If you ask my 11-year-old daughter, Juliet, what her favourite day of the year is, it’s not her birthday, Christmas, or even Halloween. Her favourite day (mine, too!) is “When I get to surf with the guys from Surfers Healing.”
We were first introduced to this fabulous movement in 2015, when Juliet was among the first group of kids in Australia to experience the newly established partnership between Autism Awareness Australia and Surfers Healing.
Like many autistic kids, Juliet has always loved the water, especially the ocean. Whereas land based sports are difficult for her due to low muscle tone and gross motor challenges, she feels graceful, strong, and empowered in the water. The golden opportunity to ride the waves under the guidance of an actual world-class surfer was simply too good to pass up!
Our initial experience with Surfers Healing in Noosa in 2015 was nothing short of magical, and we have been hooked ever since. Juliet has also taken part in the Manly Beach events in 2016 and 2017, and I’ve had the privilege of serving as a volunteer.
Juliet describes her three Surfer Healing experiences as “Awesome! Exhilarating! I feel as if I’m gliding through the waves like a dolphin!” Her only complaint is that she can’t take part on a weekly basis. This is a movement that is fueled by a love of surfing and a love of our kids, and the events are respectfully and beautifully executed.
From the moment we Surfers Healing families arrive at the host beach, we are greeted by volunteers who are there to answer our questions. There is a dedicated crew to help the kids get outfitted in their life jackets and soothe any pre-surf jitters; there are qualified water safety staff to help the kids enter and exit the water.
If he’s not already in the ocean surfing with another child, Surfers Healing founder Izzy Paskowitz will likely come over for a chat. He radiates joy and excitement about being able to spend the day with our kids. Nicole Rogerson, the founder and CEO of Autism Awareness Australia, is proudly handing out medals and snapping pictures to capture special moments for families. There are also behind-the-scenes champions, including corporate sponsors, local businesses councils, and surf clubs, who help make this event possible and free to all participants.
There is a striking commonality among the very special people who represent the Surfers Healing surf team. Not only are they phenomenal athletes who can balance young kids on their shoulders or smoothly hoist teenagers to a standing position while deftly navigating the waves, they are also patient, gentle, kind, funny and encouraging. As Juliet so aptly notes, “They really make me feel good about myself as a surfer.”
Indeed, it’s very clear that the real stars of any Surfers Healing event are the kids. I love standing among the other parents and loved ones watching the kids begin their respective adventures. It is thrilling to see them catch a great wave for the first time with a look of pride and wonder on their faces. If you encountered a giddy American mom cheering her guts out on the beach at Bondi and Manly (even when her own child wasn’t in the water), our paths have crossed! It is wonderful to be a part of the Surfers Healing “international family.”
There are so many things to love about Surfers Healing, but for our family, this annual event has come to symbolise much more than a fabulous day at the beach. We see inclusion, with a diverse team of people working together to make this opportunity readily accessible to as many families as possible. Like all participants, my daughter is surrounded by surfers and crew who presume her competence and see her strengths. Like all participants, she is respected and celebrated for who she is and what she can achieve.
The profound beauty of Surfers Healing is that it embodies what our world could look like for autistic people and the kind of world our kids deserve. With meaningful support, meaningful opportunities, and a community that radiates understanding and respect, truly spectacular things are possible! We have #oneperfectday as proof of that.
*Pictures and quotes used with my daughter’s permission