Christian Gordon grew up around boats. His father, Bill, owns Long Island Boat Rentals in Port Washington, and Christian said he had been out on the water ever since he was a child.
“When you live in New York, space is limited, but things totally change when you get out on the water,” he said. “It’s healthy, really fulfilling and rewarding.”
That feeling of being out on the water is something he wanted to share with others. When he learned that many children and young adults with autism found riding on a boat to be a calming experience, he wanted to do something.
“I got the idea from a friend who had a child with autism,” he said. “The sensory experience of riding across the water, it was very calming for his kid. It was an amazing thing to witness, and that’s where it all started.”
Gordon reached out to Michael Furino, who works with Be the Best Sport, a special needs adaptive sports and socialization program for children, teens and adults with developmental disabilities or physical impairments.
“I’ve talked to a lot of parents who say it is a calming experience — the motion of the boat, the vibration of the engine,” Furino said. “It has something to do with that.”
Gordon said Long Island Boat Rentals would take the children and adolescents out, six at a time, in a 21-foot fishing boat at a discounted rate. They would also look to train parents to operate boats so they can go out on the water with their special needs children.
Gordon is also working with the Manhasset-Port Washington Kiwanis Club International to institute a similar program — taking groups of children out on the water for a few hours, accompanied by a captain and chaperone — but for children who would otherwise not get the experience of going out on the water.
“For the most part, boating is closed off to people whose family own boats,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to give kids the experience of being out on the water.”
Gordon and his father reached out to Jeffrey Stone, the soon-to-be lieutenant governor of the Kiwanis Club. Stone said the club has helped cover costs for other programs, such as sending children to Kamp Kiwanis, that provide experiences for children who would otherwise not be able to participate due to limited income.
“I liked the idea when he proposed it, so I jumped on it,” Stone said. “I like to keep things in town, deal with other people in the town, as much as possible.”
Gordon said the children would learn about boat safety and the environment during the boat trips. In the future, he plans to incorporate other activities, like fishing, swimming and water tubing.
“We would also go to places like beaches and coves that you wouldn’t be able to reach by car,” he said.
Gordon said that he would start the program in the coming weeks, although he said that putting boats in the water might be delayed due to the cold weather. He said the trips through Kiwanis would be mostly on Monday afternoons, while boat rides with Be the Best Sport would take place Monday through Thursday with additional options for families on the weekend.
“I love working with boats, and I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to change the industry and get people more involved,” Gordon said.