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Mainer starts a surfing business to provide opportunities for his son

Avid surfer Rick McAvoy founded Journey Surf Co. to give his son Noah a job opportunity after high school.

WELLS, Maine — It is estimated that one in 45 adults in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder, according to data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a handicap that affects more and more families.

A Wells family refused to wait for opportunities for their autistic son, so they decided to build them themselves.

Rick McAvoy has been riding the Wells Beach break for decades. Local surfers call him “a legend” and “the old guy”. McAvoy, a physical therapist, took his son Noah surfing when he was younger.

“I don’t have a 21-year-old autistic son. I have a 21-year-old son who happens to be autistic,” McAvoy explained.

These days, Noah prefers to run and dodge 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 few. Noah lives in a house in Gray with roommates and attends a day program, but his parents were eager to find him a job.

“A lot of places aren’t open to children with disabilities who come to try out jobs, which is kind of sad,” said Pamela McAvoy.

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.

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

“It’s a lot of hard work, and it was fun too,” Noah explained.

Rick asked for many favors to get the business off the ground because he knew nothing about woodworking. Noah’s former cross-country coach, Bob Winn, showed Rick the ropes. Since then, people have donated wood, and even wax, to fill the boxes.

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

For Rick and Pam, the business is not just an opportunity to give their son a job, but to raise 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 aren’t a ton of opportunities for people with disabilities. That’s why I think it’s so great, what Rick is doing to start a business to help people with disabilities,” DiSalvo said.

So far, the father and son team has made a few hundred boxes and sold about 40.

“I didn’t want to release something that was entirely disabled. I wanted to release a good product with a good message,” Rick said.

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

Rick is certainly very protective of his son, but the product and the message they develop are well received.

Together, the family charts a course, riding the waves as they travel on their son Noah’s journey.

“I’m super proud of Noah. I’m not ashamed of Noah at all. I’m very proud to be his father,” Rick explained.

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