It was a day in the sun and surf for the hundreds of families gathered on the shores of Wrightsville Beach Monday, Aug. 18, for the annual Surfers Healing autism surf day.
Young surfers like Mia Tomaselli and Alexia Hack spent the day riding waves with the crew of professional and experienced watermen with the Surfers Healing nonprofit organization.
“My favorite part was just surfing, I want to go again,” Tomaselli said. “It was just so cool and rad.”
For Tomaselli it was her fifth time at the Wrightsville Beach Surfers Healing camp and it was the third time for her friend, Hack.
“I always wanted to be in the news,” Hack said. “We got some good waves today … not long waves but long enough.”
The expressions on the faces of each child varied with each wave. Some stood quickly, lifting their arms in triumph while others needed a little help from their surf instructors and clung onto the board until the small waves gently crashed onshore. Some were reserved, quietly watching the water flow by, while others could not contain themselves and the stoke was apparent on their faces. However, nearly every time at the end of each wave, both the instructors and their surfing buddies wore broad smiles.
Surfers Healing founder and former professional surfer Izzy Paskowitz was on hand, leading the team of surf instructors in the water with the easy, rolling waves that were perfect for beginners.
“We couldn’t have made waves any better than this for what we are doing out here,” Paskowitz said while taking a brief break on the beach. “The beach is packed too because more and more this is becoming an event where not only do the moms and dads come along, but also grandmas and grandpas and extended families.”
John Pike, Surfers Healing Wrightsville Beach volunteer and organizer, said he recognized some old faces but loves it when new kids come out to participate.
“We have returns but we always want new people to come to be able to experience this event and benefit from it,” Pike said. “We have been lucky to have waves for this event for the past eight years and I thought our luck ran out this morning, but then we said our prayer and this perfect little wave popped up for us today.”
A contingent of instructors from Indo Jax Surf Charities was also on the beach for the event, serving as an auxiliary crew for kids who wanted to surf more. Indo Jax also hosts a free autism surf day for the days following Surfers Healing.
As the first organization to provide surf experiences for those living with autism, Paskowitz said he is proud of the role Surfers Healing has played in the surf industry.
“We have built the backbone for a lot of these other humanitarian surf charities to do similar stuff,” he said. “At first I was a little worried about other organizations doing similar events after all the blood, sweat and tears we poured into it. Then I realized it is all part of the continuous wave of support and therapy we can provide. I am honored to be that pioneer.”