Wednesday, May 2nd– A flock of tattooed men in neon green rash guards gathers in the ocean for what seems to be the average Cocoa Beach surf lesson. However, as prosthetic limbs stand up on foam boards, courage and determination leak through the thick skin of these forceful veterans. With smiles stretched from ear to ear and charismatic stances, Operation Surf manages to bring the surfing community together regardless of disabilities.
Operation Surf first began in 2006 in San Luis Obispo, CA. Van Curaza is the founder of Amazing Surf Adventures, the non-for-profit company that hosts Operation Surf. Curaza created Amazing Surf Adventures through his zest and dedication of surfing with a vision for helping at risk youth. Growing up he recognized that surfing was a positive outlet for him as he struggled with addiction. As an instructor for over 30 years, Van successfully helped disabled students- many of them wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars- catch and ride waves for their first time. Operation Surf was inspired through his enthusiasm to help underprivileged and wounded people. The program teaches active duty and veteran participants how to surf over the period of one week.
Unfortunately, throughout history when we send our troops to war many come back with problems such as PTSD, suicidal thoughts and missing limbs. Some soldiers never make it back home. Operation Surf helps these veterans regain strength, optimism, and a sense of belonging.
“Operation Surf has been amazing and life changing for me,” said 39-year- old Marine veteran Joshua Frey. With Dr.’s insisting on amputation, Frey never gave up hope and has received a total of 22 surgeries to save his right arm. “I got shot in 2004 in my right shoulder in Fallujah. When you get hurt, normally you want to hide. I use exercise to escape but there is a lot of stuff inside of my head that I try to get rid of and surfing is the perfect remedy. Thanks to Operation Surf I consider myself a part of the community and surfing community now.”
In total, this was the 16th Operation Surf event held, and the second Operation Surf event to be organized in Cocoa Beach. Anywhere from 10-25 active duty and veteran participants are normally active in the event.
“I feel pure peace and happiness when I am surfing,” said 32-year-old Army Veteran Joel Ramos. “After coming to the first event last year I decided to move to Cocoa Beach. Surfing makes me feel like I can do anything, it is simply amazing.” Joel has a prosthetic left leg, yet that does not keep him from enjoying the thrill of surfing waves. After being at Army Brooke Medical Center for his injuries, he was referred to Operation Surf where he was able to regain ambition and passion.
Amanda Curaza, COO and wife of Vance Curaza, explains the healing effects of Operation Surf and how it works to settle issues such as PTSD.
“Throughout the week they experience mental and physical challenges,” said Curaza. “For guys with PTSD and injury problems Operation Surf can trigger things at first. For example, trust issues are a major factor with these men; some have lost the ability to trust. However, we pair them with a surf instructor for one week and work together through these challenges.”
What is more, the community is brought together by Operation Surf. Volunteers help organize the event, and the appreciation participants feel is immense. A sense of coming together is felt throughout the entire event, as if though surf instructors and volunteers are helping to put the pieces of something that was once lost together again.
“My heart fills with joy and happiness when you can take a guy from having extreme PTSD and suicidal thoughts to a whole new zest for life,” said 45-year-old surf instructor Buddy Evans.
Operation Surf will be held through March 7th in front of the Hilton Hotel in Cocoa Beach. In the future, the organization plans to branch out to the UK so that veterans in the UK can share the stoke. If you or a friend are interested in volunteering visit this website: http://vols.pt/iSM2gZ