As the founder and operator of Wheelchairs And Veterans Enjoying Summer (WAVES), a nonprofit operating out of Lindenhurst, Clifford Johannesen offers free boat rides and fishing experiences to handicapped and disabled people from all walks of life and circumstances.
The captain is a master diver who was forced out of the ocean when a freak underwater accident broke his neck in 1983. It left him wheelchair-bound and unable to speak, the start of a long road back to recovery.
In 2006, a sailor told Johannesen about not being able to take his wheelchair-bound daughter sailing. Given his own struggles and boating background, Johannesen immediately empathized and the idea for WAVES was born. Johannesen went to Florida and purchased a 34-foot mainship (renamed Valhalla) that was specially outfitted with features like wide decks and handrails. He had to sell his car in order to raise enough funds to purchase the boat; and also obtained his Coast Guard master license before launching WAVES in the spring of 2007.
The venture operates through donations and the efforts of volunteers. Johannesen said he and his crew have served thousands of people and he keeps at it because it’s a win-win situation. “The volunteers are working because they want to and they love it and enjoy it. The participants are smiling ear to ear. Every time I get off that boat feeling great. I really do.”
November is the charity’s last full month of operation on Long Island (Captain Kip sticks around while striped bass fishing season is prime, which can run into early December). Once the frost comes in, Valhalla and the WAVES organization heads down to warmer climes in Stuart, Florida.