My son recently received the opportunity to participate in Surfers Healing Day Camp. It was an amazing experience that our entire family will never forget!
Surfers Healing is a nonprofit organization that was founded by Israel (Izzy) and Danielle Paskowitz. Their son, Isaiah, often dealt with sensory overload issues and was diagnosed with autism at a young age. Izzy, a former competitive surfer, started taking Isaiah surfing and discovered that it helped to calm his son. After seeing the success that surfing had with their child, Izzy and Danielle decided to offer surfing day camps to other children with autism. Over a decade later, Surfers Healing has helped thousands of children with autism experience the joy of surfing at beaches all over the United States!
I found out about Surfers Healing in the spring of 2013. My son’s respite care provider raved about the camp and convinced me to sign Big Brother up. By the time I got around to signing him up, the camp was full! This year, I decided I wouldn’t procrastinate about signing him up since it’s a first-come, first-serve kinda thing. Through divine intervention, I just happened to be online when registration opened for the 2014 signups. I filled out the form at the speed of lightning and texted a friend so that she could sign her son up too. Unfortunately for my friend, the camp, which had slots for 250 children with autism, filled up in less than 30 minutes! Looking back on our experience, I can easily see why Surfers Healing has become so popular!
I pulled out a Backyardigans DVD from the archives to prepare Big Brother for his first time surfing. Backyardigans was one of Big Brother’s favorite TV shows to watch when he was younger. He loved a certain episode called, “Surf’s Up!” It’s basically about one of the Backyardigans looking for Tiki Beach so that he can surf on the cool waves with his “rad moves.” I knew that episode would give him a reference for surf camp. Big Brother was very excited that he would get a chance to “surf at Tiki Beach!”
Our family set out on a road trip for the beach the day before Big Brother’s day camp debut. His surf time was early in the morning and we weren’t about to chance a traffic jam to slow us down! We arrived that evening, did some shopping, got some good dinner, and checked into our hotel. We woke up early the next morning and started on our way for Big Brother’s big day.
Here’s how Surfers Healing Day Camp went from our perspective….
We arrived about an hour early to the beach and saw flags with Surfers Healing on it, marking the area that all the festivities were to take place. The location was right by a pier and the weather was beautiful, despite a forecasted chance of rain.
There was also a really cool surfboard with Surfers Healing written on it. I’m still wondering what the process was for getting it to stand up so well in the sand! It was a very popular backdrop for picture taking.
The day camp sign-in process went very smoothly. Big Brother received a Surfers Healing tote bag with goodies in it. He also received a t-shirt. Free food and drinks were available for everyone that attended.
Big Brother was blessed with a cheering section too! The Special Needs Coordinator from our church traveled to the beach with several people from the Special Needs Ministry to support him. They had a personalized banner for him too! We were so glad to see them and have their company!
When it was time to get started, everyone was encouraged to get into a big circle with the surfboards in the middle. Izzy Paskowitz greeted everyone, thanked the Mayor for his support, and gave us a summary of the day’s activities. A Surfers Healing supporter played a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on his saxophone. Next were the prayers. A Christian prayer, a prayer in Spanish, and a Hawaiian prayer were all said. I loved that they took time to pray for the safety of everyone participating in the event!
Then it was time to surf!
Big Brother was part of Group 2. He was fitted for a life jacket before his group went out to surf. His life jacket was checked for proper fit many times by several different people. Then he was led to an area to wait on his turn to surf with a professional surfer.
Now remember how I told you that Big Brother was very excited about getting a chance to “surf at Tiki Beach?” Well, that was short-lived. When it was time for Big Brother to actually enter the water, he became very apprehensive. I was starting to think that he would meltdown and not get a chance to surf. Thankfully, the surfers were very good about working with him to calm his nerves down.
I thought that Dear Hubby and I would be nervous about Big Brother in ocean waters without us, but we felt very comfortable with the professional surfers and with all of the controls they had in place to ensure safety for everyone. There were lifeguards in the water and on the shore. I was even calm enough to take these pictures while my big boy wiped out!
And guess what? Big Brother was brave enough to get up and try it again! I was so proud of him for that! He even learned to stand up and balance with his arms!
After Big Brother came to shore, he was given a Surfers Healing Medal. He wore his medal with pride!
Big Brother wasn’t the only one having fun. Baby Brother decided to pass the time away by splashing in the water, digging in the dirt, and throwing mud. He really enjoyed himself!
Both boys slept on the road trip back home. They were exhausted!
Dear Hubby and I left the event in awe of the wonderful camp our son just experienced. It inspired us to do more to make a difference too!
Surfers Healing Day Camps are totally free. Many fundraisers are held throughout the year to support its operations. Registration for their surfing camps are typically held in the late spring/early summer. If you would like to donate to this organization or find out more about Surfers Healing, please visit their website at http://surfershealing.org.
*Just in case you are wondering, this is not a paid endorsement for Surfers Healing. 🙂 I just love to share information about great resources for autism families!