This story has been updated. Please see editor's note below.

The Children’s Lifesaving Foundation (CLF) held a Surf Camp4All event at Zuma Beach on Friday, helping at-risk children and families catch a wave to ride out fear, anxiety and stigmas one surfboard at a time. 

Around 50 CFL youngsters, families and organizations such as Homeboy Industries, My Friends Place and Operation Progress LA participated in the event, one in a series of CFL-run day and overnight camps scheduled from mid-June through mid-August.

The Malibu Underdogs were also on hand to teach kids how to surf — but more importantly, how to build confidence and self-esteem. Their goals are to empower children with special needs by stimulating them mentally, physically and socially. 

“We have worked with so many children — from autism to Tourettes syndrome — and changed the way they think about themselves,” said Jean Pierre Pereat, Underdogs co-founder. “We call it surf therapy, where anxiety just melts away.”

Twenty-one year old Stephen Underwood was deadly afraid of the water until Pereat encouraged him to get in the water with him.

“When I first stepped in the water ... I was screaming as I felt the waves hit my face, and he just kept telling me I was powerful, so I just started stomping through the water,” Underwood exclaimed. “I never thought of myself as brave until today.”

CLF founder Maria D’Angelo, who has been touted as a real-life earth angel, said she still delights in seeing children transform when they go into the water for the first time. “Even after 23 years, I still am amazed by the obstacles these children overcome,” D’Angelo said.

D’Angelo and her organization have helped thousands of families through their multilayered programs that build independence through education and social support — but she does not take all the credit. Through donations from community members and other organizations, CLF’s ongoing mission has been a success. Van Ta, the operations coordinator at Homeboy Industries, said the opportunities he and other people have today because of organizations like CLF are surreal.

“The kids play, smile and laugh on the beach,” said Ta. “They see that hanging out, eating, surfing and having a good time is different than hanging out in the neighborhood.” 

He has been working with the CLF for over three years now and believes it is good to get the kids in the programs as soon as possible.

High school senior Yael Juarez and her family have been in the program since they left Mexico 11 years ago. She is already taking advanced classes from Santa Monica College and hopes to land an internship at a magazine before she graduates. Her brother, Christopher Rojas, is an emerging filmmaker who already has co-produced the short film “CORA.” Her older brother, Ricardo Juarez, will be attending Humboldt University.

“D’Angelo helped me pursue my interest in education because I am more positive, confident and I actually believe I can go to college,” Juarez said. 

Editor's note: A previous version of this story did not specify the event is one of multiple camps that run throughout the summer. The story has been updated to clarify. 

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