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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 30, 2003

Paskowitz clan's surfers embark on a new mission

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Ma Paskowitz bottom-lines the many-chaptered Paskowitz story by saying, "My family is a surfing family."

Husband Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz is a physician who has written a book on health and surfing. He introduced surfing to Israel. He so loved the sport that he packed their family of eight sons and one daughter into a camper and drove along the West Coast from California into Mexico "in search of the perfect wave."

That search often led the family to Hawai'i. Juliette "Ma" Paskowitz gave birth to at least half of their family at Kapi'olani Hospital. "Numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6 were born there," she says. "I think 7 also."

That kind of relaxed, self-effacing humor is classic Paskowitz. Ma, who is now grandmother to 15 (though she says, "I'm not sure — I haven't counted lately") describes Doc, who is 82, as still the best looking surfer on the beach.

More information on Surfers Healing

For information on the Web, go to www.surfershealing.org.

To reach Ma, call 926-0285.

"When he goes to the beach, not withstanding the fact that he's a little shriveled, most men on the beach do not have the figure that my husband has. The tummy on him is fantastic. "

Doc Paskowitz founded their first surf camp in California, the Paskowitz Summer Surfing Camp, in the early 1970s. Since then, the Paskowitz clan has introduced countless beginners to the world of blue water and sunshine.

Son No. 4, Izzy, a former world longboard champion, now runs the surf camp.

Here's where the epic Paskowitz story starts a new chapter.

Izzy's oldest son, Isaiah, is autistic. Though Ma says Isaiah's autism is severe, he learned to talk, he goes to school and ever since he was a young child, he loves going out in the water with his father.

"When he gets in that water, he is just a completely different person," Izzy says. "Just behavior-wise, it calms him down. And it just makes him happy."

Buoyed by this discovery, Izzy and his wife, Danielle, set out to make surf sessions available for other autistic kids. They formed a nonprofit organization called Surfers Healing and started organizing surf parties for autistic children and their families.

"This summer we took out 400 kids in eight different sessions," says Izzy. Most of those sessions were in California, though one was at New York's Rockaway Beach on Sept. 11, 2001. "I wasn't even planning on that day," he says.

The Surfers Healing events are completely free to the kids and their families. Izzy caters a nice lunch for everyone and enlists the help of his professional instructors and his pro surfing buddies like Kelly Slater and Sunny Garcia to take the kids out, one by one, on tandem longboards.

The kids lie down on the boards, and "they have to go through the white water, they have to feel the water, they have to hear it, they have to taste it, smell it and go over the waves and get out there, and then to ride the board. You see a lot of the kids screaming going out and then saying 'WHEE!' going in."

Says Ma, "When you see them, it's just joyous. It's wonderful. The kids just have the best time. Sometimes they go in screaming and hollering but when they get out, they say, 'More! More!' Sometimes the hardest thing is convincing the parents that the kids will be fine."

"They go, 'Are you sure? Are you sure?,' " says Izzy.

A crew of "spotters" stays in the water just in case, and some of the kids wear life vests, though Izzy is an old hand at keeping non-surfers safe in the water.

"When we do this, there's all this energy the kids have in the water. The parents and siblings come and watch their little guy do something different and not so clinical and textbook but something fun and outside and super cool, something I don't think they'd assume they'd ever do."

Isaiah is 12 now, and after all these years of tandem surfing, he's surfing by himself these days. Izzy got him a soft-topped board and wrote directions and reminders across the top. "He's a goofy foot," Izzy says.

After years of hosting these surfing parties on the Mainland, Izzy wants to do one back home here in Hawai'i. Izzy says he has gotten tremendous support from local pro surfers and beach boys, who have pledged their longboards and their time to run the day. He's putting together sponsorship for the lunch. The date isn't set yet, but will be in the next few months. He'd like to have one party in Waikiki and one in Makaha. All he needs now is to get in touch with families of autistic kids. "Tell 'em call Ma Paskowitz," Ma says.

"To take those kids out on the blue water," Ma says, "oh, it's the thrill of a lifetime. It's so joyful."

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.