Surfing Santas raise funds to fight autism
Izzy Paskowitz remembers the first time he put his son Isaiah on a surfboard.
Isaiah, 6 at the time, has severe autism, and sensory overload that often resulted in emotional outbreaks. Speaking is difficult, making communication nearly impossible.
But when Paskowitz put his son in the ocean, a calm came over Isiah and the crying stopped – a sense of peace as Isaiah let the saltwater engulf his body, and he started giggling.
“It’s not a cure; he was just as autistic when he came out,” Paskowitz said. “But I think he has a certain sense of peace when he gets into the water.”
A contest called Surfing Santa, organized by the Paskowitz’ nonprofit Surfers Healing, was held in Dana Point on Saturday, Nov. 17. The nonprofit helps more kids with autism get into the water and surf, and Saturday’s fun fundraiser got people into the spirit of giving with a holiday theme and Christmas jingles playing from speakers on the sand.
“It’s a great contest,” said Christian Homan, of Laguna Niguel, who has been surfing the event since the beginning. “I’m just glad to be a part of it every year; it’s a good cause, and plus we get to all have fun. We’re here to all come together like one family.”
Homan surfed with reindeer antlers on his head, and others tried to keep Santa hats from flying off their heads while they took on the waves. Homan, 25, said he has a few friends with kids who have been diagnosed with autism.
“Anything we can do to give back to them – it’s the little things that mean so much,” he said. “Just the fact that we’re all out here having a good time is a win in itself.”
Izzy Paskowitz, along with his wife, Danielle, founded Surfers Healing in 1999 as a way to get more kids like their son, now 21, out into the water. Parents with children diagnosed with autism often become part of a tight-knit community, and word spread of what Surfers Healing was all about. Last year, it held 21 events around the country and helped 3,500 children with autism get into the ocean. Through the years it has introduced surfing to nearly 30,000.
Five years ago, the Paskowitz approached The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel about doing a surfboard auction in the resort through the holidays. World-famous surfers and artists came together to donate boards to the cause, and through the years the effort has raised $80,000 for Surfers Healing, said Ritz spokeswoman Deanne French.
This year’s auction kicked off Saturday and runs through Dec. 31. About 30 boards from famous surfers such as Kelly Slater and Joel Parkinson, local World Tour surfer Brett Simpson, musician Donavon Frankenreiter and other artists are up for grabs.
Three years ago, a holiday-themed surf contest called Surfing Santa began at Salt Creek Beach, which sits just below the resort.
Paskowitz said he hopes the surf contest will help get more kids with autism in the water, as well as raise awareness about autism for the young surfers who signed up to compete.
“They’ll meet a kid at school and remember they did something for autism, and they’ll feel empowered to go say ‘hi,’” he said. “Maybe they will make that child feel welcome. That is my ultimate hope, is that the awareness spreads. It’s a blessing to have this event.”
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