The Most Joyous Day

Two of Stafford Craymer’s passions are hanging out with students and hanging ten from his surfboard.​

For this Virginia Beach North area director, Capernaum Surf Camp has married these two passions. Held each September, it’s a day where the local Young Life and surfing communities join forces to help kids with disabilities ride waves for a day.

“I think this is one of the coolest things our area does,” Craymer said. “We get a chance to have parents, kids, volunteers, surfers; so many people together having an incredible day.”

Craymer grew up two hours west of Virginia Beach. Within a few months of going on Young Life staff at the beach, Craymer fell in love with surfing, even purchasing his own royal blue longboard.

One day over lunch, Craymer’s good friend Ross Byrd quizzed him about his ministry dreams.

“On a whim, I just mentioned to him, ‘We live by the ocean. I love to surf. It would be really fun to teach kids with disabilities how to surf,’” said Craymer, now in his eighth year on staff. “Ross, who had experience running surf camps and helping out with Capernaum, said, ‘You set the date. You get kids there, and I’ll take care of the rest.’”

Unbeknownst to the two friends, this “Capernaum surfing day” had existed years before under a previous area director. Only after they had begun their camp did they discover how God can resurrect a great idea!

Rock Stars

Craymer’s first Capernaum Surf Camp is a day forever etched in his memory.

He remembers one mom in particular who was extremely reluctant to let her son, who uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal, participate in the event. At the end of the day, she hesitantly agreed to let her son give it a go.

A team of eight volunteers got the woman’s child out of his wheelchair and on to the surfboard.

“I vividly remember watching this mom as she saw this group of volunteers love her son like she had never seen before,” Craymer said. “I was standing beside this woman with tears just streaming down her face as her son rode a wave in. She continually said over and over, ‘I cannot believe this. I cannot believe this.’”

According to Craymer, emotional responses are the norm.

“That is the story of every parent,” Craymer added. “Every parent is sitting there thinking, ‘I never thought my child would ever get the chance to experience anything like this.’ They are also seeing and experiencing the gospel the entire day as leaders and other volunteers treat their kids as rock stars.”

Joe Marks, the Old Dominion Young Life regional director, oversees Craymer’s ministry in Virginia Beach. It’s hard for Marks not to be touched emotionally by the Capernaum Surf Camp.

“A lot of kids in Capernaum, they know God in a way that is profound to me,” Marks said. “I’ve always been touched being around kids with disabilities. Their experience of God is so powerful.”

A Big Jump

Now in its fifth year — one year was canceled due to inclement weather — The Capernaum Surf Camp grows bigger every year.

Last year, Craymer needed 75 pizzas to feed the attendees, and 50 paddle boards for the surfers. Paddle boards are more accessible than surfboards for surfers with physical disabilities. For the same reasons, the surf camp is held at a bay, because the waves are milder.

There are usually six or seven volunteers per surfer. Hannah, a high school senior and Marks’s daughter, was one of the many volunteers at last year’s event.

“They were really excited and happy,” Hannah said of the surfers. “A lot of them were scared at first, so it was a big jump for them to get out and surf.”

Capernaum Surf Camp has come to be a gift to everyone involved.

“We have top-level surfers come,” Craymer said. “Every person says it’s the best day of surfing they experience all year. (And many of us volunteers aren’t the ones riding waves!) It’s arguably the most joyous day of my year and their year, too. There’s not one person without a smile on their face.”