Surf Lessons for Autistic and Special Needs Students - Maui Surfer Girls
Surf Lessons

Surf Lessons for Autistic and Special Needs Students

Surfing with Autism or Special Needs 

Traveling with family members with special needs can be a challenge, from being in a new environment and trying new activities, to meeting new people.

After many years of teaching surf lessons, we’ve worked with a wide variety of students with physical, learning and sensory challenges, and each lesson has been rewarding not only to the students, but to our instructors as well!

According to our Director Dustin, “there can be a calming and neutralizing effect that the ocean has on our nervous systems and I believe that autistic children can benefit greatly from the healing effects of the ocean. We love proving to all our students, regardless of their diagnosis or prognosis, that surfing a wave can build self-confidence and resiliency to face all of life’s challenges.”

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We welcome students of all ages and abilities! Please contact us to set up a surf lesson for any learning, sensory or physical differences!

What would be helpful for us to know in advance? 

If you are considering signing up a family member with any special needs, please do not hesitate to contact us in advance so we can tailor the instruction to best suit the student’s needs.

How are their swimming skills and what is their comfort level in the ocean? What is the best way to communicate with them, how are their listening skills? Any details on their condition would be helpful to our instructors in providing the most successful surf experience that we can.

How to Get your Best Lesson 

Depending on the situation, we typically recommend a private lesson for the most individual attention, or a semi-private, which limits the class just to your party or family, and a max of a 3:1 ratio of students to instructor.  You are welcome to bring a life jacket!

We also love to bring our surf dog Luna to the lesson, as many children (and adults) just light up at the idea of going surfing with a dog!  If you’d love to surf with Luna, please just add a note to your booking!

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Surf Pup Luna loves to meet new students and come surfing! She serves as a great therapy dog and helps to ease nervous students.

Please read on to see what some of our former students have shared: 

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Sharky and Justin celebrating success!

“Our son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at the age of 3. Since then, we have tried skateboarding as a form of alternative occupational therapy which has worked wonders for his speech, confidence and social skills.

Through board sports, he has received the opportunity to connect with other people in meaningful ways. Whereas, in his day to day life, I don’t think it is easy for him as they don’t want to or can’t find a way to connect with him.

We had heard that surfing is also a great form of therapy but we could not find many resources for surfing instructors with experience teaching children with autism how to surf in Northern CA even though there are some great surfing spots.

maui surf lessons for kids Our Family has been working with Maui Surfer Girls and its owner Dustin Tester and instructor Sharky on surfing lessons for our son.

It has taken 3 summers but our son was able to stand up on his first wave on 6/12/17. I remember my first wave at the age of 16 some 30 years ago. I am sure that our son will remember this accomplishment too.

It was a very emotional moment for us as his parents as it has taken 3 summers; 2015, 2016, and 2017 for this to happen. There really is no other feeling in the world like gliding along the water on a surfboard and our son was hooked and I’m sure he will remember that moment forever.

It’s through the patient teaching of Sharky that we were able to experience this highlight of our trip this year!

If you are searching for surfing lessons in Maui, we recommend MSG!” – Arnold, dad of Justin

Watch some of the highlights from Justin’s surf lessons!


“My experience with Maui Surfer Girls couldn’t have gone better. I signed up myself & my special needs teenage brother for a private lesson. Our instructor Sharky was amazingly patient with & supportive to my brother. If you’re looking to learn in a stress free & fun environment, Maui Surfer Girls is the way to go.” Holly M via TripAdvisor


“We want to send you a GIANT thank you to Sharky! He gave our three boys a surf lesson on June 10. Our youngest, a 12 year old, is autistic and is shy about making eye contact, especially in unfamiliar situations, but we wanted him to at least try this new experience. Sharky was upbeat and patient as he worked with him, and with his help our son actually caught a couple of waves and rode them in on his hands and knees with a big grin on his face. Our 16 year old was reluctant also, but Sharky gave him a lot of help and encouragement. The 13 year old is our daredevil, and he was standing on the board and riding waves almost immediately. Next time, I plan to try it too! We recommend Sharky and Maui Surfer Girls very highly. It was a great experience and one we’ll never forget!” MollyZin via TripAdvisor


“learning to surf with dustin was such a great experience! i called the night before, she included me in the next days class. we surfed on sweet little waves with lots of time to get comfortable on shore and in the water. her instruction was clear, equipment in good shape and she is super positive. she addressed fears without judgment before we went out and also in the water. our group was 3 (mid age?) moms and a 12 yr old (autistic) girl. she spent equal time with us all till we got up and then made sure she focussed on those who still needed help. i felt safe at all times. the surf spot is shallow-ish, clear, beautiful water. the “locals” surfing next to us were all supportive and nice. i would go to maui surfer girls again and if i had a teen-age daughter…she should be so lucky as to attend the MSG camp! GO surfer girls!”

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We start each lesson on the land, setting each student up for success!

Join us at Imua Keiki o Ke Kai Paddle Day 

Dustin, Luna and many of the Maui Surfer Girls instructors volunteer each year at the  Imua Keiki O Ke Kai paddle day!  Over 30 children & adults with special needs take part in all sorts of water sports, with the help of many of Maui’s best water sports pros.

Imua Keiki o ke Kai (Go forward, children of the sea) was inspired by Andrea Moller’s vision to offer Camp Imua kids a way to enjoy one-on-one time with ocean athletes, with stand-up paddling, outrigger canoeing, and jet-ski rides.

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Maui Surfer Girls’ Founder Dustin Tester helps out with some water time at Imua Keiki o ke Kai
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Lucy, Dustin, Sharky, Luna and friends volunteer at Imua Keiki o ke Kai
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MSG Instructor Lucy paddles around with our surf doggie Luna!


Imua Photos Courtesy 


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Dustin Tester and her surf pup Luna
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Dustin and Luna the Surf Dog

Women's Surf Camp Camp Counselors Camp Staff 2016
















Surf Lessons Maui Autism | Surfing with Autism | Surf Therapy | Adaptive Surfing | Surfing with Disabilities | Maui Therapy Dogs | Maui Therapy Animals | Ocean Healing | Ocean Therapy

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