AT THE JERSEY SHORE: 

BELMAR NJ — The 15th Annual Autism Beach Bash was blessed yesterday in quite a few ways.

The weather was ideal, as a light ocean breeze cooled the sunny Belmar oceanfront for some 7,000 people who came to the Seventh Avenue beach on September 8 for a day of fun — just for them.

Sign Up for E-News

Surfing conditions couldn’t have been better for hundreds of attendees to catch a wave with a professional surfer from Surfers Healing, which offers children with autism an experience of a lifetime.

And amid all the action and activities, there was another more subtle, memory-in-the-making that may have been short in duration but long on significance, especially for the Belmar community.

Standing on a small stage near the entrance of the event, Bishop David O’Connell of the Catholic Diocese of Trenton offered his own blessing to the individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families who traveled far and wide to enjoy this annual event.

His brief visit came after he officiated over the annual celebratory mass of local Roman Catholic parishes, held in nearby Maclearie Park. Originally, the mass was scheduled two blocks down from the beach bash at Silver Lake. But after concerns that it would interfere with the longstanding autism bash, the churches, led by St. Rose in Belmar, decided to move the mass to the park overlooking the Shark River.

READ MORE: Annual Church Mass Moved to Belmar's Maclearie Park, Leaving Oceanfront to Autism Beach Bash

That decision prompted Fran and Jeannie Hines of Hines of Colton and Friends — a major beach bash sponsor and organizer — to invite the bishop to the autism event. And he accepted.

“It was an incredible gesture for the bishop to come down and bless the event … and to see those who struggle every day with autism,” said Hines, who also serves as autism outreach coordinator with the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

And there was so much to see. Under a sea of tents were games and craft activities, and informational displays on local and statewide services for individuals with autism and related disorders, as well as tables for people to enjoy a barbecue and other fare being dished out throughout the day.

There was also live entertainment, a giant water slide, miniature golf, a treasure hunt, face-painting, dance and yoga, among an abundance of offerings.

However, most of the attention was on the ocean, where surfers from California-based Surfers Healing, assisted on the sand by local volunteer surfers, gave attendees the opportunity to experience a ride on a surfboard. One by one, each waited his or her turn, and then out in the water they went. And back they came, most riding on wave of joy.

Sponsored by the Autism Family Services of New Jersey — an affiliate of The Family Resource Network— the beach bash is the largest gathering of its kind in New Jersey, attracting participants from at least 10 others states who “gather in support of one another, to challenge society’s boundaries and most importantly to enjoy a day on the beach free of judgment.”

Surfers Healing will be in Belmar today, September 9, offering a surf camp for individuals with Down’s Syndrome — an event also sponsored by The Family Resource Network, which provides community-based services to individuals with developmental disabilities.