“One Perfect Day.”
That’s how Surfers Healing is described by many.
Last week was our family’s fourth time participating in Surfers Healing, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in Ocean City on Aug. 14.
Surfers Healing is a traveling camp providing children with Autism and other developmental disabilities the opportunity to go surfing under the caring and professional guidance of surfers. It was founded by Izzy Paskowitz after he discovered his Autistic son found peace through the rhythms and flows of the ocean. Any kind of water movement also brings peace and calm to our son Carson, 9.
Surfers Healing has become such a wonderful occasion for our family we now plan a “staycation” around it and encourage family and friends to join us.
Surfers Healing never disappoints. However, the night before the event, the weather looked a bit ominous with thunderstorms in the forecast. As luck would have it, the sky was clear the morning of the event. Most of the day was gorgeous and the waves cooperated.
The unique aspect of Surfers Healing for me is I get to just be a dad at this event. Pam and I seem to be involved with volunteering at most of our kids’ activities in some sort. For example, I coach some of Beckett’s sports teams, and Pam and I both help with Carson’s special needs soccer program.
With Surfers Healing, our only involvement is attendance. We support the event with a donation most years and try to be generous through clothing purchases and other means. Outside of that, I get to observe and take in all the sights, sounds and emotions of the day. I will share a few thoughts on these topics now.
Sights: I love the beach every day, but sitting on the beach and observing these surfers and volunteers on hand work with these kids in the ocean is inspiring and encouraging. Some of the children must be carried in the ocean against their will because they are terrified while others gladly make friends with their surfers immediately. Some kids get over their fears and enjoy themselves, while others run out of the ocean after a few waves unable to deal with the new experience. Some of the sights are disturbing, but they represent the norm for many of us in the special needs community.
Sounds: These run the gamut. There is screaming, some of which is borne out of fear for the unknown from participants, as well as shouts of encouragement from parents to their children. There is lots of laughing and giggling from participants as well as observers.
Above all, the words expressed by a young teen to his parents after his surf session stuck with me. “I surfed, I did it,” he proudly told his mom nearby. His father then told him he knew he could do it. The three of them slowly made their way back to their area hand in hand. Each of them seem to be dealing with their own physical struggles. I later saw that same teen asleep on the beach. After I remarked he was wiped out, his dad said, “it’s unbelievable, he never naps except on Surfers Healing day.” The ocean’s magic at work.
While the sounds of the participants squealing in delight and shrieking in terror are something to behold, it’s overhearing the loved ones on the beach that truly gives Surfers Healing its meaning. Though kids on the Autism spectrum function best with a schedule, Surfers Healing day is about taking them outside their comfort levels. These kids are put in a unique situation, but they quickly realize the ocean and the surfers’ caring ways erase all that in minutes. It’s something to behold.
Emotions: I’m an emotional guy, especially when it comes to my family, but I’m smiling more than shedding a tear on this day because Carson is obviously enjoying himself. He doesn’t always show pleasure on his face, as smiling is difficult for him, but he does on this day.
The deeper emotions for me come later looking at pictures and videos of the day because that’s when the gift of reflection allows for some proper processing.
One of my favorite photos this year was Carson first emerging from the ocean. He was scanning the crowd. He looked concerned. He saw me and his mom, but he was seeking out his big brother because he wanted to bear hug him and pick him up. He did that last year and remembered it. Holding his big brother up in the air brought one of his hugest smiles of the day.
Another favorite was a black-and-white photo by Nick Denny showed a wet and smiling Carson pulling in Pam to his head in his trademark awkward fashion. It captures their bond and moment of pride so well.
A parent’s love for a child is boundless. It doesn’t matter if there are random bouts of intense aggression on the way to and from Surfers Healing. That was the case for us on this day, but for several hours in between we were not harping on those unfortunate realities. This is our journey. Our special needs kid needs us, even if he doesn’t act like it sometimes. His family needs him, too, because he provides us a number of gifts – the greatest being a tremendous perspective on life and an ability to remind us what’s really important.
For us, Surfers Healing is an annual highlight of our journey. We get to forget about a lot, while bonding with others needing to be lifted up as well. That’s needed every now and again.
Thanks to all those who make it a reality every August.