Operation: Amped unloads the joy of surfing onto Iraq War Vets

Hospitalman 3rd Class, U.S. Navy Randell Leoncio
Imagine you can’t surf. Imagine you can’t swim. Now imagine you lost your leg to an improvised explosive device in Iraq.

All three were true for David Camargo.

He lost his leg in Iraq. He’d never learned to swim and he’d certainly never surfed. But in August, a group of surfers got him and 15 other amputee Iraq war vets out in the water for a three day surf school at Camp Pendleton.

The event was sponsored by Billabong (which brought in its surf camps crew) Stewart Surfboards, San Diego shaper Dennis Murphy and the Wounded Warrior Disabled {{{Sports}}} Project. Former world champion Shaun Tomson was there pushing guys into waves as well. He also donated and signed copies of his book The Surfer’s Code to the vets and gave a talk about surfing, loss and stoke.

“We’ve all lost something,” said Shaun. “My wife and I lost our beautiful baby boy last year. You guys have lost limbs.”

He then went on to relate the story of his father, an elite-level swimmer, who lost function in one of his arms as a result of a zambezi shark attack. Even after, his father never blamed the shark and he still loved the ocean. He still had his stoke.

“The point is, none of this happened for a reason. We didn’t lose our son for a reason. You guys didn’t lose your limbs for a reason. It just happened. And you move on.”

The vets came from as far away as Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Some were in combat less than three months before.

The first day of the three-day event was touch and go, with few of the guys getting up. The second day was about soreness and some success. By the third day, with the help of Tomson and USA Surf Team member Courtney Conlogue, the Billabong crew and a raft of surfer-volunteers, most of the vets were surfing solo and riding waves.

By the afternoon, there wasn’t a board left on the beach. Everyone – volunteer, professional, amputee – was surfing together.

Burn victim and US Navy Chief Petty Officer Peter Johns summed up the day at the afterparty.

Shaun Tomson guides the troops
“I’ve been to a lot of these things,” he said. “Fishing. Rock climbing. And this is the best one I’ve ever been to. You guys really took care of us.”

Said Shaun, “It was a stoker."