Last month at North Cronulla Beach, ‘little miracles’ happened in the waves.
Sharks Have Heart in partnership with Woolooware Bay, sponsored the Surfers Healing free surf camps for people living with autism, and the joy on display was nothing short of magic.
A member of the Australian Committee for Surfers Healing, Christine Fitzgerald said she sees ‘miracle after little miracle’ each day the camps run.
“The kids get to enjoy a day out with like-minded people, with no judgement and total acceptance, it is the most amazing inclusive event,” Fitzgerald said.
It’s not just the kids that benefit, it’s the families and the volunteers themselves who want to come back year after year to witness the triumphs first hand. One such parent is Lara, whose daughter Coralie takes part in the program each year.
Lara sees Cronulla as a perfect location for the families due to its accessibility.
‘‘She goes out there and comes back changed,’’ said Lara on the difference in her daughter once back to shore, being cheered on by the supportive crowd gathering ankle-deep.
Fresh off a flight from Los Angeles, Surfers Healing co-founder Izzy Paskowitz generously sat with me, often pausing to catch up with families who he’s forged connections with in past clinics. A former championship winning pro-surfer, Izzy founded Surfers Healing with his wife, Danielle following his son Isaiah’s autism diagnosis.
“My surfing accomplishments mean nothing compared to turning surfing into this elevated therapeutic sport that heals not just the kids, but the families we meet” said Paskowitz.
Paskowitz spoke about the emotional journey parents of children with autism go through post –diagnoses and how he’s glad programs like his can bring a sense of community and acceptance.
“Surfers Healing volunteers are the best of the best, with the greatest ocean knowledge, surfing ability and greatest asset – which is heart,” said Paskowitz. “Parents of autistic children offen suffer from feelings of isolation, with a lot of their peers not understanding the cues and behaviours of autistic children.”
Paskowitz reflects on the changes to the kid’s behaviour after surfing, becoming less likely to hurt themselves and more willing to try new things, a sense that surfing is their ‘anchor moment’ when they realise they can do anything.
Not only does Paskowitz encourage other sports to be more inclusive, he knows that kids with autism can make great future champions.
“You are going to get more champions come out of these sports, an autistic mind can block out the world and focus on that one sport, you will see them rise to the top because of their disability,” he said.
Surfers Healing aims to come back to the Shire next year, and hopefully partner with local surf clubs to build their capacity to run ongoing inclusive surf clinics.
Having run Skillz4Me, Mega Jaws and All Abilities programs, Sharks Have Heart know that sport belongs to everyone, and everyone should have the chance not just to participate but to become a champion.
Sharks Have Heart in partnership with Woolooware Bay was proud to help sponsor this year’s event.