Logan got to experience something truly magical, something that will forever hold a warm place in all of our hearts.
On Monday morning, surrounded by the kindest people, kids and families just like ours, she paddled out into the ocean and surfed. Yes, our sweet little girl who cannot walk yet on her own caught some waves.
Surfers Healing. I had not heard of this amazing group of people until a few years ago. We were down at Wrightsville Beach, trying to hold on to every bit of summer before school. As we were headed home I noticed their large crowd and van. I assumed it was one of the many surf competitions that take place, but something seemed different. There were more families, and seemed to be more excitement coming off the beach. I googled it on the drive home, and immediately wanted to turn back. How had I not heard of this before? Especially with my love of the ocean, and the drive to give Logan and the boys the best experiences we can?! From that moment I was hooked, and knew Logan would get her chance.
Surfers Healing came to life out of true love, acceptance, and a parent’s desire to do anything possible for the sake of his child. Izzy Paskowitz, pro surfer, husband and father of two incredible kids, found his world rattled when his youngest was diagnosed with Autism. I remember reading how he felt when they got the diagnosis, and those feelings were all too familiar. What had I done to bring this on? What does this mean for the future I thought we’d have? Why us? Why her??
One day on a beach in Hawaii his son was having a hard time during a surfing championship, and Izzy just threw him into the water. I was so grateful with his honesty about this, because we all have hit a breaking point of some sort. This breaking point was the start of something incredible and life changing. Izzy realized how the water instantly calmed Isaiah, especially after he spent that afternoon hanging out on a longboard with him. He felt connected to his son through a passion of his, a lifestyle that he had always known. He and his wife, Danielle, wanted to share this with other kids like Isaiah, and their first surf camp was born. For over 20 years they have been traveling the world giving this opportunity to kids like Logan. They have been making families like ours feel normal, making it a bit easier to breathe.
Logan has always loved the ocean, and I knew it was a calming place for her. I grew up on the water and was in the ocean any chance I could get. If I could have moved to a little hut on the beach I would have. I even gave up UNC to be at UNCW because I ached for the water. It was always my safe haven, my home, so I thought it was just in her genes. It took me a while to realize that it is actually proven to be therapeutic. Oh those naive years of the beginning of our journey 😉
I started following them on social media, waiting for their sign ups to start. Any family on the spectrum can participate, but it’s on a lottery system. We were put on the waitlist the first year, which was a bummer, but probably for the best. When we were picked this year I could barely breathe! I was super excited for her to experience this, but became extremely anxious. Would she love it? Hate it? Be afraid of the ocean from there on? How will she do on the beach with all of the other families? How would she do on a board with a stranger who doesn’t know her, especially if she can’t communicate? Will she have a meltdown and not even be able to get in the water? Oh I could go on and on. When you have a situation like ours, you have to think of all these things, prepare for the worst. I let this happen far too often, and am learning to get out of my own way here. My emotions for the past couple of months had been all over the place, and the only thing that kept me sane was praying. Praying for a good day for her, and praying she’d feel the same tranquility and excitement as I did when I first paddled out.
We had been talking a lot about what she’d be doing, trying to prepare her. I told her stories of my own, we watched some videos, we worked on her balance, and watched a lot of Moana. I know, not a surfing movie, but you know, “the ocean is a friend of mine”! I tried to prepare her the best I knew how.
