Riding a wave is one of the most exhilarating experiences in life. That’s why Malibu attracts so many visitors each year—even those of us who don’t surf are still drawn to the ocean and the calming effects of its hypnotic waves.
Some children and adults with special needs might never be able to enjoy the benefits and fun of ocean activities if not for the generosity of surf therapy groups such as A Walk On Water (AWOW).
AWOW is nearing a decade of service to youth and families, thanks to the dedication of one if its founding board members, Steven Lippman (who, with Pat Notaro and others, started AWOW in 2012). Lippman grew up in Malibu where he and his wife are now raising their own children. “We’re a family of watermen and artists,” he described. As a child, Lippman was a pro skateboarder. Then, competitive surfer.
“I fell in love with the ocean as almost every surfer does,” Lippman said.
Lippman became a photographer, and a successful one at that. His work ranges from commercial—American Airlines, Garmin, Sony—to photographing some of the most well-known celebrities in the world. He’s also a commercial director and he’s found success as a fine art photographer, as well. During the pandemic, Lippman is making some more affordable prints to make them more accessible: “A lot of people live away from the ocean and the work makes them smile.”
“Through my work, I became super interested in shooting water, waves and abstract ocean,” the artist explained. Lippman’s been shooting underwater images for the past decade. His work in this area is so groundbreaking he’s an ambassador for the company AquaTech, which makes water housings for cameras.
With so much time in and around the water, Lippman collaborated with Axxe wetsuits. “They loved my water imagery.” An abstract shot of Lippman’s now adorns wetsuits “to sort of blend with the water and become organic. It’s a cool looking wetsuit.”
Nearly a decade ago, the 56-year-old helped found A Walk On Water. The nonprofit works with special needs children and adults—all of them called athletes by AWOW.
“We embrace them through surf therapy,” Lippman said. Volunteers take athletes in the ocean on surfboards “engaging them, earning their trust, creating a bond and watching the experience happen through water therapy. Everyone loves being in the ocean, in a swimming pool. Water has a really special calming effect. Amazing surf therapists—watermen and waterwomen.”
Lippman says taking a child with special needs into the ocean for perhaps the first time is “incredibly humbling to give back and not expect anything in return.
“It helps put a lot about life in perspective and how fortunate we are,” he continued. “Think about these families that have children with special needs. They go through it, 365 days a year, 24/7.” The father of two calls himself fortunate.
“When I meet families with special needs and I’m able to make a difference in their life, whether it’s one day or throughout the years of creating new experiences of friendship with this love and this bond, it really keeps me grounded,” he said. “It makes me feel really good to do this without expecting anything in return. What I get in return is a special feeling.”
While water therapy is currently on hiatus during the pandemic, AWOW is conducting Zoom experiences with athletes.
“We talk about their day,” Lippman said. “They show us their room, their house, their schoolwork, art projects. We talk, have fun, draw, sing. A lot of engaged people step up and give back. It’s nice to see a collaboration of the volunteers.”
To donate to A Walk On Water go to awalkonwater.org