OCEAN CITY — It would have been hard to find better weather for the 4th annual Surfer’s Healing: A Foundation for Autism event in Ocean City Thursday.
Over 200 children with autism and their families enjoyed a day on the beach and free surf lessons. It’s an experience that the children look forward to all year, according to their parents.
“We made our reservations in January,” said Lacey Garcia.
Surfer’s Healing has “opened up a whole new world” for her son Jackson, continued Garcia.
“For him, he waits for this all year. This is his special day … it’s incredible,” she said. “It gives him the best confidence. And when he finished last year he was like, a surfer.”
This year, Jackson Garcia described his time in the water as “awesome.” Even after his surf lesson was over, he still had full run of the beach and the activities like corn hole and caricature portraits provided by volunteers and local businesses. Lacey Garcia was especially impressed by the volunteer surfers who interacted with the kids in the water and often got them standing on the boards and surfing.
“They get those kids up. I can’t imagine the confidence,” she said.
All of the surfers are very mindful of the children’s comfort levels, said event representative Ali Hoffman.
“Depending on [the child’s] level and their involvement, they may get up on the board or they may just lie on the board and enjoy some time with the surfer,” she said. “It just depends on each kid.”
The day is a blast for the children, said parent Carrie Zolan, but also a much needed break for the families. A lot of people take a simple day on the beach for granted, she said, but having a child with autism can make those outings tough. But with Surfer’s Healing parents are able to relax and trust that everything is taken care of and their kids are safe.
“Everyone is watching your kids. I know my kids are safe here,” said Zolan. “They come back smiling and happy … it’s a safe day, it’s a fun day. I would do anything for Surfer’s Healing.”
Zolan described the event as “the one place where you don’t have to apologize for your child’s behavior or explain your child’s issues” because everyone is intimately familiar with the autism spectrum. Like Jackson Garcia, Zolan’s son, Lucas, looks forward to the event every summer.
“The whole goal of today is to give these children a good day, a day where they can come out and just be a kid,” said event representative Woody German.
Originally founded by Israel and Danielle Paskowitz when they noticed the calming effect surfing had on their autistic son Isaiah, Surfer’s Healing day camps are nationwide. The Ocean City event has boomed in just four years from 75 kids to about 225 this year.
“Each year we’ve gotten bigger and bigger and right now we’re at the numbers of the camps that have been going for eight or nine years,” said German. “So we’ve grown that much in four years.”
Community support plays a huge role in making the event thrive, he continued.
“We have volunteers knocking down our door. We have so many volunteers that we’re turning people away,” German said. “That’s a good problem to have. Everybody wants to be a part of it.”
Kelly Loeser, another event representative, thanked the individuals and companies that contributed their time or donations as well.
“We do all of this for free. We get a lot of donations and sponsors so the families can just come out and enjoy the day and not worry about anything,” she said, adding that even the beach was willing to play along, providing perfect temperatures and healthy waves.