At first glance, the group loading up a silver BMW in the parking lot of Watsonville's Motel 6 on Monday morning looked like any other vacationing family passing through town.
Two teenage boys toyed with skateboards, a fluffy white dog yipped, parents loading items in to the trunk while their daughter fiddled with a cell phone.
But jump forward an hour and this is no longer an average summer trip.
By afternoon, the family will be stretched out along Highway 1: mom and sister driving ahead with the dog while dad cycles in front of the two boys, who are riding longboards on the shoulder of the road.
Daniel Houze and Blake Stassi, both 15, are skateboarding more than 450 miles along the California Coast to raise awareness, and money, for autism.
"It's something that not a lot of people get to do, but a lot of people want to do," Stassi said of the ride
The two friends started out Sunday in Stanford. By the weekend, they expect to be finishing their epic longboard ride at the UCLA campus.
The teens, from Elk Grove, a suburb of Sacramento, dreamed up the journey during winter break in December. Both teens have seen the impact of the autism spectrum disorder in their own families.
An estimated 1 in 110 children for the United States have autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Houze has a male cousin who is a 7 on the spectrum, meaning he's introverted and is nearly non-communicative. Stassi's cousin, who is about 10 years old, can function in school, but doesn't communicate well.
The teens also love skateboarding and longboarding, in particular, because it's smoother and faster. Stassi's been riding since he was 13. Houze started a year ago at his friend's urging. They thought combining their athletic passion with their desire to help others could generate results.
"Autism came first," Houze emphasized. "We wanted to think of something we could do to benefit our community."
Their parents thought the trip was a joke, so the teens sent out queries to potential sponsors. When Fireball Wheels responded to an email with an offer of wheels for their boards, Houze and Stassi got serious about the project.
"That made us feel like we could do it," Stassi said.
Their journey is called "Elevate Awareness." The explanation on their blog is simple: "2 boys, 2 boards, and 1 goal."
Nine sponsors in all signed on to support weeklong ride, including Red Bull, Concrete Wave Magazine, shoe companies Etnies and Vans, SilveRain Custom Longboards and Vicious Grip Tape. Loaded Boards gave them bearings and Orangatang Wheels sent bushings.
Fueled by Red Bull and Clifbars—all stuffed into a backpack that Houze's dad, also named Daniel, carries while he scouts ahead on his bike—Houze and Stassi are covering 50-plus miles a day. The teens, dressed in T-shirts and skate shoes, wear their helmets, carry maps outlining the day's route and are watching for dangers on the road. Other than a couple of missed—but easily correctable—turns on city streets, they didn't have any scares in the first two days of their journey.
They credit the elder Houze for some of that.
"He tells us the conditions of the road, traffic, what to look out for," Stassi said.
Their meandering course has taken them through the Santa Cruz Mountains and down the coastline. They had some great downhills, the teens said.
"We go on some trails, sometimes on the street," the younger Houze said.
Monday, they set out on a route from Watsonville south through Moss Landing and Monterey, then into Big Sur. Although they've tried to navigate away from highways and busy roads, they looked forward to the challenge of riding sections of Highway 1 Monday.
"I'm excited for the scenery," Houze said.
There's a 100-mile stretch that the California Highway Patrol told the skateboarders is not ride-able because winter storms caused massive landslides on Highway 1. For that, they'll all pile into the sag wagon with Houze's mother, Babette, younger sister Sklyar, 12, and the family dog—a Lhasa Apsos named Jasper.
The day ends in Morro Bay, where friend Jack Smith—a longboarder who's crossed the United States three times on his board—will put them up for the night.
"He's like our idol when it comes to long-distance boarding," Stassi said.
After visiting with Smith, the teens continue south, winding through Lompoc, Ventura and Mailbu. When the trip concludes Saturday in Los Angeles, the teens hope to have raised some money for Easter Seals—there's a link on their blog—to help families afford care for autistic children and met the community service requirement for college applications. But the big goal is to draw attention to autism.
"If you start treating autism in the early years, you can help remedy it," Stassi said.