On Tuesday, Santa Cruz rippers Darryl "Flea" Virostko and Shawn Barney paddled out for a surf at Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz with a handful of injured service members from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and volunteers from the San Luis Obispo-based organization Amazing Surf Adventures. Tuesday was the first day of Amazing Surf's week long-clinic in Surf City.
Down in San Onofre, as part of the festivities leading up to the 2012 Nike Lowers Pro, the San Diego Chapter of Operation Amped, an organization that provides free surf instruction to wounded veterans, will host its first event of 2012.
For a few years now, organizations like Amazing Surf Adventures and Operation Amped have been popping up all over the grid: up and down the California coast, in Texas, Florida, New York, Maine, and across the Atlantic in England.
It's hard to say who came up with the notion of adaptive surfing. A while back I wrote a piece for Surfer magazine and was unable to determine if the creator was a Boston-based physical therapist named Randi Woodruff or Betty Michalewicz, a Brazilian-born Israeli, who is now an exercise physiologist at the San Diego Naval Medical Center. Every Thursday at 8:00 a.m., Betty packs about 15 vets into a Medical Center van and they head to Del Mar State Beach in San Diego for a surf session.
Scientists also think that surfing might be a positive way to reintroduce warriors who spent a lot of time on the front lines to the feeling of adrenaline.
What I was able to determine, though, is that there's really nothing better for wounded veterans than surfing. It’s been proven that mastering a difficult pastime like surfing -- where progress is measurable -- bolsters feelings of happiness and self-esteem.
Scientists also think that surfing might be a positive way to reintroduce warriors who spent a lot of time on the front lines to the feeling of adrenaline. At the very least, surf-based therapy gets vets moving by forcing them out of the rehab clinic. Surfing provides these guys with a renewed sense of freedom. For guys who are dealing with psychological burdens, they’re forced to focus on the ocean for three hours. For the wounded who are missing limbs or are even paralyzed, the water is as an equalizer.
One of the servicemen that I met while reporting my piece was an Army sniper named Joe Serino. Betty told me once that she considers Serino's existence to be a miracle. He lost both of his legs to a roadside bomb in Southern Iraq in 2007 and when I first met him he was on this insane cocktail of extremely powerful pain medicines.
On the days that Joe surfs, though, he doesn't need to take his pain meds. And so almost every Wednesday afternoon, Serino kisses his wife and kids goodbye and gets in his pickup truck and drives four hours from his home in Barstow, California, to Del Mar beach. When I arrive, Serino is tandem surfing on a 12-foot longboard with a local ripper named Johnny O’Donnell (pictured together above).
Joe and Johnny paddle out to the reef at 11th Street and sit 15 yards outside of everybody else in the lineup and catch every big set wave that rolls through. They paddle in unison with incredible pace. Once they’re on the wave Johnny navigates, shouting instructions to Serino, who steers through deep banking turns by shifting his weight from one side of the nose to the other. Their teamwork results in incredibly long, fluid rides, and beachgoers stand at the water’s edge and marvel.
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