Clouds momentarily cover the sun as my little party of three crosses Ocean Ave. in Belmar, my mom trudging ahead to stop traffic, my youngest boy clutching my hand in his while simultaneously balancing his boogie board in the other. He glances up at his surroundings in the middle of the intersection and stops dead in his tracks, me urging him on so we can make it to the boardwalk safely.
He’s never seen the beach like this before, so many tents strewn upon sand, so many people. Zach looks up at me tentatively, and I remind him that we’re here for Surfers’ Healing and the “Beach Bash”, and that we’ll have a great time today.
I remind him there will be tons of arts and crafts in addition to surfing. He smiles, and I know he’s completely bought into the day.
I’ve known about this event for a few years now, but have never previously attended. Surfers Healing was founded by Israel and Danielle Paskowitz, in honor of their son Isaiah, diagnosed with autism at age three. Isaiah’s father discovered that surfing was the one place where his son seemed to find an escape from the sensory overload that tormented him. The foundation holds multiple surf clinics every year.
Due to its popularity getting a surfing spot is difficult, but quite honestly, since POAC (Parents of Autistic Children) holds several surfing events during the summer, I wasn’t concerned if we didn’t make it in. Zach enjoys sliding into shore on fiberglass, but isn’t clamoring to repeat the experience all the time. I’d considered just doing the “Beach Bash” portion of the event, but until this summer my youngest wasn’t a big fan of hanging out at the shore for extended periods of time. This year he mirrored his mom’s love of sand and surf, and I thought it was worth giving the whole thing a try.
Thankfully, my instincts were correct.
We happened to be in the right place at the right time, and were told if we went to the surf tent fairly quickly, we’d be able to work Zach into the queue. First we had to dispense with lunch (my son has his priorities), but soon we were heading over to the surfing tent, waiting for our turn. Zach eagerly took the hand of the pretty volunteer assigned to secure his life jacket, and I was told politely to head on down to the beach to watch him, that she could handle him from here.
Zach briefly waved goodbye to me, then turned back to his caretaker. I was dismissed.
My mom and I positioned ourselves carefully along the shoreline, and watched as an experienced surfer hustled a huge board into pounding surf, and waited for Zach to be placed on top. He willingly walked into roiling waves as the ocean currents were strong that day, and happily positioned himself on the board and hung on for dear life. Within moments his host was paddling into deeper waters, and I could see the joy on my son’s face as my mom and I tried to remain calm and remind ourselves he was in the hands of professionals.
At least we tried.
A few seconds later the board caught that perfect current, and Zach glided into shore at top speed, thrilled with the ride and the experience. He tumbled off into the surf but bounded up exhilarated, searching for us and exclaiming “I did it!” to all who would listen. He was given a trophy for his efforts, and when asked if he wanted to repeat the experience he glanced down at his prize and politely responded “no thank you”.
Once he’s got a trophy in hand, it’s game over.
We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the “Beach Bash” portion of the day, with Zach engaging in multiple games and creating every craft available to him. He loved the event, and I loved spending the afternoon with members of the autism community.
A win-win for all.
Surfers Healing and the Beach Bash are held annually the first weekend after Labor Day in Belmar, and this has become an event I will eagerly return to with my boy next year. As always, I am so proud of his courage, thrilled to watch him stretch his wings and grow with every new experience he encounters. He continues to make such wonderful progress.
And so does his mom.