Surfers Healing Autism Camps

by Abigail Richardson from MY HERO Staff

Surfers Healing

Surfers Healing, the original surf camp for children with autism was founded in 1996. Its mission is to enrich the lives of people living with autism by exposing them to the unique experience of surfing.

Surfers Healing began with a journey when professional surfer and co-founder Israel “Izzy” Paskowitz's second child, Isaiah, was diagnosed with autism. Said Izzy, “I was in shock, denial, and disbelief. I didn't want to deal with it. I couldn't deal with it. So, I threw myself into my work, avoiding home as much as possible. Paralyzed, I feared that I'd let my family down, that it was my fault.”

The pivotal moment came when Izzy and his wife Danielle took their children to the opening ceremonies of the World Longboard Championship in Haleiwa, Hawaii and Isaiah had a ‘meltdown’.  Said Izzy, “My wife tried to calm him, but she had her hands full. Not knowing what else to do, I picked Isaiah up and heaved him into the ocean. When his head popped up, a transformation had taken place; here was a happy, smiling, peaceful child. What else could I do but jump in with him? A friend grabbed a longboard, and Isaiah and I rode the waves for the first time. He loved it. He loved the ocean; he loved being out on the board together. And me? I was beside myself because I was finally connecting with my son. We could surf together, and that was enough.”

That day in Hawaii was the origin of the organization as Izzy had a feeling that maybe surfing could help other children with autism. He and Danielle began inviting other families to join them in the water and founded Surfers Healing.

153146 Israel “Izzy” PaskowitzReagan Studios

Since then, Surfers Healing has grown tremendously and it offers free surf camps for children with autism across the country, from San Diego to Rhode Island with camps in Mexico and Puerto Rico as well.

Said Izzy:

After 25+ years of taking kids out on the water, we're still amazed by the transformative power of the experience. Many children with autism struggle with sensory overload; in other words, simple sensations can overwhelm them. The weightlessness and rhythms of the ocean offer a therapeutic experience, a respite from the constant assault on their senses…What we offer isn't a 'cure', or even 'traditional' therapy. It's a completely different sensation and environment for our participants. We give individuals a chance to encounter the waves, to challenge themselves, to try something new. And since 1 in every 68 US children has an ASD (CDC report, March 2014), our work is more vital than ever. Isaiah is in his twenties now, and the autism I once thought was a curse turned out to be a precious gift. It is an honor to be Isaiah's father and to see Surfers Healing grow and flourish. Every child is beautiful and unique, and every child deserves a moment in the sun.

153147Surfers HealingReagan Studios

Attending the Surfers Healing camps not only positively impacts children with autism but also has a profound impact on their parents. Said Izzy, “Autism parents are always hearing about what their children cannot do. But at a Surfers Healing camp, it's all about what their kids can do. In the words of one volunteer, 'For parents to see their kid up on a surfboard … sometimes, it's nothing less than a miracle.'"

Ministry of Surf

Ministry of Surf, directed by Collins Reagan and edited by Keith Reagan, is a MY HERO 19th Film Festival winner of the Dan Eldon Activist Award & People's Choice Award. The award-winning short film from the Reagan Studios takes an intimate look inside the healing power of water and surfing on autistic children and the organization, Surfers Healing, which offers "one perfect day" to kids worldwide for free. The film captures the alchemical power of the spirit of community and the rhythms of the ocean that offers such a therapeutic experience for autistic children – who perceive a constant assault on their senses. 

153145Ministry of SurfReagan Studios 

MY HERO interviewed Collins Reagan of Reagan Studios

Why were you drawn to making this film?

We had not intended to make this film. We simply volunteered our time to help the local surfers' healing camp, and when we went through the footage, we realized we had something special.

What in your opinion is the importance of the film?

The film builds awareness around the camps that are offered for free to kids with autism.

What are the issues that are most important to you (in general), and why?

Autism touches many lives. Izzy & Danielle Paskowitz’ camps don’t offer a cure, but they provide one perfect day where the community gets to be together and the water relaxes the kids.

How did you hear about Surfers Healing?

We filmed a wedding where the still photographer, Brian Callan, mentioned that he was volunteering his time to film the Surfers' Healing camp. I asked if they could use some videography.

Where did the name come from?

While interviewing Izzy, he referred to their work as a “ministry of surf” and so that’s where the title came from.

What was it like for you to make this film? What were some of the challenges, successes, and high points?

The highlights were meeting the parents, like the Arbeens and the Mills (Rob Mills is Harry’s father and in the film). Challenges included capturing live-action surfing in bright bright sunlight. The greatest success was in discovering that the water was the unsung hero.

How important is it to you to be a finalist at the MY HERO 19th International Film Festival?

Ministry of Surf is a story about heroes. Izzy, the surfers, the parents, the kids, the local volunteers, the water. The MY HERO film festival is the perfect showcase for this film and we are honored to be nominated. Furthermore, we are overwhelmed to win the DAN ELDON ACTIVIST AWARD. Dan was a remarkable person and it’s humbling to win an award that bears his name. We hope our film helps honor his memory.

Watch the film HERE.

Reagan Studios is a team of passionate filmmakers who started as a small production company in their founder's basement. Over the years, they have grown into a full-service video and film production company that serves clients across the country. Find out more:

Help Make Miracles Happen with Surfers Healing

Get involved and Serve as a Volunteer: Surfers Healers invite the public to join them for one of their surf camps. They are based in Southern California but offer camps across the country as well as in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Find the Camp Schedule:

153148Surfers HealingReagan Studios

Make a contribution: It costs approximately seventy-five dollars for a single child to attend camp; that includes life vests, wetsuits, surfboards, beach permits and insurance. Contributions can help sponsor families who are unable to afford the trip to attend a Surfers Healing camp.

Page created on 11/1/2023 2:23:23 PM

Last edited 11/6/2023 5:44:30 PM

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Surfers Healing - Surfers Healing aims to enrich the lives of people living with autism by exposing them to the unique experience of surfing.