About Surfing Santa and Surfers Healing
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel’s Annual Surfing Santa & Stand Up Paddle Board Contest was developed by General Manager Bruce Brainerd in 2010 to benefit Surfers Healing, the original surf camp for children with autism. Honoring the resort’s commitment to support local worthy causes, while embracing Dana Point’s surf culture, the hotel began with a Holiday Surfboard Auction in benefit of Surfers Healing (now in its 12th year), before creating a holiday surf competition. Both events not only highlight the resort’s world-class location overlooking a famous surf break but also their mission to give back to the local community by connecting in a meaningful way. The surf and SUP contest is a two-day event where contestants dress like Santa or other holiday-inspired characters and battle it out in the waves of Salt Creek Beach, located directly below the resort and known as one of the best surfing destinations in Southern California. Since partnering with Surfers Healing, the resort has raised over $390,000 for the non-profit and looks forward to continue making an impactful difference in the lives of children with autism.
Surfers Healing was founded in 1996 by Izzy and Danielle Paskowitz, parents of Isaiah, now a 26-year-old autistic adult. Izzy, a former professional long boarder, has won several of the biggest surf competitions in the world, and he and Danielle are stars of the reality show, The Swell Life, which aired on Oprah’s television network, OWN.
It all started when Isaiah was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Their seemingly perfectly made-to-order young family was far from perfect although. Izzy was devastated when his son was diagnosed with autism. He learned Isaiah never would walk in his footsteps in the sand – he would not grow-up to be a pro surfer like his dad. But soon, Isaiah and Izzy found their connection in the water. Surfing tandem on a surfboard built for two, Izzy would ride the waves with his 5-year-old autistic son and the healing began. Izzy would take Isaiah’s classmates out surfing and each child had the same reaction. With a steady hand to guide them in the water they overcame the hard part – that anxious transition from beach to surfing. Izzy discovered the water brought calm to the autistic children and was soothing to this neurological disorder. Each healing wave sparked a therapeutic response – an awakening and more focus in the kids. Surfing was perfect therapy for a child with autism and so began Surfer Healing. Although Surfers Healing has 5,500 plus participants each year and autism now affects 1 in 68 children in the United States, they don’t think in thousands, they think in “ones,” because that’s where they can effect change. One child. One family. One day at the beach.
Each year, Surfers Healing hosts more than 5,500 children for free one-day surf camps in California, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Rhode Island, and Hawaii, as well as other locations such as Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico. To learn more about the non-profit, please visit www.surfershealing.org.