Two local organizations team up to raise money for autism surf camps

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A volunteer with Surfers Healing helps a child with autism experience the thrill of riding a wave in Wrightsville Beach. The local non-profit is teaming up with Indo Jax Surf Charities to raise money for this year's camps. Photos contributed.
A volunteer with Surfers Healing helps a child with autism experience the thrill of riding a wave in Wrightsville Beach. The local nonprofit is teaming up with Indo Jax Surf Charities to raise money for this year’s camps. Photos contributed.

Surfing may be considered an individual sport, but John Pike isn’t paddling out alone.

The founder of the local chapter of Surfers Healing is teaming up with Indo Jax Surf Charities this weekend to raise money for summer surf camps that serve children with autism.

Rock for Autism is set for 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday at Courts & Sports Bar and Grill. The benefit includes eight live bands–Bare Noble, Chip Gideons, Fresh Batch, The Highland, The MidAtlantic, Waking Tera, Young Cardinals and Fuzz Jackson–as well as a dodgeball tournament, cornhole competitions, volleyball, face painting and more.

Admission is $5 ($10 if you want to play dodgeball) and all proceeds will help pay for the two nonprofit organizations’ efforts to give children with autism a chance to hit the waves with some pros.

This is the first time Surfers Healing and Indo Jax have partnered on a fundraiser, but the collaboration actually began years ago on the water.

Pike started Surfers Healing nearly a decade ago here in Wrightsville Beach after his own son, Gianni, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. With chapters up and down the east coast, Surfers Healing was founded by legendary surfer Israel Paskowitz and his wife, Danielle, to help their autistic son.

Paskowitz’s own struggles resonated deeply with Pike.

“I needed to find a way to help myself, to help my son,” he recalled. “I wanted to find a way to help other people, especially fathers.”

Dubbing it “One Perfect Day,” Pike began pulling in top-name riders from across the country for a one-day camp that allowed children with autism to experience the thrill of being on a board. The camps quickly got national attention, drawing in families from as far away as Alaska.

California native Viorel said when he happened upon “One Perfect Day” in action, he was instantly hooked.

“I was surfing and walking down the beach and I see these guys really ripping it up with little kids on the front of their boards, and I thought, ‘Man, that’s awesome. I want to do that,'” Viorel said.

He was a teacher at St. Mary Catholic School, which had a program serving children with HIV.

Inspired by John Pike's Surfers Healing efforts, Jack Viorel founded Indo Jax Surf Charities to serve children with a host of disabilities.
Inspired by John Pike’s Surfers Healing efforts, Jack Viorel founded Indo Jax Surf Charities to serve children with a host of disabilities.

Inspired by Pike, Viorel decided he would volunteer to take those kids out surfing. From there, the calls kept coming in from all sorts of groups serving children with special needs and Indo Jax was born.

“Surfing can be a tool to help any child, no matter where they’re at. You take a child out surfing–especially if [he or she is] dealing with some sort of self-esteem issues–and there are just all these life lessons just sitting out there in the water,” Viorel said. “When you ride a wave, there is no other feeling like it. You’re one with the world turning.”

Among those Indo Jax now works with are the Community Boys and Girls Clubs, Burmese refugees, Wounded Warriors, and people living with autism, visual impairments, hearing impairments and juvenile diabetes.

Read related story: Indo Jax Surf Charities: Empowering children through surfing across the globe

Like Surfers Healing, all of Indo Jax’s Surf Charities outings are offered for free.

“There is a saying, ‘most people don’t wipe out, they bail.’ Well, I’m wiping out on this. I’m not going to bail. I want to serve as many kids as I can…to expose them to that new environment,” Viorel said.

“He doesn’t say no,” Pike said of his friend. “He’s the yes man.”

Pike can relate. With an overwhelming number of children signing up for the annual Surfers Healing camps each summer–and unhappy with having to turn anyone away–Pike turned to Viorel for help.

Now, Indo Jax picks up after “One Perfect Day” winds down, allowing for autistic children who didn’t get to go out with Surfers Healing another opportunity, or giving those who want to go out again another chance.

Pike and his team of pro surfers–all volunteers–will take out about 250 kids at each one-day camp.

If the money is there, Surfers Healing also will pick a family–particularly one that would never otherwise get to see the ocean–and pay for their stay in Wrightsville Beach.

That is why events like Rock for Autism are so crucial, both men agreed.

And they said the community support they have already received is overwhelming.

“It’s unbelievable,” Pike said. “When I told people I was going to start doing this, they just opened up their wallets.”

Having witnessed Surfers Healing in action completely by accident years ago, Viorel knows why. And he can describe it one word.

“It’s just infectious,” he said.

This year’s Surfers Healing “One Perfect Day” camp is set for Aug. 18. Indo Jax will then continue autism surfing camps from Aug. 19-22.

More information can be found at www.surfershealing.org and www.indojaxsurfschool.com.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com