Surfers Healing began with a journey.
When I (co-founder Israel “Izzy” Paskowitz) was growing up, my family wasn't like other families. My dad, surfing legend and Stanford M.D. Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, wanted his 9 children to have the wisdom that comes from life experience. So instead of living in a house, we lived in a small camper, traveling in search of our next wave. (Check out the Surfwise documentary to learn more.)
All this helped me achieve my dream of becoming a professional surfer. I won major titles, major endorsements, major respect. In 1987, I married the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen, Danielle. Then our first child, Israelah, came along. My life was perfect.
Isaiah, our second child, was perfect too: handsome, laughing, smiling. But then he began to regress. He stopped speaking and hitting developmental milestones. Diagnosis? Autism.
I was in shock, denial, and disbelief. What about the child I thought I had? My dreams were dashed, and I wondered what I'd done to deserve this unexpected blow.
I didn't want to deal with it. I couldn't deal with it. So I threw myself into my work, avoiding home as much as possible. Paralyzed, I feared that I'd let my family down, that it was my fault.
But I had to get past all that. I had to get over myself and start thinking about Isaiah. I began taking him with me everywhere. I stopped caring what people said or thought.
Fortunately, I met some amazing people who loved Isaiah exactly as he was. Thanks to them, I learned to embrace, rather than fight, the reality of my son's differences.
The scene: the beach, opening ceremonies of the World Longboard Championship in Haleiwa, Hawaii. The problem: Isaiah was having a meltdown.
My wife tried to calm him, but she had her hands full. Not knowing what else to do, I picked Isaiah up and heaved him into the ocean.
When his head popped up, a transformation had taken place; here was a happy, smiling, peaceful child. What else could I do but jump in with him? A friend grabbed a longboard, and Isaiah and I rode the waves for the first time.
He loved it. He loved the ocean; he loved being out on the board together. And me? I was beside myself, because I was finally connecting with my son.
We could surf together, and that was enough.
I believe that Isaiah responded so dramatically to the ocean that day because it helped calm him during a time of sensory overload. It was a therapeutic experience for him. There's something powerful about the weightlessness or floating, the lightness of riding a wave. And our family has seen that transformation time and time again with Isaiah.
That day in Hawaii, I had a feeling that maybe, just maybe, surfing might help other kids with autism like it had helped Isaiah.
With that in mind, Danielle and I began inviting other families to join us in the water. We founded Surfers Healing, the original surf camp for children with autism, in 1996.
Since then, Surfers Healing has grown tremendously. Now, we offer free surf camps for children with autism across the country, from San Diego to Rhode Island. We also have camps in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Each year, we surf with thousands of children with autism.
Our daylong camps are about acceptance, respite, and fun. (I call it, “Extreme Special Ed.”) Surfing isn't a cure for autism, but you'd be surprised at the difference a day at the beach can make. It's amazing to see what our kids can do, and how they light up as they learn.
Isaiah is in his twenties now, and the autism I once thought was a curse turned out to be a precious gift. It is an honor to be Isaiah's father, to see Surfers Healing grow and flourish. Every child is beautiful and unique, and every child deserves a moment in the sun.
See you at the beach!
Israel and Danielle Paskowitz
Co-Founders, Surfers Healing
Izzy and Danielle Paskowitz, Co-Founders of Surfers Healing
Reagan Studios is an award-winning production company led by internationally-recognized director and cinematographer, Collins Reagan. The studio is known for their up-close and heartwarming approach to documentary filmmaking, educational projects, music videos, and weddings.
Reagan Studios began as the creative outlet of Keith Collins Reagan, Sr. "I was the dad who made the videos at the end of baseball season or summer camp," remembered Keith thinking back on the early years of the business. "In fact, our logo is derived from a photo of Collins on a zip line at Passages Adventure Camp."
My first wedding was April 8, 2010. After that, I branded the company as Keith Reagan Film & Video," recalled Keith. The business steadily expanded adding commercial projects including music videos for bands, and in July of 2014, "Flowers Ain't Gonna Fix This" by Lindsey Highlander (filmed and edited by Keith and his team) reached #1 on CMT's Pure 12-Pack Country Music Video Countdown.
Then in October of 2014, Keith was diagnosed with cancer. A frequent assistant camera operator of Keith's, Collins stepped in to run the business. With some initial assistance from the generous Kirby Martin of Kirby Martin Cinematography in Charlottesville, Collins was able to maintain the complete wedding schedule until Keith's recovery in 2015. "I'm in remission now and back to normal," said Keith. "Except that I grew out my hair and added a beard. HaHa!"
Keith got his undergraduate degree at William & Mary, and he studied Portfolio Management at The Wharton School of Business through the Merrill Lynch program. But these days, you can usually catch him in a Duke shirt as THAT is where he was treated for cancer. "I used to be a UNC fan," Keith admits. "But after six months at Duke, people started giving me shirts and sweatpants and teddy bears with DUKE written on them. Then in 2015 - the year I was cured - Duke won the NCAA tournament (again). I realize that the basketball team did not cure my cancer, but it's still fun rooting for them because of how I feel about that place."
Throughout his high school and college years, Collins continued his work behind the camera, building Keith's part-time hobby into a full-time career. After VCU, Collins took the lead as primary cinematographer, drone pilot, and on-site director. "I love capturing the raw emotion present at weddings. It's the best day of these people's lives, and we get to experience that every weekend," noted Collins.
As the new President and co-owner of Reagan Studios, Collins reflects on his passion: "Finding the right composition and lighting is something I truly enjoy. I appreciate live shoots and time on set with talent. And while we have expanded a great deal on the commercial side, I'll always love filming weddings and it will remain a core part of our business. For Keith, editing is still his favorite. When I was younger, he told me the only reason he bothered filming was to have something to edit; and he is very active in that role. He didn't just start the studio, he's a valuable part of the team."
Due to the natural growth of the business, Reagan Studios employs photographers and other cinematographers for various projects as needed. But a Reagan is still at the helm. The second generation of Reagan Studios plans to stay small and focus on quality. "We have no plans to use rookie camera crews to flood the market," Collins observed. "We would rather remain serious artists, and deliver superior film to our clients than become a big video production company."
Visit Reagan Studios website to discover their diverse range of award-winning film production work.