What if you were stuck in a hospital and wanted to go for a surf or get outside for some fresh air and you couldn’t? What if you are a pro surfer traveling the world surfing good waves and living your dream? Even a bigger question, how can you reconcile these two polar opposites and make sense of the universe? Well, to answer these questions this is where Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) made sense of these questions and ultimately lives better with the help from O’Neill athletes Cory Lopez and Sage Erickson.
CHOC Hospital is a premiere hospital that brings the best care and expertise to fighting childhood diseases such as Cancer, Lupus, Cystic Fibrosis, and many others. They also specialize on childhood injuries or physical disabilities with a whole new wing dedicated to surgery and rehab for problems such as these. Not only does CHOC provide these services but they do it in a fun children’s atmosphere. The Hospital has it’s own radio station “Radio Lollipop” where kids can request songs from their bedside. There are also activities like Guitar Hero, and personal music teachers who come to the kid’s room and teach them to play and sing songs. All these activities and care are not only vital to their well being, but are an important distraction to the battles these children face.
When I called Cory and Sage about this mission and outlined that we would be visiting the oncology unit and signing posters and giving the kids all sort of shwag and a whole lotta of love, they both responded without any hesitation “Let’s do this!”
We arrived at the hospital with our entourage (O’Neill pit crew and Fuel TV) and a very helpful staff from CHOC Hospital. First off we visited the children during their playtime where they can play Mario Kart, play with Legos, draw, or whatever suits their fancy. The kids were overjoyed and very stoked to see Cory and Sage and lit up when they entered the room. Cory and Sage immediately engaged with the kids and started signing posters and handing out stickers and gave everyone a hat. A little five-year-old boy named Nick, who lives in San Clemente, identified himself as a surfer and loved the shot of Cory getting barreled in Tahiti. Although he was shy his eyes told the whole story. Another child by the name of Cody took to Sage and talked about going to the beach and riding a boogie board. He was weak and tired from the chemo but listened to Sage talk story and although he had cancer he was a true warrior and vowed to get back to the beach.
From there we went on personal visits to children who were in isolation or in their rooms with family. Sage sang a couple songs with a little 2-year-old girl who was beaming while singing and playing a drum. It was truly a meaningful moment that is hard to put into words and went straight to the heart. On our continuing journey we weaved through the hospital signing posters hanging out with the kids. We stopped by one room where we met up with a boy who had “surfer” written all over him. He was getting a guitar lesson and singing “Love Me Do” by the Beatles. He instantly saw Cory and recognized him and started on about how he surfs and his uncle shapes boards and there was an instant connection. Cory with the help of the crew from Fuel TV did a really cool interview with him. We loaded him up with gear and left him to his guitar practice and another big smile on his face.
We then went on to see CHOC’s new physical rehab center and visited with a boy who had back problems from a young age. Everything in there was state of the art to get kids on the right track for dealing with physical difficulties. It was something that both Cory and Sage could identify with because at some point in a surf career one has to deal with some sort of injury or rehab and the boy enjoyed listening to their stories. He too was dished out a nice bit of shwag and was pretty much stoked!
After spending few hours at CHOC it became apparent to all involved that this was a profound experience for all concerned. These kids who wake up each day have a fight that many cannot comprehend. They are true heroes and you could sense it in their spirit and feel it in their eyes. For all of us who were lucky enough for this time together it was clearly an inspiration. As for Cory and Sage, it was really cool to see them give back and bring happiness to what often times is a very difficult road. How these two worlds collide and make sense is in the fact that every one was enriched and better from the experience. Everyone walked away from this with a sense of compassion and prayers of love and well being, in essence, we became more human.—David Giddings