Wounded Warriors Hit the Waves


MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.   — Operation Amped held a three-day surf camp for Wounded Warriors at the San Onofre Beach on Camp Pendleton, Aug. 10 through Aug. 12.

The sport therapy camp provided surfing lessons to rehabilitating injured service members.

"Surfing is a very spiritual and therapeutic experience and we thought that this activity would be very beneficial for our wounded warriors," said Joseph E. Gabunilas, co-founder of Operation Amped.

The non-profit organization offered a weekend at the beach to participants and their families and provided food, lodging and entertainment at no cost to the Wounded Warriors.

"It's a very low-key event where the warriors can relax and get their minds off the challenges and worries of life," said Gabunilas. "We wanted them to come out here and just have a wonderful weekend at the beach."

Participants like Chris Small, a retired Marine Corps sergeant and avid surfer, wasted no time paddling out to ride the first wave of the weekend.

"If you've never surfed before it can be hard. It can be frustrating," said Small. "You might begin to question yourself on why you're out there."

Small, a left leg amputee, has been attending the Operation Amped surf camps for the last two years and now assists other disabled participants with the beginning difficulties of surfing.

"They see someone else with a disability going out there surfing and I think that helps motivate them to try a little harder and stick with it," said Small.

Volunteers, known at the camp as "surf buddies" were assigned to each participant throughout the event and help participants in and out of the water.

"If a warrior is in the water, we'll have three to four surf buddies with him," said Gabunilas "We try to keep (the surf buddies) with the same warrior to create that bond and that interpersonal relationship when they're all in the water.”

Before ending each night, the campers gathered around a fire pit and shared stories of there lives.

"For these three days, we commune as a group, we get to know one another, we laugh and talk," said Gabunilas. "We showed a surf movie last night and tonight we're doing karaoke so we'll have the (warriors) get up and sing."

Rather than sleep in one of beachside cabins, some participants and volunteers chose to get the full outdoors experience by setting up tents by the shore.

These warriors are going through a lot. Not only are they trying to get through there therapy but eventually they will be getting out of the service and we're trying to help them through that transition, said Gabunilas. "We're here to serve them, to bring them a little happiness and to put a smile on their faces."

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