It may still be winter in much of the country, but a small group of surfers in the Charleston, SC area are waxing down their boards and getting ready to take on the waves. The difference between these surfers and regular ones is that these guys are all disabled combat veterans and they belong to the Warrior Surf Foundation.
Founded in May 2015 in Folly Beach, SC by combat veterans and surfers, the Warrior Surf Foundation works to help veterans addresses post-combat mental health issues such as PTSD, Moral Injury, and Survivor's Guilt as well as provide rehabilitation for combat-related injuries.
After serving multiple combat tours as a Marine, Andrew Manzi returned home suffering from debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder, and combat injuries. After struggling to find his way for several years, Andy discovered surfing and was instantly hooked.
Tyler Crowder completed multiple combat deployments as an Army medic. Between deployments he found solace from the daily stress of seeing first-hand the casualties of war in surfing. After being medically discharged he moved to the Charleston area and returned to surfing during his off time.
When the two met on the beach and discussed their wartime and veteran experiences, they found that surfing was helping both of them cope with their wartime experiences and adjust to civilian life, the Warrior Surf Foundation was born.
From April to December the Warrior Surf Foundation conducts 6 week long surfing camps for veterans, active service members, and their families in Folly Beach, SC. The camps provide an outdoor therapy environment using structured and supervised physical therapy (in the form of surfing) as an alternative to prescription medication to assist in the treatment of post-combat mental health issues. The surfing camps, as well as all equipment are free to enrollees.
A staff therapist works with the veteran and surfing instructor to create an individualized program, offer peer support, recognize triggers, and work to help strengthen the individual's resiliency and overall wellness in the healing process.
The physical challenges of surfing and sense of belonging to a like-minded group of people provides veterans with a sense of purpose, helps them overcome anxiety with social situations and crowds, and creates a sense of self-worth and achievement. The veteran can break the cycle of post-combat inactivity by getting out on a surfboard and engaging in some fun physical activity, at the same time they are interacting with a group of individuals who have all lived through similar situations. The physical and social aspects of the group work together to heal the mind and body.
Many veterans keep quiet about the post-combat symptoms that affect them and their families, and often they don't want to deal with the all the hassle of the VA or other large institutions that offer help. The Warrior Surf Foundation is open not only open to veterans with mental health issues, those with physical injuries are also encouraged to attend, as are all veterans and their families. Manzi believes that family involvement is not only good for the veteran, he says that spouses can also benefit greatly from interacting with others who have lived through similar circumstances. The spouses can get support and coping strategies from others who have lived through the stress of seeing their partner deploy and come back a changed person.
The group is hoping to expand to the Camp Lejeune, NC area soon. In just one year, they have provided services to over 90 veterans and active-duty members through their weekend surf camps. Every weekend you can see current surf camp members on the beach along with graduates and their families. They discuss life, tell war stories, cook some hot dogs, and of course surf. Because surfing's not a sport, it's a way of life!