That’s what kids with autism were saying out in Belmar, New Jersey over the weekend. Hosted by Autism Family Services of New Jersey, the 9th Annual Beach Bash took place on Sunday, September 8th in Belmar.
Autism Family Services partners with a non-profit organization in California called Surfers Healing who provides the expert surfers to help the kids. Registration for the beach bash started in May on the Surfers Healing website and their Facebook Page and the slots filled up fast.
Surfers Healing and their team of professional surfers expected to help over 400 kids on the autism spectrum ride the waves. At least 6,000 people altogether came to the event. Guided out on the water and coached to ride on a board, some riding with a surfer, many new surfers were made. Some conquered their fear of the ocean; others like Drew Haslam felt the exhilaration of riding a wave to the shore with a surfer. Parents were advised to stay on the beach, since kids with autism responded better to the volunteer surfers when their parents are not nearby.
Surprisingly, since the annual beach bashes are overwhelmingly successful and popular, they did not always attract such a splashing turnout. According to Fran Hines, the assistant superintendent of public works in Belmar, the first round of the event six years ago only turned out a few surfers and a small group of kids. Two tents were set up offering simple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Things have certainly changed. The free Beach Bash had an art tent, an activity tent, music, live entertainment, hula-hoop contests, water slide, lunch, sodas, a dunk tank, dancing lessons, and other activities that were ongoing throughout the day. For participating families, shuttle buses were even provided if needed.
The history of Surfers Healing is just as inspiring as seeing kids on the autism spectrum enjoy a thrilling activity to boost their confidence and bolster their sense of determination to do things they might not have thought possible. The founders of Surfer’s Healing, Israel and Danielle Paskowitz found out about their son’s diagnosis of autism when he was three years old. Their son, Isaiah, like many children with autism, struggled with sensory overload, except when he was by the ocean. Israel Paskowitz had been a professional surfer and came up with the idea of taking Isaiah out on the waves. The experiment proved so valuable for Isaiah’s growth that the Paskowitz’s established an organization that would host day camps at the beach so other children with autism could benefit the way Isaiah had.