OCEAN CITY – Surfers Healing returned to the beaches of Ocean City this week for the 10th annual day-long surf camp for children with autism.
On Wednesday, more than 200 children, their families and surfers from Hawaii, New Zealand and California gathered on the beach in front of the Castle in the Sand Hotel for Ocean City’s 10th annual Surfers Healing camp.
Founders Israel and Danielle Paskowitz started the organization in 1996 as a way to help and connect with their youngest son, who has autism. Israel Paskowitz found that surfing calmed his son and soon began inviting other families to join them. Since that time, Surfers Healing has expanded to several yearly events around the nation and in other countries.
Camp Co-Director Kat Trammell shared her efforts to bring Surfers Healing to Ocean City more than a decade ago. She noted the impact the event had on her own son.
“I got involved because Idid this in Belmar, New Jersey with my own son, who has autism,” she said. “Back then he was pretty non-verbal. But when he was with his speech pathologist, he actually initiated a conversation by pointing in a book and saying ‘Water. Ocean. Surfing.’ It was amazing. So, we reached out to see what we could do to bring the event here. We wanted more kids to be able to participate in it.”
Trammell said what once started as a smaller event has grown to include hundreds of families from around the region.
“Each year now we have people on the wait list,” she said.
Trammell is joined by Camp Co-Directors Woody German and Dale and Kelly Loeser, who operate Quiet Storm Surf Shop in Rehoboth Beach, Del., as well as several volunteers.
Kelly Loeser said she and her husband jumped at the chance to partner with Trammell and bring a Surfers Healing camp to Ocean City. At the time, the Loesers had a son on the autism spectrum.
“Back then, there wasn’t really anything in this area for anyone on the spectrum,” she said. “There was maybe a support group here and there, but nothing to offer our children.”
Kelly Loeser noted the camp provides a sense of community for children with autism and their families.
“This event is near and dear to our hearts,” she said. “We know what these families are going through. We lived it. We know the tantrums that no one else understands and the constant judging by the public. It’s rough, not to mention what you have to deal with at home.”
“This is a day on the beach where we can get together and nobody is judging,” she said. “This is a day for the families to bond, have fun and do something they wouldn’t actually get the chance to do every day.”
Parent Jeffrey Moore of Townsend, Del., said he was eager to see his son, Elijah, participate in his first Surfers Healing camp. He said he and his wife first heard of the event through a network of moms and dads with children on the spectrum.
“He loves the water, but taking commands from people may be challenging for him,” he aid. “I think this will bring him peace.”
Anne Arundel County residents Tony and Jill Zaukus said both of their sons, Andrew and Bradley, are returning to Surfers Healing for the third year.
“There are not many things that are autism specific,” Jill Zaukus said. “These kids can do anything here and are accepted and embraced. It’s such a wonderful feeling, as a parent, to know you can go and no matter what your child does people will understand, support and help you.”
In addition to surfing, children and their families also had the opportunity on Wednesday to participate in games and arts and crafts and visit informational booths.
“It’s like there’s a magic in the air,” Loeser said. “There are smiles and tears all day long. This is a day these kids remember.”