Is it possible to connect one’s work with what one loves? What fruit comes when you bring work and play together? How does passion play into the equation if it is mixed with our work?
In the heat of the moment, a Father wrestled with how to embark on how to best empower his son. The boy was diagnosed with autism, a condition created almost completely by damaging preservatives found in vaccines that severely damages brain tissue. These preservatives are heavy metals like aluminum and are listed on the CDC’s website. There is also strong scientific evidence pointing to other factors that exacerbate the severity of autism in a child, such as bisphenol A, and exposure to modern day environmental pollutants which can be found in the food, water and air. This post is about what one parent did in response for his son. Its about being positively and lovingly proactive and not sitting back with his main priority of taking care of his family. This post is about how Izzy Paskowitz is #HotterThanFire4Others and we need more of that.
He and his boy started surfing waves. Just a Dad and his child. Now he has created a dynamic where other parents can give the experience of surfing to their children. Volunteer surfers (sometimes the parents themselves) also become part of the community experience. Their is real healing that goes on left and right. Not the supernatural kind, but it is as rapid and disruptive as the waves the kids surf on. Executive function skill brain activity goes into a strenuous mode, as does hemispheric cross-connectivity action. Surfing is ‘full on’ 100%.
When Izzy first started surfing with his son there was no crowd on the beach. It was just a Father and his child..surfing. A Father being entrepreneurial at how he and his son would know each other.
This one Dad took his love for surfing and put it together with his greater love for his child and co-founded an organization to constantly replicate the experience for many other children and adolescents on the spectrum. That is pure social entrepreneurship.
Surfing is a form of self-expression, actual play and a ‘brain gym’ that heartily tones executive function skills and hemispheric synaptic connectivity. That means that the mind and body direct the brain to act and respond in new ways..expediently! It also helps one with emotional processing by relaxing one as senses are worked out. Eventually, the advanced surfer can do some amazing things, like experience what it feels like to tube a wave.
It is a transformative and humbling experience for children and young adolescents to notch onto their life experience belt time and time again. This activity can be a game changer that gives parents other ideas as to what is possible in little time. Surfing waves brings them out of any shell they may be in. They have to be eagle-eyed, focused and present like never before.
Without further ado.. here is my interview with surfing legend, co-founder and President of Surfers Healing, Izzy Paskowitz.
Coach Bill: Question 1
Does surfing cause a profound mindset or outlook change in kids on what is known as the autism spectrum? What have you observed?
We can see that change on the beach, before the kids even get in the water. When they’re in line with their life vest on, waiting for the next available surfer to take them out, they’ve got a whole different body language, a whole different vibe. They might be a little nervous, especially if they’ve never surfed before, but they’re also excited. Things are cool. And you have to realize, most of these kids have never even been to the beach, even if they live nearby. A lot of autism warrior moms, they tend to avoid big public beaches, because there are too many people staring, too many things they can’t control.
Once the “hand-off” takes place and the child is in the water, they’re on their own. Adrenaline kicks in and the anxiety goes up. Most of the kids we surf with are hyper-aware at this point. Positioning the child on the front of the surfboard and powering through the white water takes the experience to a higher gear. The waves come in sets, and after the first couple of waves we begin calling out for the child to hold on to the surfboard… and they do. Instinctively, that child can see the waves coming. They’re able to anticipate the impact and hold onto the rails until we have safely made it past the breakers to the outside lineup.
“There’s not a lot of time to ‘teach’ during our surf session. Most of our kids demonstrate through intuition and instinct.”
- Izzy Paskowitz, Surfers Healing co-founder and president
Next comes the wave-riding part. That’s the fun part! The kids lie prone or stand balanced with the midline of the board, and as their parents look on they catch a sick wave. The whole time, the child is listening to his or her surf instructor, who carefully gauges the child’s mood and is ready to talk his or her down from any anxious moments. At the same time, the water is starting to calm the child and help him or her to focus. Even the act of surfing has a therapeutic benefit. Being balanced and in control feels good, and of course it’s a must while surfing. It all happens very quickly. Our instructors talk to these kids on the spectrum like they would talk to any other child. They expect them to understand. In the frenzy of the moment, when we take off and ride our first wave, we’re barking out orders, assuming the kids will follow along. Stand up! Hold my hand! Eighty percent of the time, they’re right there with us. They respond beautifully. For the other twenty percent, we lean forward and help them to their feet. We take their hand if they don’t give it to us. We let them do as much as they can and help them with the rest. By the second wave the kids are putting their hands back in anticipation of the extra help. And by the third wave, a lot of them are surfers. In their minds, in their imaginations, they’re surfers, and at this point most of them try to stand up on their own.
And here’s the best part: a year later they come back and remember exactly what we did the year before. They pick up right where they left off.
Coach Bill: What a great answer, Izzy. I love it. Thank you for being so open and forward with me.
Coach Bill: Question 2
Does surfing involve foresight, the ability to anticipate and predict?
