Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Surfers Healing Opens Up For Autism

Surfers HealingA little more than 15 years ago, Israel “Izzy” Paskowitz (son of Doc Paskowitz) and his wife, Danielle, had an idea. They set out to share their proud surfing heritage with their son Isaiah. Except their son wasn't just any other boy. He was diagnosed autistic at age 3.

Nobody was sure what might happen. All his father knew was that the ocean was one of the few places that calmed his son. So Paskowitz, a former pro surfer and instructor, paddled out into the ocean with his son for the first time. They surfed back, in tandem (with Isaiah on the front of the board), together.

It was almost like a miracle for the family, and it had a profound impact on their son. The two spent the remainder of the day surfing together, an event that sparked an even more ambitious and adventurous idea.

Surfers Healing opens an experience to kids otherwise left out.

Out of his quest to find something his son could do with confidence and an activity they could enjoy together, Paskowitz discovered a mutually therapeutic experience and one filled with hope. Paskowitz and his wife set out to create a special program so they could share their personal experience with other parents.

Today, Surfers Healing travels the country to bring the surfing experience to autistic children. Typically, the full-day camp includes an afternoon of music, comedy, and art produced by children who have varied degrees of autism.

But it's the main event that has so many families turning out to participate — sometimes as many as 500 children for only 100 spots (which are reserved in advance). Amazingly, even among those who are initially frightened by the unfamiliarity of the boards, they calm down almost immediately as they enter the water.

"I truly believe the water is the element that soothes," Paskowitz has said. "Water, any water, makes a difference."

And for the rest of the day, they take turns riding the waves with experienced and sometimes well-known professional surfers, all of whom volunteer their time. In some cases, older children even learn enough to surf a small distance on their own.

In other cases, they might only have short ride but as Tim Haddock recently shared with ESPN, his son had fun anyway. And Haddock's son is not alone, as evidenced by the growing number of personal videos about Surfers Healing online, like this one.

Several professional surfers have been very supportive of the program. It's not uncommon to see pros like Sunny Garcia, Danny Fuller, or Clay Marzo, one of the most accomplished surfers and aquatic athletes in the world today.

Coincidentally, after years of surfing, Marzo himself was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, in 2007 at the age 18. Today, he is 22. Marzo is currently making a comeback after suffering a serious knee injury.

Izzy PaskowitzSince its first event, Surfers Healing has grown to touch the lives of more than 2,000 children and their families who participate at special camps all over the world. One of the next camps will be held over a three-day period at Campland on the Bay in San Diego, July 5-7. And while always subject to change, Surfers Healing has future camps planned through September with first-time campers being given priority enrollment.

In prior years, the camps were also open to brothers and sisters, but growing demand had made it more difficult to accommodate more children on a shoestring budget. Expenses to host the camps typically include beach permits, insurance, administration, and food for the families. Surfers Healing also purchases new wetsuits, surfboards, rash guards, life vests, and other equipment every season.

Surfers Healing For Autism Is A Good Will Pick By Liquid Hip.

At least once a month, Liquid [Hip] highlights good will efforts undertaken by courageous people with big hearts. We don’t score them. That belongs to you.

We picked Surfers Healing because Izzy and Danielle Paskowitz never intended to create such a vibrant nonprofit organization. Their original intent was simply to share their experience with the parents of other children who have been diagnosed with autism. And what they have found is a remarkable opportunity to open doors for children who might otherwise feel isolated and alone.

Even today, despite demands, Surfers Healing asks most donors to sponsor children, thereby reducing the cost of the camp and also helping the nonprofit to expand by offering more camps throughout the year.

Inventive sponsors have even sponsored bake sales, car washes, and barbecues, a few of several dozen grassroots ways that people have helped fund the organization. Surfers Healing also manages an online store with T-shirts and charm bracelets to help raise funds and maintains a Facebook page, helping to increase awareness for autism.
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