By Scott Parent.
Aloha Toronto went off last weekend at the Balmy Beach Club, where a team of SUP surfers and volunteers bodied up to give the thrill of catching waves to children with autism. The paddle-surfers brought jubilation to the kids by paddling them through the bantam-sized waves of Lake Ontario.
The event has taken root from Surfers Healing, a non-profit organization with the vision to enhance the lives of autistic children around the world. Founded by former pro surfer and long board world champion Izzy Paskowitz and his wife Danielle, Surfers Healing was inspired by their son Isaiah, a boy with autism who found his ground in the surf at an early age. Surfers Healing surf camps are well respected in the surf world, with the support of the many surfers that facilitate the events, as well as the Kelly Slater Foundation.
Surfers Healing expanded to Toronto in Aug 2012, with the help of local supporters, and brought with it a band of pro surfers including world champion Garrett MacNamara to establish an annual summer weekend festival.
Aloha Toronto has continued the event with the dedicated work of founder Helen Hatzis, and main sponsor Bluwave Paddleboards, along with support from the Toronto Port Authority, Surf Ontario, SUP Love, Henna Heals, Halau Hula I Ka La, Mahalo Ke Akua, Ontario surfers and volunteers. This year’s live entertainment from The Calrizians and Spirit of Aloha brought warmth to the airwaves while the featherweight swell rolling in remained a ‘balmy’ 60 degrees.
As part of the surf team paddling with these kids, I realized a few things. First, that I know very little about autism. I know nothing about the day-to-day realities of the families. By the end of the day I could not put my finger on any one common characteristic that these children possessed that would help me understand autism any further. But through my experience on the water, interacting with these kids, and watching the other surfers and volunteers throughout the day, I could see one effect they had on the rest of us. They had us mystified.
They place us in a state of wonder at the larger human picture. They can seem remote yet somehow simultaneously more present than many of us. They would be released from their anxieties on the first wave, and would reveal their sense of pure childlike wonder. Their acute sensitivities are mysterious to us; we allow ourselves to go without understanding them, and empty ourselves of any social pretext. We dial in on their wonder and ride with them in that place of enigmas and what is unknown to us.
Setting out to give these kids the thrill of wave riding, we found ourselves recipients of something more: the invisible mystery of ourselves, all of us, and how we experience each other and relate to one another. Getting these kids out for a rip in the waves allows their wonder to express itself without restraint. It amounts to a formidable swell that, for these surfers, will come but once a year.