Virgen's View: A perfect day for Surf's Up For Down Syndrome

Linda Beutel says her daughter, Liz, is not that much different than any other 15-year-old.

Liz is boy crazy and she's into her iPhone and iPad. She'll sometimes say: "Have you seen Taylor Lautner's abs? Wow!"

Liz and her family live in Irvine, not too far from the beach. Saturday was another chance for her to be like any other 15-year-old in Orange County. Beutel was one of a dozen with Down syndrome who took on the waves as part of the second annual Surf's Up for Down Syndrome event at Huntington Beach.

"Other than being delayed at school there's a lot more normal about her than not," Linda Beutel said of her daughter. "She knew this date was on her calendar and she was looking forward to it."

Liz deals with several challenges, but that does little to deter her loving personality or strong will. She has Type 1 diabetes, and must deal with an injection each night.

But Saturday was a time to forget all those challenges and a time to surf. She learned from pro surfer Courtney Conlogue, a Sage Hill School alumna who lives in Santa Ana.

Conlogue was one of several volunteers, who also included Huntington Beach Lifeguards and surfing legend David Nuuhiwa. The event was created by Rex Hudler and his family's Team Up For Down Syndrome program.

Hudler, a baseball announcer and a former player, displayed his usual excitement and high energy on Saturday.

More than once, he told friends and families, "this is perfect."

Last week, some worried if the weather would be perfect for the event. Hudler lives in Kansas, as he is now an announcer for the Kansas City Royals. The week prior to the surfing event he saw all the reports of cold weather in Orange County.

He said his wife, Jennifer, was concerned and shared her worry with her husband.

Hudler told her not to worry.

"I told her, 'don't worry. God is in control. He's going to make it a special day,'" Hudler said.

He said that last year there were reports of high waves, but on the day of the inaugural Surf's Up For Down Syndrome, the tide became lower.

"Perfect," he said again.

The event proved to be bigger than in its inaugural year. The Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguards helped with that. They were rewarded.

Some of the money raised went to scholarships for the Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguard program, Huntington Beach Lifeguard Chief Kyle Lindo said.

Conlogue donated a signed surfboard for auction at the dinner banquet in the evening at the Huntington Beach Hilton.

The 20-year-old star surfer was excited to teach Liz to surf.

Conlogue said she wanted Liz and others to feel the way surfers do. That it's not just about catching wave, but it's also about the camaraderie and being out in the water with friends.

Conlogue said she is training for this year's women's world tour. She has come a long way since first standing on a wave as a 4-year-old.

"Back then it wasn't about becoming a pro, I just wanted to stand up on a wave," she said. "Now I'm here. It shows how much surfing can impact someone. Hopefully I can pass along that bug and that love for surfing. Everyone I teach surfing to usually sticks with it."

Liz's father, Curt, said Conlogue's presence was like a kid getting to catch passes from Peyton Manning.

Curt was grateful for Conlogue and the rest of the volunteers. He enjoys taking his kids to surf at Blackies during the summer. Liz is the middle child in her family. Her two siblings are typical.

Curt and his family would rather do without the labeling.

"These kids aren't broken or different," Curt said. "God doesn't make mistakes. They are loving great kids, wanting to have fun too."

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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