As many of you know, in a previous life I was a correspondent for the HBO show "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel." During my eight years on the show I did some 60-odd stories, one of the most memorable and meaningful having to do with Surfer's Healing, a surf camp for autistic children, the subject of a wonderful story by Sandra Hughes and producer Matt Lombardi on the Evening News tonight.
It was three summers ago, August of 2004, when I first met the first family of surfing – the Paskowitz's - and what a family it was: led by then-83-year-old Jewish-born Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz and his Mexican-American ex-opera singer wife Juliette, and their nine – count 'em – nine children. We told the story of Doc, an M.D. from Stanford who turned his back on a conventional career – and big bucks – to embark on what his children called The Great Experiment: Marrying Juliette, starting a family, and traveling the world in a tiny trailer.
"America not only gives you the opportunity to be very rich and survive, but it also gives you the opportunity to be very poor and survive," Doc told me during a long interview on Mission Beach in San Diego. "And we thought that our survival at the lowest level would keep us more together."
So they took off in the camper, 96 inches wide, 78 inches high, and 20 feet long, camping and surfing their way through most of the 60s and 70s. Hawaii, California, Mexico, Florida, Israel - they saw it all. Doc making ends meet by treating the poor in small towns, a real-life Oceans 11 packed into 160-square-feet of space.
By 1972 Doc had hatched part two of his plan, spreading the gospel of health and surfing to other kids and troubled youth, leading to the creation of the Paskowitz Surf Camp. The beginning of what the Paskowitz brothers would call "spreading the aloha" – sharing the joy of surfing, the joys of living clean, eating clean, surfing clean.
Before long the kids grew up and the family split apart, some becoming rock musicians, some models and artists. Only one stuck with surfing. That would be Israel, Izzy to one and all, who would go on to win a world championship and pro titles as a long boarder, marry the beautiful Danielle, and have a son named Isaiah.
When it came to autism, Isaiah turned out to be like so many other children: His vocabulary dropping from 50 to words to three by the age of two; the lack of eye contact; a beautiful little boy one minute, a full-blown, blood-curdling scream the next. When I first met Isaiah he was 13 years old and sitting on the warm sands of Pacific Beach, Calif. He was surrounded by about 25 other autistic campers and their families, either in the water or looking out, shouts of joy ringing the air, smiles all around.
The water, Izzy had discovered, had an almost magical impact on his son, a soothing, calming influence. One day a friend asked Izzy to take his autistic son out for a ride. The same thing happened. It was the start of Surfer's Healing.
I talked with Izzy recently, catching up on old times. Surfer's Healing has come a long way in the last three years, caught several big waves of success, as well they should. Check out the Web site to see what I mean. Volunteer if you can. I think you'll discover "spreading the aloha" offers a certain magic for us all, be it in or out of the water.