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Local veteran builds community around surfing

Veterans learning to surf at Pismo Beach
Posted at 5:54 PM, May 28, 2021

On Fridays, veterans and people with disabilities meet up to surf at Pismo Beach.

For Dana Cummings, founder of AmpSurf, it's so much more than surfing.

"My cure is that water and I want to share that with as many people as we can,” he said.

At 8 a.m., veterans drove in or took AmpSurf's new free shuttle from Fresno to the Addie Street Parking Lot.

There, AmpSurf hosts VetSurf, a weekly event to bring veterans together with surf instructors and volunteers and celebrate their community.

Many of the veterans were upfront about the struggles they face after leaving the military.

They said AmpSurf, which provides surf gear and teaches adapted surfing depending on the need, helps veterans get acclimated with each other and the community.

Carlos Soto-Gomez, a Marine veteran, said all vets "Could use moral support, especially when we go through our ups and downs in life and try to adjust to civilian life."

Ashley Swanson, a Navy veteran, said adjusting is “Really hard, but I’m working on it and every day is getting easier. Seriously, it is."

For many, being on the water is an escape from challenges they say are brought on by things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

Cummings explained, “I know for myself, I’ve got PTSD. I used to take a bunch of meds and everything else, and now my doctor tells me, 'go surf.'”

Another veteran, who asked to remain nameless, said, “Because tasks for me are really hard, not only being a TBI survivor, but also a PTS survivor and an MST survivor.”

Cummings says AmpSurf teaches about a thousand people a year, including people with disabilities of all ages, veterans, cancer survivors, and so on.

He started the organization with several other amputees and now they have chapters all over the United States.

Cummings said of his injury, “Wrong place, wrong time. But it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me, too. You know, looking at where I’m at today.”

Another veteran said, “To be full-bodied in the ocean and to just be strong enough to be yourself and to push yourself forward, that was the most empowering thing for me.”

Back in April, AmpSurf launched a shuttle to bring veterans from Fresno to Pismo Beach.

It opened up accessibility so more people could be present in the water and with the community.

“You can’t worry about all the woes in your life, you have to concentrate and be in the moment and it just really helps to really break through those barriers to recover,” Cummings said.

AmpSurf provides the gear and equipment for the surfers.

Surfers meet and suit up at around 8 a.m., receive a dry land lesson at 8:30 a.m., and typically begin surfing by 9 a.m. Surfing goes until 11 a.m.

For more information about AmpSurf's programs, visit ampsurf.org.