VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — An international event is giving local kids with autism the chance to surf.
Surfers Healing travels the world to provide a therapeutic experience for autistic children who sometimes struggle with sensory overload.
Dozens of volunteers and professional surfers came out to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront for the event’s two-day stop in the city.
“We’re riding waves of joy. We’re autism surf therapy. That’s what they’re calling it now, but 20 years ago, it was just rad,” said co-founder Izzy Paskowitz.
Paskowitz started the program with his wife after their son was diagnosed with autism.
“He’s 28 years old. He’s profoundly autistic, but he thrives in the water,” he said.
Because of that, he wanted to help other kids and families by providing them a theraputic experience.
When the program first started, they only worked with 75 kids a year.
Paskowitz says they’re now working with around 6,500, with more than 400 here in Hampton Roads.
“It’s emotional because you see some of these kids screaming and crying but you know there’s going to be a pay off. After 22 years, you know the magic will happen,” he said.
And 12-year-old Virginia Beach resident Eitan Has felt that magic.
It was his first year participating.
“I had a lot of fun. I had a really nice surfer named JR, and I felt really brave by doing this. I think I could surf by myself when I get a little older,” he said.
Haas enjoyed himself and the event.
He has a message for other kids with autism.
“Kids with autism can do whatever they want, when they want,” he said.
Haas’ mother, Nachama, was proud to see all her son accomplished today.
“Eitan, who really grew up in ways that only God would understand, showed he can do anything he wants to with a community of support behind him. I think that’s what’s so incredible here,” she said.
Volunteers, both local and from all over the world, came out to help.
“We’ve got world champion long boarders, top U.S. pro surfers, wave riders, boys from New Zealand and Australia, all the islands of Hawaii, and California,” Paskowitz said.
The program lasts for two days, and it’s next stop is in North Carolina.