A day at the beach is always a welcome outing. This day turned out to be one I won't soon forget. First, I met a tall, tan, long-haired man named Izzy Paskowitz. In his day, Izzy was a world-class surfer. But we weren't there to talk about Izzy's accolades, although that would be an entertaining day.
Today we came to watch Izzy and his surf instructors teach dozens of very unique kids to catch waves off the California coast. These days Izzy runs a surf camp in Pacific Beach but several times a year that camp gets put on hold and everyone puts their energy into a program called "Surfers Healing." You can see in Izzy's eyes this is a special day for him and you hear it in the shouts of joy and giggles from the kids emerging from their cars that this is a day they have been looking forward to all year. What's incredible about today is that all the surfers are autistic children. With symptoms that range from mild to severe, the kids come from all over the country for this one day of wonder.
To give you an idea why this is so special I should rewind about 16 years to the birth of Izzy's son Isaiah. From the beginning Isaiah's mom knew something was wrong with her baby. Izzy didn't want to accept it. Then they got the diagnosis of autism. Isaiah has a pretty severe form of the disorder and it often played out in the form of major tantrums. During one of those tantrums, while the family was at the beach, Izzy dragged Isaiah into the ocean water and onto his surfboard. And that's when something magical happened for father and son. Izzy told me riding the wave and feel of the ocean around Isaiah calmed him and soothed him like nothing else.
Izzy decided if surfing helped his son so much, it might help other autistic kids, too. So he founded "Surfers Healing"—the one day camp for autistic kids. It's now in its eighth season and over a thousand kids take part every year.
Sometimes the kids are reluctant to take the plunge. There were some tears and shouts as they headed out into the water. But each time the mayhem melted away and as they headed back into shore riding a long-board with their instructor their faces were filled with the joy of the moment. A moment kids like them don't often get.
I interviewed one mother who brought her THREE autistic sons to the camp and with tears in her eyes she told me how happy they all were to have this one magnificent day. Sylvia Lopez said, "They told me the boys would never do anything normal, and we proved them wrong."