VENTURA, Calif. (FOX 11) - Alexa Cenepa is a great surfer at 12 years old. That's pretty remarkable on its own. But what makes her story truly remarkable? Alexa is blind.
She describes surfing this way to FOX 11's Elex Michaelson: "It feels like I'm free of all of the bad thoughts and all of the bad stuff that's happened to me!"
Alexa was born with an eye disease called leber congenital amaurosis. She hasn't been able to see since birth.
She never thought surfing would ever be a possibility for her.
"I just thought it's a bunch of men standing on boards, going on waves, I don't think I can do that," Cenepa said.
But she learned to surf thanks to an organization called "A Walk on Water" or AWOW. They do water therapy for kids with special challenges. Ari Markow is one of the directors for A Walk on Water and chief legal counsel.
"We believe in the power of the ocean to transform people," he said.
Markow said five surfers started the group in 2012 in Ventura County. Now, they hold events around the country and help hundreds of kids. Markow's own son is one of them. He's autistic and non-verbal. Ari said he's "mellowed out" tremendously thanks to the water.
His family has found community at the group's various events.
"We are families that are used to having people jeer at us, not cheer for us. It's a moment where all the playing fields are leveled and everyone here is an athlete," he said.
Torrey West is an acclaimed photographer who volunteers for AWOW.
"I could photograph them at 9 in the morning and photograph them at 1 p.m. and their entire demeanor has changed," he said.
West, a surfer himself, said the ocean does have healing powers.
"The water teaches us lessons. Patience, control, understanding, fear, humility," he said.
Kim Murphy said it has been healing for her dog, Haole, as he battles cancer. Haole has become an unofficial mascot for AWOW.
"All of his wonderful team of doctors say he has a purpose and he needs to be serving it, so that's what we're doing. He's happy, he's fighting cancer right now, he's healthy and he's surfing!" Murphy said.
Murphy added that Haole's presence has helped to calm some kids that are anxious about getting in the water.
"They see the dog doing it, they think, 'wow, I can go out!'"
As for Alexa, she'll never forget her first time on that board.
"I was nervous, I was like 'am I going to fall off? What's going to happen?' All I Knew was the crowd was cheering for me and it was awesome!"
Her parents are so grateful. Her father, Tony Canepa, said, "first time I saw her on the board, it made me cry. It gave us so much hope!"
Mother Lisa Canepa added, "She came out of that first surf session and said, it was the first time she actually felt free!"
Tony continued, "There's a lot of love here. There's no other way to say it. You look around and everyone is smiling and having a good time, the challenges disappear," he said.
Alexa hopes her story serves as an inspiration to others.
"I showed everybody if you have something wrong with you, like a disability…anything can be possible!"
A Walk on Water's next event in Southern California is August 24, 2019 at Bolsa Chica State Beach.
For more information, go to http://www.awalkonwater.org.