Nope, I am not kidding!!!! It is finally time to tell you all about the incredible day that was Surfers Healing this (now last) year! Sheesh! I will spare you the excuses and get right to the AMAZING-NESS! 🙂
First off……the drama prior to the event. We had decided to go to a Surfers Healing event in California this year because we didn’t want Cannon to miss part of his first month of Kindergarten. Those camps are in June and the SC camp that we had gone to the previous year was in August. So, we got him all signed up for the one in Doheny Beach State Park in Cali. Well, very soon after signups things got totally crazy with Cannon’s health and he ended up having to have the major surgery in May. And there was absolutely no way he could go surfing in June. He needed time to heal. Well, then I got really nervous he was going to miss out. Signing up for the camps is a big deal. You have to decide which camp you want and be online at a specific time when they open for registration. Some fill up in an hour! They only have so many spots and everybody wants them! SO, when all this happened I wasn’t sure if he would be able to get a spot in another camp and that scared me to death! He had had the best time of his life the previous year. I have never seen him smile like that! He had even floored us by uttering this phrase afterwards….”Mommy, I love surfing!” (His language was very, very limited and minimal at that time.) Surfing invigorated, rejuvenated, and challenged his body as nothing else could! I had to do everything in my power not to allow his surgery……something he didn’t ask for, want, and couldn’t control…..prevent him from the amazing experience this year. I wrote a pleading email to the co-founder and administrator and stalked my email with baited breath waiting for a response. When it came in quickly and was an “absolutely….of course…..we will make room” sort of response…..I cried tears of joy! Relief swept over me as did an enormous smile when I told Cannon……”You’re going SURFING!”
We flew back east in August to participate in the event on Folly Beach in South Carolina. Missing school was no longer an issue as we had to pull him out and homeschool this year. We stayed out at the Tides Hotel whose beachfront was hosting the event. My sister and I went down early that morning to get some photos of the set-up and also to participate in the Opening Ceremonies. Something I didn’t do last year. We were thankful for the dedication of the volunteers….. getting things set up quickly and efficiently. And the Opening Ceremonies really set the tone for a great day! They began with a guy playing the national anthem on his saxophone. Then, there was a prayer by a man who is the head of the Christian Surfers Association and later a prayer and chant in Hawaiian by another surfer. Izzy Paskowitz, founder of the org, talked for a bit after this. Greeting everyone, telling them about his son who has Autism, and how Surfer’s Healing came to be. He also said something that saddened and stuck with me. “Failure is not an option.” A motto of his that relates to his family and his marriage. He said that he is seeing far too many single parents bringing their kids to camp and that we have to try to stop this epidemic. The divorce rate for parents of kids with Autism has been reported to be 80%! Staggering! He said we have to fight for our kids by adopting this motto and keeping our family’s together. I couldn’t have agreed more! Then, he passed the mic to his 90 something year old father who said he had traveled all the way from Hawaii to deliver a message. Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz talked for quite a while about a lot of topics but I think the main thing that he was trying to bring home was that he sees too many Autism parents blaming themselves. And that that needed to stop. He is a Stanford educated doctor and believes that there are environmental components to Autism but that even still……stop blaming yourself and focus all your energy on getting all the help you can for your kiddo. After that, a picture was taken of all the surfers and the AMAZING woman (Nancy Hussey) who coordinates the event for the area. And then, they took to the water! Starting with the kiddos who had been assigned the first time slot.
I rejoined my family to do Cannon’s flush and prepare for the day ahead. Cannon’s surf time was 3:30 and it was hard to hold him off for so long. Registration was brief when we got down to the beach and we had barely had time to set up camp before they were calling early for our group. I had to work quickly to gather my family members who had scattered a bit. Then, I walked Cannon over to the ready tent. There they get the kids fitted in life jackets and walk them down to the water’s edge to meet their surfer. I did ask if Duane, his surfer from the previous year was available, but he was already out with another kiddo. I started to get very nervous now. What if something happened with his Chait Button? What if it became dislodged? I had the medical supplies necessary to put a new but temporary replacement back in but am still quite scared at the possibility of actually doing it! Prior to the event, we had checked with the local children’s hospital and knew exactly which doctor to request if we ran into trouble. One of few docs who are familiar with his rare device. But regardless, it was still scary. When we first met the administrator and his surfer, I had to explain what he had and where it was exactly as it was hidden by the protective band that he wears. I talked with his surfer for a few moments about how best to handle him. His surfer’s name was Kalani and he is a young surfer from Hawaii. He had a warm smile and an obviously kind heart. Cannon was soooo ready to go as they got him on the board and paddled out!
