SAN DIEGO – They’re a unique group of surfers, taking to the water on the third Saturday of each month at Cardiff State Beach. The members vary in age and experience, but they all share a common bond.
Joel Wasserman has 20 years of surfing experience under his feet, but only recently became involved with surf therapy.
“Surfing has helped me to battle depression and anxiety and it’s been a good outlet for me so it’s definitely changed and saved my life,” Wasserman said.
He’s not alone. Through the nonprofit charity, One More Wave, hundreds of wounded and disabled veterans are equipped with custom surfing equipment. With it, they’re able to get in the water and forget their troubles.
“We custom-tailor to their individual need and their individual requirement,” said managing director Kyle Buckett. “A guy or gal might need a surfboard with a reinforced deck; they might need custom fin placement; they might need buoyancy. We’ll tailor that all to what their physical need is.”
“There’s people from all different branches and when you’re connected it feels like family,” Wasserman said. “We come and we meet up and we surf and we have fun. It doesn’t matter your skill level; it doesn’t matter which branch you served in. It just feels like a family. We’re out here to have fun and support each other.”
With the help of more than 600 volunteers across the country, surf therapy has given these veterans a sense of community.
“I’ve taken my role as just to bring the stoke,” Navy veteran William Walter said. “Sometimes, that’s all it is. Pull next to a guy that’s had a bad 24. Come next to him and get him excited just to be alive again.”
Walter joined One More Wave more than a year ago and has seen firsthand the impact surfing can make.
“Regardless if you’re wounded on the outside, there’s a lot of internals — and that’s the one wound that nobody really sees — and we’re trying to combat more out here in this therapy,” he said.
Mental health issues also are addressed through art as veterans can design the exact look and feel of their surfboards.
“We have some veterans that have done these beautiful murals all along the deck or the bottom of their board,” Buckett said, “or we have guys that have put pictures of fallen brothers, names of fall brothers, comrades that they lost oversees, pictures of family members so it’s really up to them.”
“Even though the natural tendency is to want to isolate, you can’t,” Wasserman said. “When you’re hurting, you got to reach out, you got to pick up the phone, you got to call. You gotta go out and do things like surfing to experience life and just hang on for another day, and for another wave.”