Elah Paskowitz and her family use the ocean in the most incredible way
Elah Paskowitz connects her lifetime love of surfing, her family, and the healing aspect of the ocean to help kids with autism around the world. Paskowitz grew up surfing alongside her championship surfer father Izzy Paskowitz. The Surfers Healing camp was created by Paskowitz's parents after seeing the waves soothe their son Isaiah who has autism, and they wanted to help other children like him. The camp brings phenomenal surfers together to lead these children to the therapeutic effect of the sport. She lives for just a single moment of change surfing can bring to these kids.
Where is your happy place? The beach is my happy place, 100%. It is my home. I grew up on the beach!
What is your favorite style of bathing suit? Definitely a two-piece, but it must be comfortable!
Do you surf? I do surf. My father, Izzy Paskowitz, taught me. I learned at a young age!
Please tell us about Surfers Healing. My brother Isaiah was diagnosed with Autism at the age of two. He and I are only 18 months apart so growing up together was interesting. My dad ended up paddling out with Isaiah one day after he was having a meltdown—his behavior was bad at this point in his life and my parents were hitting a wall—but something about floating out in the ocean calmed him. Something about feeling the ocean splash him gave him peace. And riding that first wave changed his behavior. My parents saw the joy it brought him. They saw a calmness come over him that they had never seen before. That feeling of seeing Isaiah happy is what started Surfers Healing, and now we are able to share this amazing therapeutic sport with so many families. We now travel all over the world with the best surfers so we can share this experience with other kids like Isaiah and other parents like my own. It may not be a cure, and who knows if anyone will ever find one, but to be able to change one day for these children, or even one moment, is what we live for. The joy on the kids faces and the tears from their parents’ eyes will never, ever stop affecting me. To be able to just hang out on the beach, knowing that nobody is going to judge your child for making weird noises or whatever it may be, is so comforting. It’s cleansing for kids and parents.
Can you tell us about one of those moments? I recall years ago this little boy on the beach crying his eyes out, kicking and screaming, biting, clawing, trying to run away. His poor mother was only trying to check him in and get him to sit down, it wasn’t even time to surf yet. When it was his turn to surf she came up to my mom crying from stress and she just knew he wasn’t going to get in the water. My mom walked away with her in private and convinced her to let my dad at least try. My mom knew that exact feeling and I could see them both crying together. It took some time but she agreed. My dad came over with one of the volunteers to get the boy. They picked him up and carried him to the water. We were standing on the beach together and his mother was shaking and crying watching her son having a horrible tantrum as he was getting onto the board. I remember my mom saying to her over and over crying, “It’s OK, it’s OK it’s OK.” My dad paddled out with the child so far. He just kept going. They sat out there for awhile, and after what felt like forever, they paddled in for a wave and caught one in. The closer they got I could see this kid’s huge smile. They rode right up on shore and he was beaming with joy, laughing so loud. His mother literally collapsed in relief. Tears were pouring from her face to see her son like that. She held onto my mom and dad, hugging them so hard. I remember thinking, Wow, it’s so much more than surfing, This moment is life-changing for these kids and parents—even if it’s just one day. What these families go through at home is hard as fuck! Can I say that? My dad later told me they paddled out so far and stayed out so long because dolphins swam around them and that’s when he stopped crying.
What was it like growing up with an Autistic brother? That is always a funny question for me only because I never knew any different. I guess it’s my “normal.” But it wasn’t easy. I’ve always been very protective of Isaiah. I always wanted to protect him from judgment. It’s hard to watch him struggle, especially when he was younger, like 10 or 12, and he knew something was wrong with him. He used to say to me and my parents, “I wanna to fix this little boy.” Every single time he would say it it would shatter my heart in a million pieces. He really carved a sensitive person inside of me. Isaiah doesn’t speak much at all, he isn’t very verbal. Just basic speech. But watching his struggles throughout life hurt me. It always will. I will always be here for Isaiah; he’s my baby brother.
What do you wish people who are not informed of Autism knew more about? I wish more people would know that Autism has a huge spectrum. There’s all different kinds of levels and each individual kid is different. Yeah, there’s basic autism behavior, but they are all different. Some kids are so extremely severe with zero words and behavior issues and then there’s some who just seem a little “socially off.” I hear people say all the time that autism isn’t that bad...but you have no idea.
What kind of family do you have now? I have three kids. Being a mother is my most favorite thing to do. My husband is my biggest supporter. He rocks my world.
Let’s talk tattoos. Who does your work? My tattoos are done by a few different people. But my most favorite artist is my lovely friend Jaclyn Greb.
What’s the ink behind your ear? That’s a cross behind my ear. I’m Catholic and I love religious art so much.
And your neck piece? My neck tattoo is a quote from a song from my favorite movie ever, Labyrinth with David Bowie. “Babe with the power,” from “Magic Dance.” I love David Bowie and that’s been my favorite song since I was four years old.
What will be your next piece? My next tattoo I’m going for will be a Sacred Heart on my arm. I overthink my tattoos sometimes...well, at least my big ones, ha ha. I’m going on a year now wanting a Sacred Heart and I’m finally committing!