What followed was nothing short of complete and total bliss from my kiddo! He was in his version of what a glimpse of heaven will be like! As a mother, there is nothing better than watching your child THIS happy! My face was hurting from smiling so much! About 20 minutes later…..they were done. Cannon had had a blast but he was still hoping for more! He was not a fan of getting out of the water! We had to pretty much force him into a photo op with Kalani. After saying lots of thank you’s, giving hugs and high 5’s…..we headed up the beach to get his medal. All participants get a medal and an additional photo op in front of Surfers Healing Folly Beach logo-ed surfboard. Cannon took the medal off and ran all the way back down to the water before I could catch him. “More surfing” he kept saying. My little adrenaline junkie! So, I retrieved him really quick to allow the professional photogs there to get a pic. I had brought along his Beads of Courage as well and we draped those around his neck in addition to his medal. This was definitely the year to include those!
After all this, we let Cannon go back in the water. To splash around and jump in the waves. He was more content now, even if he did prefer to be surfing. Then, something kind of crazy happened. Mark and I were just standing together by the water’s edge and a man walked up to us. I hadn’t even noticed him nearby or who it was until I was mid-handshake. It was Izzy Paskowitz, the former competitive surfer and co-founder of Surfers Healing. He introduced himself and said hello. I shook his hand and immediately launched into major thank you’s! Thanking him and asking him to thank his wife, Danielle, (the other co-founder and who had responded to my email plea) for allowing us to switch camps! I told him how much it meant to us to have that time to heal from surgery and still get to participate in surf camp! He hadn’t heard about our situation and asked us to tell him about Cannon, his story, and why he had to have surgery. So, I obliged. Telling him an abbreviated version of the journey. I think he was pretty surprised at the enormity of it all particularly with the G.I. issues. He asked us where we lived and we told him. It’s quite far from South Carolina and he was surprised we had made the trip. We told him that we’d do anything not to miss Surfers Healing. He then asked us to point out Cannon. We did and then he said something A-MAZING! He said, “Get a life jacket on him……we’re going surfing!” I couldn’t believe it! The incredibly long day was over for him! He had been surfing since at least 8:30 that morning and it was after 4 p.m.! The event was being packed up! People were leaving. And now, he wanted to take Cannon surfing! Unbelievable! We grabbed Cannon, found a life jacket, and brought him to meet Izzy at the water’s edge. A handler of sorts helped Izzy get Cannon on the board and pushed out. I couldn’t believe this was happening! Our little entourage was bursting with excitement! Mark, myself, our Townsend, my parents, sister, aunt, and good friend, Becca. All watching in awe! And you won’t believe it but they were out surfing for almost 45 minutes!!!!!!! They spent a lot of time beyond the breakers…..just floating. It was so calm out there. So peaceful. Relaxing. Cannon was just lying on the board. Completely and totally comfortable with his surroundings. Like this was a perfectly normal place to just chill. Izzy’s intuition when it came to Cannon was impeccable. It was obvious how well he understood what his little body needed. It needed the relaxation of the calm water…..but it also needed the rush of riding in on a great wave. They did both for the longest time. It was simply incredible! The entire event was taken down and everyone was gone long before they were finally done surfing for the day.
When Cannon and Izzy finally walked hand in hand out of the water, Mark greeted them with a big hug! I followed and we snapped a group pic. It was so nice! After that my family and I just chatted with Izzy about our journeys, coping mechanisms, how Autism has affected different relationships in our lives, etc. Oprah’s OWN Network had done a reality show called “The Swell Life” about Izzy’s family that I had watched most of. It was beyond compelling, candid, and honest. I truly wish with all my heart that she would bring it back because I think there is so much more good that could be done if more people had the chance to see it. Feel free to contact her and tell her this! 🙂
The day wrapped up with more hugs, tear filled thank you’s, and a promise to say hello at the dinner later that night. The Tides Hotel, that hosted the event, also hosted a dinner for all participants, families, and surfers that evening. There wasn’t much time now to get ready for it! So, we all took off to do so. I will tell you about the dinner in my next post! Now, PLEASE go watch the video! I hope that it gives you a complete picture of what this amazing day was like for our little hero! I will never, ever be able to thank Surfers Healing enough for bringing surfing into our life and allowing Cannon, a child, who has grown up in the desert, to realize his love for it! May God continue to bless Izzy, Danielle, and Surfers Healing!!!!!!!!
P.O. Box 1267
San Juan Capistrano, CA