Standing up for Down syndrome

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Scott McCall is no stranger to the water.

The 30-year-old grew up in Huntington Beach. He learned to swim at Pacific Sands Cabana Club with his sisters, Jayme and Megan. But McCall always wanted to surf.

He received special lessons at the Surf’s Up for Down Syndrome event Friday. McCall was one of several potential surfers with Down syndrome learning from pros and experts near the Huntington Beach Pier.

Former Angels announcer Rex Hudler’s Team Up for Down Syndrome, in conjunction with the International Surfing Museum, put on the inaugural event, which also featured live and silent auctions, as well as a banquet at Sandy’s Beach Grill.

The sun glistening off the waves wasn’t the only radiant scene Friday afternoon. There were smiles galore and laughter from amazement, as adults and adolescents with special needs rode waves.

McCall’s father, John, said his son had tried surfing before, but had not been able to stand up. McCall stood up for a bit and caught some waves Friday, said Danny Nichols, his teacher.

“Scott killed it,” Nichols said of McCall’s sessions. “He did a great job. We paddled into a few waves. He stood up and had good balance. Out of eight or nine waves, he stood on five of them.”

Nichols, a former pro who lives in Huntington Beach and owns a silk-screen T-shirt business, found out about the event from Brett Barnes, the owner of Duke’s Huntington Beach.

Nichols said he was honored to help out and gained joy from working with people with Down syndrome.

John McCall said he was excited for his son. “I want to get him on the board so we can surf together,” he said.

Hudler, a former Major League Baseball player who went on to become the Angels’ color man, called the surfing portion of the event the highlight of the day.

Hudler and his wife, Jennifer, have four children. Their 15-year-old, Cade, was born with Down syndrome.

They watched Cade learn and try to surf with all his friends.

“I’ve been emotional the whole day to see the fun they had out here,” Rex Hudler said, standing by the shore. “The typical kids showing them and how much fun they were having was also great. And to see that, given a chance, kids with Down syndrome can do anything. That’s why I call it ‘up syndrome.’ It’s not Down syndrome.”

He said he took on the “up-syndrome” mentality after he went through “chromosome counseling,” a program for families who have a baby with Down syndrome. He said the extra-chromosome abnormality was named after the doctor who discovered it.

“I’m really honored to have a child with Down syndrome,” said Rex Hudler, a Tustin resident. “It’s OK to have a child with a disability. Let’s see what they can do. Dwell on the things they can do. Rejoice on what they can do. That’s what makes my life better.”

Rex and Jennifer Hudler said Cade has enhanced their lives and motivated them to start Team Up for Down Syndrome, a program for awareness as well as education. The organization also helps those with Down syndrome become independent.

“My other kids know they are special and that they are loved,” Rex Hudler said. “But they will all tell you Cade makes a difference in their lives. They look forward to seeing him every morning because they know they are going to get a big hug and a hey-how-you-doing-today. It never gets old.”

That unconditional love was seen throughout the night.

One of the highlights of the live auction came when a puppy went up for bid. Lawrence McCutcheon, the former Los Angeles Rams player, won the puppy for $900.

An autographed bat by new Angels star Albert Pujols also went up for bid and was sold for $1,100. Pujols also has a child with Down syndrome. He was not at the event but had the bat shipped to the event for the final item up for bid.

Angels catcher Hank Conger and former MLB pitcher Chuck Finley attended the event, which Rex Hudler called “a celebration for the differences the kids have.”

The special surfers were introduced in dramatic fashion in the evening. They entered in slow-rolling woodie cars in front of Sandy’s Beach Grill.

The night ended with music from the Chantays.

“It’s really touching to see the community come together for the good of those who are a little less fortunate,” Jennifer Hudler said. “It really warms your heart.”

Those involved planned for the event to be the first of many and for it to grow each year.

Twitter: @SteveVirgen