How veterans are finding peace and healing through Santa Cruz surf program

Dustin Dorsey Image
Wednesday, March 20, 2024
How veterans are finding peace through Santa Cruz surf program
Military veterans are learning about the healing ways of water through a Santa Cruz program known as Operation Surf.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- This week in Santa Cruz, military veterans are learning about the healing ways of water through a program known as Operation Surf.

The ocean has a way of calming. Many military veterans have a hard time finding peace after serving.

But waves are bringing them to exactly where they want to be.

"The ocean, you have to be present - completely mindful," Volunteer Benjamin Albracht said. "I'm here. I'm not back in the Middle East. I'm not in the past, I'm in the present."

Healing heroes, one wave at a time: the mission of Operation Surf.

The week-long program has brought vets to the Santa Cruz Coast for more than a decade.

MORE: Veterans overcoming personal battles through 'Hives for Heroes'

It builds a supportive community through the healing powers of the ocean.

"I definitely felt like I was unique, the problems that I had, I was the only one experiencing them," Abracht said. "And Operation Surf allowed me to connect with other combat veterans and people who have gone through the exact same things that I have."

Operation Surf was founded by someone familiar with mental health struggles.

Van Curaza suffered from addiction. Surfing helped save his life and created a way for him to find the positives.

He now helps veterans do the same.

"Going through my journey of recovery, I realized how powerful the ocean was to me," Curaza said "And I was recognizing a lot of their mindsets and a lot of their challenges were similar to mine, even though I hadn't been in the military. Everything that we try to do is something that has helped me."

MORE: Nonprofit BraveHearts rides to end veteran suicide

The ocean truly is a metaphor for life. It's ever-present and ever-changing. It can be calm or sometimes stormy.

These are all aspects of life that describe veterans as well.

And it's through this ocean and these waves that their hope is restored.

"Where do you think you'd be without this program?" ABC7 News South Bay Reporter Dustin Dorsey asked.

"Honestly, I don't know," Volunteer Josh Ryan said. "I'd be metaphorically somewhere lost at sea. Each wave brings them a little more closer and closer back to their family, back to their community with the love and support. There's a lot of connecting moments here. We all have our highs and our lows - the high tides and the low tides. But when you rise and fall together, you're not alone."

United they stand with nothing but support should they fall.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live