There are countless souls across the country and the earth itself who bring hope through action to others. It is because of these spirited minds that others are also emboldened to follow suit and continue to spread a chain of love far from the original catalyst of positive change. Is it not then that life becomes immeasurably more rich when we softly enter into each others lives by serving one another?
There is a man and his family who is active in such a manner. He and his band travel the world spreading goodness, hope, joy, laughter and a deep faith that there is altruistic love out there and that it is seeking to enter into as many hearts as possible. This man is Izzy Pascowitz and his band is called Surfers Healing. Those who know of them can attest to the tremendous gift of time, energy and the monumentally relentless drive Izzy and his merry band of surfers and volunteers bring to the life of individuals on the autism spectrum and with intellectual disabilities, such as Downs Syndrome. Each year they travel half way across the world to far flung lands like Australia and load up their surfing van canvassing America, one mile at a time like committed soldiers of lovingkindness. Their is no cost to the participants for what they do though a great amount of manpower, money and life is spent to make it all happen. In fact, this is what Izzy, a former professional surfer, does with his life. He is like the real Santa Claus, only he gives abstract gifts of joy, hope, love and happiness, instead of material gifts that we can hold in our hands and see with our eyes.
Down to earth and humble, before going back into the water with another participant, Izzy told me that none of the surfing gang gets paid either, aside from getting food (usually a cheeseburger) and lodging when they are working far away from home. It is not about the money. It never was. His definition of success is a marked contrast from the kind of success mainstream American’s are sold on, that of lots of money and material acquisition as the harbingers of a job well done. No, Surfers Healing shatters that supposed ideal and makes a different kind of ‘old school’ success, that of smiles on faces and uplifted hearts of individuals who usually have few to no friends. These are people who find it difficult to communicate as you and I, and are generally limited from living a typical life with all the independence and opportunities for growth that most of us enjoy.
It does take a whole team of people to do what Surfers Healing does year in and year out. Corporate sponsors like the Ford Motor Company help by affording the non-profit organization with custom long boards, the surf van, safety gear, tents and all the knick-knacks that are needed to be a professionally-run organization of scale. Local volunteer groups, as well as police, firefighters and EMT personnel also have become a standard presence in each of the surfing events, making the whole endeavor a united community effort that brings therapy to hearts far away from the actual participating surfers on the waves. Everyone gets something good out of it. Even the local economies get a boost when Izzy and the Surfers Healing gang rolls in to the neighborhood. Their return visits each year are awaited and have become hallmark community events for each of the grateful towns that host them.
I have covered their north-east coast events for two years now with the making of short films to showcase this phenomenon to the world. The concept of social responsibility is emblazoned by each person that puts their shoulder to the plow to make it one perfect day for each person with special needs. No matter how big or small their part is in the orchestrated symphony of simply being their brothers keeper, each helping presence matters and together we make everything function like clockwork.
The therapeutic gift to the heart is untold.
Out in the water, where the real miracles happen, the youth and adults for whom everything is done for intuitively discover the healing effects of surfing on the brain and body. From the proprioceptive blast of waves hitting and surrounding the body, to the executive function skills challenge of staying upright on the moving surfboard, each novice surfer enjoys a thrill like no other, turning apprehension into utter excitement and a desire to go forth and do it again. The ability to manage, orchestrate and direct oneself in a goal-directed and persistent manner is the definition of executive function skills, a set of abilities mostly found to happen in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain (forehead area). With surfing, these “EF skills,” plus the right and left hemispheres of the brain go on-line in an intensive way, creating new neural thinking patterns, or actual brain circuitry which affords new insights, perspectives and modes of thinking not before entertained. To that end, the surfers with special needs become more confident, have a discernible boost in self-awareness, and tend to turn into a special breed of good-natured warriors, even after just catching one wave. Check out these videos below to give you an idea. You can get a birds-eye view on all the action starting on the beach and delving into the waves on youtube.com: CoachBill007.
What is most beautiful is the camaraderie of the team and how Izzy fits into the whole equation. Surely, it takes a village to do all this, but it is Izzy who fuels the fire that stokes the hearts of all involved. It is Izzy’s epic commitment to you and me, to the voiceless, to the physically challenged, to his own family, his country and God Himself, who is love, that keeps everyone going and making Surfers Healing what it is today… a gift to mankind.