Our Personal Story With An Incredible Organization
I only get to the ocean a couple times a year, and as a periodic surfer, I completely understand the incredible physiological effects of catching waves. There is something so magical about allowing God’s wonderful creation to pick you up and move you across a watery landscape. If you’ve ever surfed, you know what I mean.
As a parent, I could barely wait to take my young children out on a surfboard with me. Planting their little butts on that surfboard, and paddling us both out to the waves was something I always dreamed of.
I figured I’d get my chance with Max in 2014 when we visited my brother and sister in law in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The first morning there, I paddled out to check out the waves to see if I’d be able to handle it with Max. What happened next changed my life.
I noticed some people in the water wearing Surfers Healing shirts. I looked around wondering what the heck was going on. Then I saw Izzy Paskowitz. My heart nearly stopped.
The Back Story
Let me back up and tell you about Izzy and Surfers Healing. Izzy Paskowitz was a professional longboarder with a decorated career. He hung it all up to take care of his family when his son was diagnosed with autism. As his son grew up, Izzy began to take him out surfing. He was so amazed at the calming power of the ocean waves, and their effect on his son, that he started Surfers Healing. Surfers Healing is an organization that has one simple goal – to show autistic children that same power and allow them freedom from their challenges, if even for a brief moment. Their one mission is to give autistic kids a chance to go surfing.
Even before Max was officially diagnosed, my dream was to take part in a Surfers Healing event. I had heard and read the testimonials. They sounded too good to be true. It seemed so out of reach though, to travel to an exotic destination for one event. By 2014, I figured it would never happen.
Back to The Story
I paddled over to Izzy and introduced myself. I told him how long I’d been following Surfers Healing, and I told him about Max. “Where is he?”, he asked. I pointed toward the beach. “Well, are you guys doing the event today?” I almost started crying right there. “You guys are having an event today?”, I asked. “Yeah, man! Let’s get Max SURFING!”, he said. At this point, I might have actually started crying.
Izzy introduced me to Nick, one of the instructors. Nick is a scratchy-voiced, boisterous, tattooed man in his forties. He was a true surfer in every sense, but honestly, I was surprised that this guy was giving his time to help kids. Nick and I hit it off immediately. He had an infectious flare about him. I told him I had to go tell my wife what was happening, and I caught the next wave and rode it in. When I got to the beach, Jamie saw me sprinting toward her. She came running thinking something was wrong.
When we met on the sand, I could barely speak. “Izzy… Surfers Heali… Max… He’s going surfing.” Jamie made out enough of what I was trying to say, and saw the tears streaming. She covered her mouth with her hand, and the tears started to roll for her too.
The event would take place a couple hours later. So I went back out and surfed with Nick for awhile. Eventually, Nick paddled in to help kick off the event.
I was still out in the water when Nick paddled out with his first child. I watched that kid kick, flail, and scream at Nick in panic. Nick got kicked in the face a couple times before he grabbed the child and laid down on her legs to minimize the damage. I was freaked out. It didn’t stop Nick. He paddled out to the lineup, turned, paddled into a wave, stood up, grabbed that child by the life jacket, and stood her up. They rode that wave all the way to shore. I thought for sure she wasn’t coming back out.
It was at that point that I got to witness the beauty and magic of Surfers Healing first hand. To my surprise, Nick was on his way back out with the same girl. Only this time, she was laughing hysterically, kneeling on the surfboard, and paddling as fast as she could to catch the next wave. I was awestruck. Nick saw me, and yelled at the top of his lungs, “SEE DUDE?!? SURFING HEALS! EVERY TIME!”
At that point, my mind was made up. I would rather see Nick take my son surfing than do it myself. I figured it would be better to watch the magic happen so I could take it all in and enjoy the moment.
Later on, as the event was still going on, I was on shore watching. It was amazing. Child after child went kicking and screaming into the water, and came back laughing and smiling. None of the kids wanted to stop. The instructors surfed 4-5 waves with every child.
Then it was time.
Nick had been on shore talking with some folks, and I wandered over and caught a moment with him. “I think you’re supposed to take my son surfing, Nick, not me,” I said. He looked at me with those fiery eyes, “Really? Is he ready?!” “I don’t know…” I said calmly. He stopped, saw exactly what was going on, and said, “He’s ready. We’re doing this now.”
He grabbed a kid’s life jacket and threw it at Jamie. “What’s going on, mom?” Max asked as Jamie was putting the jacket on him. Nick came running over with a surfboard. “We’re going surfing, buddy!” Before any of us could do or say anything, Nick had Max on the front of his surfboard and was paddling out.
Oh my goodness! I practically panicked. “Maci! Grab a life jacket!” I yelled. Our daughter Maci had been surfing with me in this same manner a couple years prior, so she was all for it. We paddled like mad trying to catch up with the boys, yet staying far enough away so that Max wouldn’t see us.
It was so magical. It was a total gift from God. I mean, c’mon! My first day of vacation at some random beach in Cabo? And this?! Coincidence? I doubt it.
Max surfed several waves with Nick that day. Nick even let go of Max’s life jacket a couple times to let Max feel the freedom of surfing solo. Pure magic.
After the event, we had lunch alongside the whole crew in the restaurant above the beach. Izzy shared many stories of the lives they’ve been able to bless through surfing. He even gave us a copy of his book, Scratching the Horizon: A Surfing Life.
When we asked Max how he felt, his reply was, “That was so much fun… I never want to do that again!” We all had a good laugh.
While the story of that day meant more to me than it would to most parents, the magic is still the same for everyone. All walks of life have ventured to a Surfers Healing event. I would guess that everyone has come away changed for the better. Years later, Nick even told a story about a non verbal child speaking his first words ever, as a teenager, after surfing with him. Astonishing!
If you’re a parent just starting your life with an autistic child, do whatever you can to take part in a Surfers Healing event. It will change your life. I have heard that there is now a waiting list to get a spot on the schedule, so start your planning now.
Check out the Surfers Healing website for more information.