Surf, sun and … Santa? Holiday-inspired Surfers Healing event raises funds at Salt Creek – Orange County Register

Santa has some serious surfing skills.

Surfer Goff Stepien dropped into a little wave and then seamlessly went into a headstand, his head balancing on the board while his legs shot up toward the sky as his surfboard moved toward shore.

His red fluffy, signature Santa hat didn’t even come off during the elaborate move.

A “Surfing Santa” contest hit Salt Creek in Dana Point over the weekend. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel hosted the fundraiser to benefit Surfers Healing, a non-profit that helps get kids on the autistic spectrum into the water to surf.

“Today is one of those days, it’s not game on, but it’s celebration on,” said Stepien, of Laguna Beach, his wife dressed up as Mrs. Clause. “That’s the attitude I had today.”

Surfers Healing was started by Izzy Paskowitz, a former pro surfer who once dreamed of having a protege to follow in his footsteps. But he and his wife, Danielle, noticed differences in their child, Isaiah. At first, Paskowitz tried to ignore them. There were few autism resources available at the time.

Paskowitz learned that water helped soothe Isaiah. So he put the child on a surfboard and instantly saw a difference. Then a friend asked if Paskowitz could take his autistic son out on the water. And then another one asked.

Surfers Healing is celebrating 20 years. Since it started, hundreds of thousands of kids with autism have surfed with the nonprofit, all free of charge.

The events are made possible with money raised at events like the Surfing Santa contest. The upscale hotel also holds a Holiday Surfboard Auction with art-adorned boards that also serve as a fundraiser for Surfers Healing, including one created by well-known marine artist Wyland.

Through the years, the event and surfboard auction have raised nearly $300,000 for the charity.

The two-day event, now in its 7th year, brought both surfers and stand-up paddlers to Salt Creek. It was the first year the event expanded to include a SUP category.

“It never ceases to amaze me, every year, how many people come out for the event,” said Deanne French, spokesperson for Ritz- Carlton Laguna Niguel.

Robin Vandekreeke, wearing a Santa hat and a big, white beard, flew in from Sydney, Australia for the event, meeting his brother Michiel, who flew in from Miami. The duo own the brand The Rashie Company, which made the Santa-inspired contest jerseys.

Michiel, known as “Monkey,” joked that his electronic hat that plays music and has blinking lights buzzed when he hit the salt water.

The brothers said the trip was worth traveling the long distance because of the joy their product helped bring to the beach.

“The whole reason we started the company was we saw the smiles on little kids’ faces,” said Robin.

The Holiday Surfboard Auction runs through Dec. 31. Check them out at SurfersHealing.


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