Some of them approach the shore in a wheelchair. Others slide a wetsuit sleeve over a prosthetic leg. While many of these soldiers were injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom, they have a new mission: Operation Restoration IV.
No, this is not a military invasion or an attempt at foreign democratization; it is an effort to unleash the healing power of the ocean and share the experience of surfing with injured veterans. The Association of Amputee Surfers (Ampsurf) is hosting the event at Pismo Beach, California from August 13-20.
Offered to wounded veterans, local disabled, and injured active duty servicemen from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, the event will give participants a chance to discover the thrill of surfing. Throughout the week, experienced volunteers will give instruction in surfing and other water sports.
Dana Cummings, Executive Director of Ampsurf, co-founded the organization in 2003 to teach adaptive surfing, and this is the fourth year they have hosted Operation Restoration. "Ampsurf has helped more than 200 disabled, Veteran and non-veteran, to surf," he said. "There is an ongoing, great need to assist those who are serving our country who have had disabling injuries. The ocean, with its quiet healing power, and surfing can restore that person in many positive ways. This year alone, we expect to help more than 200 disabled/veterans."
Not all of the participants are amputees, as some suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or were burned while serving their country. Mario Rodriguez, USAF (Ret.) endured a right hip disarticulation during his duty abroad, and will attend the event for the first time. "When I met Dana Cummings, I was immediately intrigued by what he does, working with disabled vets teaching them to surf," said Rodriguez. "It’s really special because I am and always have been most at home in the water. I am ever grateful for this opportunity to learn and work with the volunteers and my fellow vets, plus I'm looking forward to having a really great time!"
Cpl. John Hyland, another participant, was injured in Iraq on September 11, 2007. On a mission to rescue his fellow soldiers, Hyland's vehicle was targeted by an Improvised Explosive Devise. "I'm thankful to Ampsurf for giving me the opportunity to get back in the water and to make lifelong friends in Pismo Beach," Hyland said.
The event will kick off with a flag ceremony, features a luau, and offers a golf clinic for the participants. The public is invited to the beach on August 14 and 15 to support the troops in their latest oceanic endeavor.
Cummings said one of his goals is that the veterans come away feeling like they've accomplished something they never thought they could do, and he hopes this will inspire them to feel empowered when it comes to trying other seemingly impossible activities. He said, "I honestly think the people who volunteer to come out there and instruct get as much out of it as the participants. You are pushing someone into a wave or helping someone get back on a board, and it just feels so good because you are sharing your passion, which is surfing, with these guys."