#Joy: A few hours after our triumphant finish in the 5-mile Hope & Possibility race, Dylan, Dusty and I boarded a plane bound for San Diego, CA to go camping and surfing with Izzy Paskowitz and Surfers Healing. Izzy is a former world champion surfer. He is also an Autism dad.
Izzy discovered the calming effect the ocean and surfing had on his son when Isaiah was about 6. Like many autistic children, he often suffered from sensory overload-- simple sensations could overwhelm him. The ocean was the one place where he seemed to find respite.
With Isaiah on the front of the surfboard and Izzy steering from the back, the two would spend the day surfing together. Surfing had a profound impact on Isaiah. Behaviors disappeared. He was calmer. He was happy. He smiled.
Izzy and his wife, Danielle, started Surfers Healing 15 years ago to offer autistic kids and their families something which is elusive but longed for: one perfect day. With the help of incredible volunteers and a team of the most amazing -- and nicest -- surfers, Surfers Healing hosts one-day surf camps all around the country. Last year, over 4500 autistic kids got to experience the healing power of the ocean and surfing.
Over the past 5 years, Dusty has surfed every year with Izzy and Surfers Healing during their day camps in Belmar, Long Beach, Montauk and Naragansett. Two years ago we went out to Autism Family Surf Camp and spent three days surfing nonstop. When we left I made a promise to Dusty we would return. Since February when we planned this year's trip, Dusty could talk of nothing else. "Surfing with Izzy. You did it!" -- he was so excited to return to Pacific Beach, to the campfire, to Izzy, Josh, Jersey Pete, Blake, Bucky, Trish, to the ocean, to his friends.
We walk on pins and needles with Dusty. Behaviors are unpredictable. We never really know when or where something might erupt. And while those behaviors have diminished greatly over the past year or so, they still happen. Surfers Healing and Surf Camp is the one place where it just doesn't matter. We can breathe. Surfers Healing goal is "to help foster the understanding and acceptance of autism." That word acceptance. You see we're no longer in the autism awareness phase. That phase is over. Done. Everyone is aware. It's acceptance we now have to focus on. And acceptance is what we feel at Surf Camp. It's all right. It doesn't matter that Dusty scripts almost continually -- Thomas the Tank Engine usually ("Skarloey went to the works to be mended"). Or Shrek ("This is my swamp"). Or Sound of Music ("Max, don't you ever say that again."). It doesn't matter that Dusty tried to get the crows to stop cawing at 5:30a at Campland by the Bay ("Silence called Sir Tophamhatt") and in doing so woke most of his fellow surf campers up. It doesn't matter when he decided he wanted to feel the swim trunks of all the surfers by stroking their upper thigh (some sensory thing, don't ask me). Izzy and his guys are the kindest, most giving, most loving, most patient, most incredibly wonderful dudes in the world. They accept and love our son and all the kids unconditionally. As it should be.
Dusty surfed for three days straight. And so did Mom and Dylan. Dylan fell a little.
Mom fell a lot.
Dusty didn't fall at all (incredible balance that kid).
Josh Torres, an amazing surfer and one of the sweetest people I have ever been blessed to meet just kept taking Dusty out ride after ride after ride. Non-stop. An amazing moment came when we first hit the beach, Josh came up to Dusty and said hi and put his arm around Dusty and Dusty said "What's going on, bro?" Dylan and I looked at each other incredulously. Dusty had never, ever said anything like this before. Their bond is tight. The joy on Josh's face...on all the surfers faces as their kids rode the waves -- was priceless. They were clearly enjoying the experience as much as the kids.
In the autism community, Izzy is a God. A savior. Pretty close to the second coming of Christ. What he has done for autism families has given us for at least one day -- one perfect day -- a safe haven. He, Danielle, and their wonderful band of surfers have given us acceptance. They have given us the opportunity to see our kids do something that no one could ever imagine they could do. They have given us love. They have given us peace. And they have given us joy.