met Jacob, he was extremely shy and reclusive, and prone to outbursts. His parents, Samuel and Jennifer, informed us that Jacob (at the time aged 4) was nonverbal and had never spoken a word in his life. It took a lot of work to get Jacob into a wetsuit, onto a board, and out into the ocean. He was kicking, screaming, and even punching me in the face; but I was determined to get him onto at least one wave. As I sat on the outside with him and held him tight, he started to calm down and I felt that sense of relaxation all us surfers get when we finally get into the water after a tough day. Paddling hard, we pulled into our first ever wave together, and from that wave on there was shift in Jacob’s demeanor.
Jacob said his first word ever, 'SURF.' This boy who had never spoken a word in his life had his voice turned on by the power of the ocean and surf therapy. When I got back onto the beach, tears in my eyes, I looked like I’d been through a heavy battle—because I had. The look on his parents’ faces made it all worth it, though. Their son had surfed! When I shared with them that Jacob had started talking with me after catching our wave, they just stared at me in disbelief and shaking their heads ‘that’s not possible.’ The amount of tears we all shed that day could’ve taken it from low to high tide.
Today, Jacob is a thriving 10-year-old who will walk right up to you and say hello and shake your hand. He is the reason I work so hard, because I know there are a million other Jacobs out there in the world and we owe them the opportunity to experience the stoke that only surf therapy can provide.
Image by Trevor Pikhart
A Walk On Water believes in the therapeutic effects of the ocean. How, if at all, has the ocean healed you?
The ocean is my religion. It’s that simple and that comprehensive.
What should attendees expect to see on the 29th?
We’re so honored by the generosity of our sponsors and hosts. It’s going to be a great night. The setting at Malibu Wines is stunning. Hand muddled Patron tequila cocktails, fresh tacos, wine tastings from Malibu Wines, brick oven pizza, great music and good people.
When’s the last time you put pen to paper?
At 4:40 in the morning, headed to catch a flight to New York City last week for a photoshoot, I wrote a note for my son. I let him know I love him, that he’s my best friend, asked him to take care of Mom while I’m away and that I’ll call him when I land. I always leave these notes for him when I travel on business.
Join us this Saturday, April 29th for ‘Wine for Waves,’ a fundraiser benefitting A Walk on Water, which provides surf therapy to children and adults with special needs.