In the iconic opening scene of the television show Hawaii Five-O, a monster wave comes crashing down as the show’s name displays across the screen.
Actor Scott Caan appears in the show as Danny “Danno” Williams and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film in 2011.
Caan, son of the famous actor James Caan, grew up in Los Angeles and started surfing when he was “12 or 13 years old”. Since 2005, he has channeled that passion into volunteering his time with Surfers Healing, a non-profit organization that helps children with autism by taking them out on a surfboard and catching a wave.
Scott was introduced to the organization when he was surfing at Malibu at the same time Surfers Healing had an event that day. There were over 100 kids and about one instructor for every 20 kids. Since the waves were low, local surfers were recruited to help out and Caan volunteered. He’s been doing it ever since, sometimes up to six days a year.
As challenging as the surf environment can be, helping autistic kids surf presents its own set of problems.
“A lot of autistic kids don’t like to be touched,” observed Caan in a 2009 interview with ABILITY magazine. “A lot of autistic kids are initially timid about getting into the ocean, so we kind of have to grab them, yank them, hold them down on the board, paddle them out, and force them to do it. But I would say six times out of ten times, kids who were kicking and screaming not to get into the water are pleading to surf once we take them back to shore. They’re like, ‘One more! One more! One more!’”
Things can also get difficult for the instructor’s personal safety as well. “I’ve had kids who would kick and scream when we’re paddling out there,” recalled Scott in a 2012 interview with Hawaii Five-0 Online. “One was scratching my face and trying to choke me. We get one wave and he goes completely calm and just points back out to the water for one more.”
Despite the hardships, Caan has formed some special friendships through these sessions, not only with other volunteers, but with the kids themselves.
“But it’s really amazing. I mean, I have this girl that I take all the time named Olivia,” Caan remembers. “She’s nine years old and she’s deaf and she’s autistic, and she does not want to get out of the water when we’re done. When I say it’s time to stop surfing and we paddle in, she throws a tantrum and gets mad at me and pouts and gives me dirty looks for an hour.”
When the Oprah Winfrey Network did a reality show based on the lives of Izzy and Danielle Paskowitz, founders of Surfers Healing, cameras videorecorded Scott paddling out at one of the events.
Scott feels very gratified with his time spent at these events. “Honestly, it’s almost a selfish thing, because the joy you get out of helping someone do something they can’t do without you is second to none,” he feels. “It’s one thing to donate money or support a cause, but to be the person who’s actually physically helping someone is amazing.”
Scott has taken his surfing and volunteerism to another organization, Life Rolls On, which helps surfers with spinal cord injuries get back into surfing.
These pictures have been graciously supplied by Kristina Bant Jenkins, professional photographer and mother of a 7-year-old son with autism. Her son was diagnosed before age two and has recently dropped the non-verbal label. Kristina has taken him to Surfers Healing for many years and he is now hooked on the surfboard. She donates her time to both Surfers Healing and THERAsurf.