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Operation Surf helps veterans recover by teaching them how to surf

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Posted at 7:55 AM, Feb 11, 2022

'Ocean healing' is a common term among surfers - referring to how being in the water is therapeutic - emotionally, physically and spiritually.

In a story that is Positively Central Coast, we take a look at how a local veteran finds new perspective, thanks to the Avila Beach-based non-profit, Operation Surf, teaching him how to surf.

“I've experienced a lot of, you know, hardship within the military and even before for the military, a lot of my pain comes from from before the military, but it was enhanced while I was in the military, you know?” said Dylan Henry, Operation Surf alumni and Army veteran.

Serving 9 years in the Army, now continuing with the national guard, Henry’s military experience has taken a toll on his mental health.

“We're on the front line, we're out there just going toe-to-toe with the enemy. I mean that's our job. A lot of the pain caused after war is something that really sticks to us a lot and that we share," said Henry.

Last year, Henry stumbled upon Operation Surf while walking around Avila Beach.

He quickly discovered - as a veteran - it was about to change his life significantly for the better.

“Operation Surf is a surfing program to help utilize and maximize the healing powers of the ocean to revitalize community, restore hope and bring community,” said Van Curaza, founder of Operation Surf.

A former professional surfer and working through his own recovery, Curaza started the organization to help people through their physical, mental or spiritual challenges.

The organization now has a major focus to help those who have sacrificed so much for our country.

“You know, our wounded military are very important to - not only our our house, our community, our county, our state and our country. We need to care for them," said Curaza. "We need to make sure that we do everything we can to make sure that you know, they can transition back into a healthier way of living and I think surfing can do that.”

Henry is one of many veterans who graduated from OS6, a six-month surf program.

“The whole program you know, it's just, it was very healing for me and everything that he talked about was about healing through the ocean and just when you're out there nothing else matters. It helped me find peace within myself,” said Henry.

Curaza said, “I think the biggest transition that you can see are the people that don't think they need it, and they find out they needed everything that they were experiencing.”

For many Operation Surf graduates - surfing is just the beginning - with many choosing to pay it forward.

“I definitely relate to all the veterans coming back and seeing their pain and being able to give them the tools it was necessary to come back to life, so to speak," said Henry.

He adds, "To sit there with them and be vulnerable - that's what it's about because we're not vulnerable. We don't like talking about our feelings because that's what we're not taught in the military. We're taught to suppress it.”

“My journey - I realized that helping and focusing on others helps me get through my challenging times," said Curaza. “That's the biggest gift - is helping other people.”

With Operation Surf’s six-month program, veterans make a commitment to each other to surf as a group at least twice a week.

On February 12th, there will be a meet and greet for the next session.

Find more details on the Operation Surf website.