Foresight is a major executive function skill which like mental flexibility (ability to shift/transition), is in common deficit w/ many people on spectrum.
As far as mindset change, we see a range of reactions, depending where these kids are on the spectrum. And when I call them kids, you should realize that we surf with all ages — from two and three years old, to teenagers, to young adults. For example, kids who are unable to verbalize are able to express themselves through squeaks and squeals. Or maybe it comes through with body language, with laughter or a smile. I’ve come to believe that a lot of the transformation we see in the water comes from the moment we disconnect the child from the parent or caregiver and the child is on his or her own. Yeah, the water is a part of it. The thrill of surfing, of being able to have these extremely rad experience… that’s a part of it, too. But the feeling of independence is essential. It can also be the most part to get past, because a lot of kids have never been placed in such an extreme situation. I always tell parents that what we do is like extreme special ed, because it’s just that. Extreme. It can get pretty gnarly out there, and these kids can sense that. And they can sense that their parents can sense that. And yet they just go for it, man. It’s such a beautiful thing to see. But that’s the key moment we need to push past. We need to get past the anxiety, the nervousness, the fear of the unknown. Once we conquer that… then we’re golden.
“For even the most challenged child, something like magic happens in the water. Its calming, grounding, instinctual… like I said, magic. From balancing prone, staying midline on the surfboard, getting past the breakers and finally tasting that sweet reward of riding in on pure energy… it’s such a rapid transformation. After just three waves, we see a change in behavior. All of a sudden you have kids who are completely focused, completely present, completely stoked.”
Some of the more verbal kids can sometimes talk themselves out of the moment when they lie down on the board, so there tends to be more of a conversation with that child or teenager to stay in the game. We need to calm them down, reassure them, coax them past their fears. You won’t get hurt. You’re safe with me. Trust me, there are no dinosaurs in the water… You’d be amazed at some of the conversations we have out there in the water!
One of the great things about the Surfers Healing experience is that the same reward exists for every child. It doesn’t matter if you just lie on the board and let us do all the work, or if we have to help you to your feet and stand behind you the whole time. The healing begins when you get in the water. That’s the moment of triumph for most of these kids. And they’re all able to look back on the experience and remember that they “rode” these giant waves. They’ll say, I did it, Izzy! They’re so proud. And they’re parents are so proud, too. And rightfully so. For a lot of families, it’s the first time they’re child has tested the limits of what’s possible in such a thrilling way. And out of that thrill comes a wonderful sense of calm that stays with the child for the remainder of the day. It comes something to look back on the whole year, something to look forward to as they mark their calendars for the next time we roll into town.
Coach Bill:Question 3
In your experience teaching kids and adolescents to practice and enjoy surfing, are relationships built on trust rather quickly? Like in seconds?
The ability to initiate and sustain relationships and conversations is a top life skill in the lives of all on the autism spectrum.
Yes, it can happen in seconds. You don’t have a lot of time out there, so the trust is kind of a given. Add water and stir. But it goes beyond trust. The Surfers Healing instructors have been in the water their entire lives. They live, breath, think, sleep surfing. A lot of us have surfed competitively. It’s in our bones. And these kids can sense that, the same way a horse or a dog can sense when its trainer approaches with confidence, when the animal is able to feed off of your action to formulate a reaction. When you know your stuff, the way you move, the way you carry yourself… it goes beyond words. Sometimes, these non-verbal cues can be more powerful than verbal instructions. There’s an inherent personal strength that comes across. Absolutely, inner peace can be “read” — and these kids are able to read it.
Coach Bill: Question 4
Is surfing a tool and a growth hack strategy approach to develop multiple life skills at once in people w/ autism?
For sure it is, especially at its most basic level. What we offer our first-time surfers is a kind of crash course in surfing, a way then can spark to the adrenalin rush of the sport without really having to do anything. It’s all about instinct, about balance, about finding your center. But it goes beyond that, I think. Just look at the physiological response we all experience when we put our faces in the water. It’s ‘mammalian dive reflex.’ The body’s organs slow down right away. Something happens, and it’s something you can explain scientifically, but we don’t need science to see what we so clearly see. These kids who come out to surf with us, they calm down once they hit the water. Their personalities are transformed. They are outside themselves, even for just a moment, and from that point on each child’s experience is different, because what they bring to the experience is different. You can see it when you watch a child just swimming in the ocean, and you can see it on a different level when he ducks under the rolling whitewater, and again when he lets the waves pound into his body to give him a much-needed deep sensory massage. Boogie boarding, surfing… the therapeutic effect is pretty much the same.
Coach Bill: Question 5
Who has inspired you to make the impossible possible?
The greatest example of the limitless possibilities and the transformative powers of surfing is my inspiration, Clay Marzo. If you don’t know who he is, you should definitely check him out — he’s truly the surfing savant.
Thank you for your time and words, Izzy. It is an honor to now also be your friend. I appreciate that. Surfs Up!!