Operation Surf marks 10 years of getting vets on boards


CAPITOLA, California -- The similarities between surfers and Soldiers struck Van Curaza.
The owner of Amazing Surf Adventures of San Luis Obispo, California, he's been on a board since 1979.

"These two groups share the adrenaline rush that comes from participating in dangerous activities," Curaza said on a break from getting a disabled veteran familiar with a surfboard at the beach here.

Operation Surf celebrated its 10th year of teaching disabled veterans how to surf in this central coast town 40 miles north of the Presidio of Monterey from March 22-28.

Several service members from the installation, primarily from the BOSS program, volunteered at the event March 24-25.

"Operation Surf sounded like a good opportunity to give back. Some of these veterans have given limbs and others have problems they're facing so I'm glad to be here," said Lance Cpl. Daniel Lewis, an Arabic student from the U.S. Marine Corps Detachment. "I may experience something like this in the future when I become a veteran."

Curaza used surfing to help him recover from substance addiction. When Americans were mobilizing to care for combat veterans in 2009, he theorized the healing waters of the ocean and compassionate mentorship in learning to surf would assist wounded veterans in overcoming challenges and reintegrating into civilian life.

"Veterans tell me they feel like the world is in control of them," Curaza said. "But when they leave us, they feel like they have control of what's going on in the world."

Airman 1st Class Aeren Kakumu of the 314th Training Squadron volunteered March 24 and 25.

"I found out that Operation Surf is associated with Wounded Warriors, which is a charity I've supported all my life," the Korean student said. "These veterans out here surfing have given their all. I wanted the chance to give something back."

BOSS program coordinator Cassondra Gonzalez joined her troops at the beach March 25.

"I originally signed up to help with the lunch booth, but the need was really out on the sand, moving a few surf boards and providing the veterans with water," she said. "The rest of my time was cheering, clapping, and encouraging the surfers."

Her favorite part of the day, Gonzalez said, was when vets and volunteers took a break to eat lunch together.

"That gave us all a chance to mingle and get to know everyone participating in this awesome event," she said.