OCEAN CITY — Surfers Healing returned to Ocean City today, providing a day-long surfing camp and a lifetime of memories for kids with special needs and their families.
Surfers Healing is a national organization featuring teams of surfers traveling to coastal communities all over the country to provide a day of surfing for kids with autism and other special needs. While the event is all about surfers riding waves in tandem with young kids with special needs, it is really a day for the kids and their families to just enjoy the beach with other families facing the same challenges.
The event was held on Wednesday on the beach at 37th Street in front of the Castle in the Sand Hotel. Dozens of surfers helped hundreds of kids with special needs enjoy the ocean and the exhilaration riding a wave the calming influence of the sea. About 220 families signed up for the Surfers Healing event on Wednesday, an event that sold out in about five minutes.
The Surfers Healing crew tours beach communities up and down the coast throughout the summer. For example, the traveling camp will head to Virginia Beach this weekend and will be in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. next week. For one day, however, the tour returned to Ocean City on Wednesday for the seventh year in row.
Wednesday was a picture-perfect day on the beach at 37th Street with hundreds of young kids with special needs riding in tandem with their surfer coaches. The ocean provided perfect fun-size knee-high waves and a large pod of dolphins swam by to check out the event. One parent who has been involved in the event since the beginning said he believed the dolphins show up every year, perhaps because they sense something special is going on.
Another parent, local Andrea Baker, whose son Bobby participated in Surfers Healing on Wednesday, also volunteers to help coordinate Ocean City’s event with organizers Dale and Kelly Loeser of the Quiet Storm Surf Shop. Baker has been involved since the beginning and marveled at how the event has grown in seven years.
“It’s gotten so big,” she said. “They open the online registration and it fills up in about five minutes. There are 220 kids participating this year.”
Baker said the event provides an opportunity for families sharing the same issues and challenges to just put away their cares for a day and enjoy the beach and ocean.
“Everybody you talk to says it’s just a great day at the beach and everybody is upbeat and having fun,” she said. “It’s just a great day to be a regular family because everybody out here is facing the same challenges.”
Baker also had high praise for the surfers who ride the waves with the kids, some of whom can stand up and surf and others who ride the waves like a body-board.
“The surfers are amazing,” she said. “They are just wonderful. They’re calm and just patient with the kids.”
Chris Williams traveled from Silver Spring, Md. to participate in the annual event with his son T.J. and his other child Trevor. T.J. had finished his heat and was proudly displaying his trophy on the beach while Trevor was out surfing in tandem with one of the surfer. Williams said T.J. looks forward to coming back for Surfers Healing each year.
“He just loves the water,” he said. “He was out there for a while and he’d go back if he gets the chance. It’s just a really cool beach day.”
Dale Loeser was busy running back and forth on the beach, helping the next wave of kids head out with their surfers. He said some of the kids are reluctant participants at first, but really come around when they hit the water and get their first crack at surfing.
“It’s a great day,” he said. “You can see a big change in them. Sometimes they don’t want to get in, but once they do, the ocean has this calming effect on them. When they come out, you can see they have this big sense of accomplishment.”
While the families and the kids with special needs really enjoy the day, the traveling band of surfers who serve as teachers at the camps take away their own reward.
“The surfers really enjoy it,” said Loeser. “It is very rewarding to help a child and do something you love at the same time. I honestly don’t know who gets more out of this, the kids or the surfers.”
Surfers Healing now serves around 4,500 kids and their families each year at coastal communities all over the country, but it began with a single child. Israel and Danielle Paskowitz founded Surfers Healing for their son Isaiah, who has autism. When Isaiah struggled with frequent meltdowns and sensory overload, riding the waves with his father calmed him like nothing else could.
The Paskowitz family began inviting other families with similar challenges and the idea caught on. Surfers Healing is now a nationwide, grassroots non-profit organization, and while it serves thousands, it thinks only in terms of ones. One child, one family, one day at the beach.