08/24/2013 06:10 EDT | Updated 10/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Children with autism learn to surf on Lake Ontario

About 300 children with autism are riding the waves of Lake Ontario this weekend in a free learn-to-surf program being offered by a California couple.

Izzy and Daniel Paskowitz started the Surfers Healing program after their son was diagnosed with autism at age three.

"We were young and desperate when Isaiah was diagnosed and we pretty much gave our life savings to alternative therapies," said Izzy.

Nearly 3,000 children across North America participate in the program every year, and it's being held in Toronto for the second time.

Calvin Berry watched from the shore at Cherry Beach on Saturday as his eight-year-old son C.J. stood up on the board as it moved across the water.

"It soothes him," Berry said. "It's good for his mind and body and it's something we're going to take up more seriously."

The program is sponsored by private donors and attracted some well-known athletes who volunteered their time to help teach the children.

Garrett McNamara holds a place in the record books for surfing a 30-metre wave off the coast of Portugal, but says this camp gives him so much more.

"This kind of recharges me," he said. "Working with the children and their families and sharing our sport."

The CBC's Natalie Kalata said experts aren't exactly sure why surfing is therapeutic for autistic children, but parents told her it's making a real difference.

Janice Yuen, a mother whose child is participating in the camp, said it comes down to a difference in body awareness.

"In the water, your body is actually pushing against the water, they feel more relaxed," she said. "They feel more calm and they have more body awareness for sensory issues."