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Mainer starts surf company to provide opportunities for son with autism

Passionate surfer Rick McAvoy started Journey Surf Co. to give his son Noah a work opportunity after high school.

WELLS, Maine — An estimated one in every 45 adults in the U.S. has an autism spectrum condition, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a disability affecting more and more families. 

One family in Wells has refused to wait for opportunities for their son with autism, so they decided to build them on their own. 

Rick McAvoy has been surfing the break at Wells Beach for decades. Local surfers call him "a legend" and "the old guy." McAvoy, a physical therapist, used to take his son Noah surfing when he was younger. 

"I don't have an autistic 21-year-old son. I have a 21-year-old son who happens to be autistic," McAvoy explained. 

Nowadays, Noah prefers to run and steer clear of the waves, but he still enjoys watching his dad surf. 

"(He's a) great surfer," Noah said of his dad. 

After graduating from Wells High School, opportunities for Noah were scarce. Noah lives in a home in Gray with roommates and attends a day program, but his parents craved to find him employment. 

"A lot of places are not open to having kids with disabilities come in and try jobs, which is a little sad," Pamela McAvoy said.

A year and a half ago, with the support of his wife, Rick decided to take matters into his own hands and created Journey Surf Co. 

Out of the garage of their Wells home, father and son work together. Using local lumber, they make small wooden boxes to hold surf wax. Surfers spread a thin layer of wax on their boards to ensure their feet can grip it. This is essential for a good ride. 

"It's a lot of hard work, and it was fun, too," Noah explained. 

Rick called in many favors to get the company off the ground because he knew nothing about woodworking. Noah's former High School cross-country coach Bob Winn showed Rick the ropes. Since then, people have donated lumber, and even wax, to fill the boxes. 

Inside each box is a message: "Each wave, each person is unique." 

Credit: Journey Surf Co.
Each surf wax box at Journey Surf Co. in inscribed with a message: "Every person, every wave is unique."

For Rick and Pam, the company is not just an opportunity to give their son employment but to spread awareness about autism and adults with disabilities. 

Currently, the boxes are being sold at three surf shops, including Beach Bum Threads in York, where the message resonates with owner Michael DiSalvo whose younger brother also has autism.  

"There's not a ton of opportunity out there for people with disabilities. That's why I think it's so great, what Rick is doing to start a company to help people with disabilities," DiSalvo said.

So far, the father and son team has made a couple of hundred boxes and sold around 40. 

"I didn't want to put something out that was all disability. I wanted to put out a good product with a good message," Rick said.

As for the future of Journey Surf Co., Rick said he would someday love to move it out of his garage and be able to hire more people with disabilities to work alongside his son Noah. 

Rick admittedly is very protective of his son, but the product and the message they're crafting are well-received. 

Together, the family is charting a course, riding the waves as they travel on their son Noah's journey. 

"I am super proud of Noah. I'm not embarrassed of Noah at all. I am very proud to be his dad," Rick explained. 

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