We headed to Wrightsville on Saturday night. Thankfully we had a familiar place to stay, just blocks from the event. Jenny and Jason…you guys are awesome and have created such a special place, especially for Logan. We kept the next day pretty low key, as I didn’t want to overwhelm Logan before her big day. David’s parents came down, which gave us a chance to bring the boys to their very first surfing competition…the O’neill Sweetwater Pro-Am Surf Fest. It was really cool because not only did we get to hang out with one of my very best friends, Megan, but we got to watch a girl I knew back when I was living there compete. She was around 3 years old back then, and now travels the world surfing. Amazing! And I got to see her sweet mama too 🙂
The night before started off great. She fell asleep right away in her special hideaway bed. Then, around 2am she was crying. I went in and found her hair tangled in the zipper of the bed. David and I quickly untangled it, trying to keep her as calm as possible. I was sure she’d be up for the night, but thankfully she drifted off fast and sound. That morning she refused to eat anything. This is never a good sign. I think she sensed, probably knew what was coming. I think she was nervous and excited at the same time. So much so that she started melting down when I put her in the car (yes, we drove…too much stuff to cart, and David had broken his big toe!). I carried her and sang to her up until it was time to get things started. Thankfully she calmed down. I honestly think it was the sound of the waves that snapped her out of it. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
The moment we stepped onto the beach we could feel the love and comfort, much more than I expected. The volunteers were eager to help any way they could, and didn’t flinch at Logan’s crying. The families didn’t even notice, which is something you get used to, that typical families don’t have the luxury of experiencing several times a day.
The morning started off with a paddle out to remember fellow surfers who passed away in the community. It was really special because I knew one of them. It was heart warming to have my boys see this, to have them see what a close family the surfing community is. This was then followed by a huge prayer circle, in which Logan was very calm and happy. It was incredible, and gave me chills.
Before we knew it, Logan was getting her life vest on and was swooped into the water. It was a very well run process, one that I’m sure has been perfected over the years. We stood at the shoreline, watched her surfer, Levi, paddle their board out into the perfect setting, and everything came together. The first wave they caught choked us up. Logan did everything right. Levi popped her up and rode with her effortlessly to the shore. They got back on again, paddled out, and caught 3 or 4 more waves. Each time took my breath away. Every time Logan or another kid got up the crowd would cheer. The smiles and expressions on these kids faces were magical. It was amazing.
*She’s on the very left…first wave of the day!
As she rode the last wave in I saw that she was crying. I think it had gotten to be too much for her. I ran to meet them, and barely got a chance to thank Levi, or get a picture of her with him. He said she was doing great up until that wave. When we talk about it now she smiles and laughs, so I know she loved it. I could tell by one of her expressions in a picture, it’s a sweet little face where the smile shines through the squint 🙂
Let me talk about these surfers for a moment. It takes a special kind of person to put their life on hold and do this. Some of these surfers travel with the group from all over the world, and some are local. Each one of them holds something special, something that makes these kids feel comfortable and safe. Something in their hearts that makes them stand out, something that inspires them to share their passion with others in a very selfless way. And, watching them maneuver and control the board with kids of all sizes was incredible. It honestly looked like they were having as much fun as the kids. As I watched Levi with Logan I felt completely secure. Not once was I worried about her safety, and it was as if I just expected him to get up on every wave with her, which they did. Thank you, Levi, for having this kind of gift.
After her heat we hung out on the sand and in the water, just enjoying what just happened. She received her trophy and swag bag, we purchased some gear, and I got to chat with some people I knew who still have the privilege of living there. We even ran into a few friends from Durham, which is always nice!
We left, but could’ve stayed all day. I missed out on getting Izzy to sign my copy of his book, Scratching the Horizon: A Surfing Life, and to thank him and all of the surfers and volunteers. But, we will be back. Even if we don’t get picked, we will come down to volunteer and help in any way we can. We feel like part of a new family, and will be supporters for life. We want other kids and families to experience this, and will help them continue to do so. We are beyond grateful for these souls.
I felt connected to their story, and found a new inspiration to live the best life we can in this special needs world. Their story has helped me to further accept our life, and continue to not care what other people are saying or thinking. Finding people who are truly accepting of Logan and our life can be a challenge, so coming across this group of people who travel the world specifically for these kids and their families is like nothing else. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!
If you’d like to support both Surfers Healing and Pitt Hopkins, check out the items we have in our fellow Pitt mama’s store. All proceeds are donated! *sizes do run small, so order next size up!
If you’d like to learn more about Surfers Healing or to donate, click here.