The Upbeat

Watch how a pro surfer inspires autistic kids to smile

The Upbeat

Pro Surfer Israel Paskowitz Uses His Unique Expertise to Help Autistic Children

It was a summer day in 1969 on Tourmaline Canyon Beach in San Diego, when Israel “Izzy” Paskowitz fell in love with surfing. He was 6 when his father, legendary surfer Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, took him out to ride together on his board. “I will never forget that wave,” says Izzy, “it was my kick off into the tribe.” Considered the first family of surfing, Izzy is the fourth of nine children of Doc and Juliette. They lived a nomadic life in a 24-foot camper and traveled the country for roughly 23 years.

By the time of Izzy’s first surfing experience, Doc, a Stanford graduate and a doctor, had left his career to fulfill his love of travel, family and surfing. Doc believed true wisdom did not come from formal education but from life experience and surfing. The family’s journey is the subject of the acclaimed documentary film, "Surfwise."

Izzy naturally became a pro surfer. In 1983 he beat legends of the sport and soon became a world champion long-boarder. He won national and international events, including Australia’s Coke Classic Championship and the Hang Ten Classic. At the height of his career he landed a Nike cover ad standing next to Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan and Andre Agassi.

“With my beautiful wife, Danielle, by my side, I felt invincible, like I was king of the world, “ Izzy recalls. But then their second child, Isaiah, was diagnosed with autism at age 3. “It took me a long time to accept his condition, to even say the word 'autism.' I had the dreams of any professional athlete: that my son would be just like dad, and it wasn’t looking like that.” Izzy ran from reality and continued to travel, drink heavily and surf professionally until Danielle gave him an ultimatum: Come home to take care of his son or leave the family for good.

A contest in Hawaii in 1996 inspired the greatest and most rewarding endeavor of Izzy’s life. Isaiah, then 5, was having an uncontrollable tantrum on the beach due to sensory overload, a symptom of autism. He took Isaiah in the ocean and they paddled out together on his board through the waves, just as his father had done with him. “A calm came over him. He was loose and relaxed, and genuinely happy,” says Izzy. “He was a regular boy out there doing what I always dreamed of doing with him.”

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From this magical moment, Izzy and Danielle founded Surfers Healing, a free, one-day surf camp in which professional surfers take out children with autism. Today, Surfers Healing gives 3,000 kids a year in 22 camps across the country the opportunity to feel the same calm and joy Isaiah felt.

“I am not going to find a cure,” says Izzy. “But I do know now that I can ride waves with autistic kids and we are not going to charge a penny for it. These are the best days in my life.”

Produced by Gabriel Noble. Edited by Nimmers Stern. Cinematography by John Matysiak & Chung Ming Huang. Audio by Mike Baum & Andre Rivera. Production Assistant: Patrick Horne
Associate Producer: Anne Koester. Production Supervisor: Michael Manas, Sound Mixer: J.J. Brown. Graphics Editor: Todd Tanner. Executive Producers: Russ Torres and Charity Elder for Yahoo! Studios.

Special Thanks to Doug Prey, Pro Surfer Reno Makani (GoPro POV) & Art Brewer for additional materials, & The Paskowitz Family for all home video & archive footage.
To donate to the foundation, please visit www.surfershealing.com.

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