Sharing the Stoke: World Champion Mentors Fifth Grader

Challenged Athletes Foundation announces record year of giving, awarding nearly $6 million

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It’s the stoke.

The proverbial state of exuberance a surfer feels when hitting the waves is addicting. Liv Stone first experienced it two years ago during the Switchfoot Bro-Am, in Encinitas.

“I felt so special and supported by my friends and family,” the 17-year-old said.

It may have been particularly special because some people think a girl born without both of her forearms can’t surf.

They would be wrong. Very wrong.

Stone said she lettered in four varsity sports in high school. Now, she’s conquered the waves, too.

“Liv Stone became a top surfer, won the world championship,” said Bob Babbitt, co-founder of the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

Babbitt said the CAF is coming off a monumental year, during which it awarded a record 3,921 grants, totaling $5.9 million, to athletes like Stone.

“Personally, there’s nothing better in the world, because we underestimate the power of sports,” Babbitt said.

That’s why Babbitt joined Stone on Moonlight Beach in Encinitas on Tuesday morning.

“Normally, this would be the week of the Bro-Am,” Babbitt said. “This weekend we’d have 15,000 people on the beach.”

The Switchfoot Bro-Am, an annual music and surfing festival, is where Stone got her start in surfing. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic canceled this year’s event, which, as it does every year, would have been headlined by the Grammy-winning San Diego-based rock group Switchfoot, the event's organizers and founders.

Instead, Babbitt and Stone used the beach to surprise another athlete who could give Stone a run for her money.

“It’s just really special for me to be able to share the stoke,” Stone said.

Ten-year-old Sophia Saunders was born without her right forearm. She recently got the stoke and the CAF wanted to fan the flames.

Babbitt and Stone presented Saunders with a brand-new surfboard from Bird’s Surf Shed. Switchfoot drummer, Chad Butler, hand-delivered it to Saunders.

“I had no idea this was coming,” said the soon-to-be fifth-grader at Warren-Walker Elementary School. “I was crying.”

“She’s a really special girl,” said Stone before she paddled out with Saunders. "I can see the potential in surfing."

Saunders practiced on her new surfboard with help from Stone, Butler and Alex Reynolds, who is affiliated with the International Surfing Association.

“I was overjoyed,” Saunders said, laughing.

“I can see the stoke in her,” exclaimed Stone. “I just want to share my knowledge with her, my love of the ocean with her.”

“Changes their life,” said Babbitt. “Makes them feel good themselves. Makes them feel comfortable in their own skin.”

Although this year’s Bro-Am is canceled, Switchfoot is hosting a live online concert. Tickets from the virtual festival will benefit several charities, including the CAF.

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