Operation Surf: Waves, Friendship and Photography Help Veterans Heal

Operation Surf is a non-profit organization whose mission is to teach wounded military heroes to surf and overcome the pain and trauma of combat. Each of their week-long programs can be a life-changing adventure for wounded-veteran and active-duty military heroes, bringing participants directly to events within supportive coastal communities, and exposing them to the healing power of the ocean through adaptive surfing taught by world-class instructors.

Recently, Operation Surf took 15 veteran and active-duty military members into the waters of Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz and Capitola Beach. The weeklong adaptive-surf clinic provided an environment where participants overcame their physical and psychological challenges, allowing them to experience the therapeutic powers of the waves.

“In the water, everybody’s on the same playing field,” said Amanda Curaza, executive director at Operation Surf. “It doesn’t matter if you’re missing limbs or if you just ride the board laying down. You’re all going to ride the wave and feel the serenity of the ocean when you’re out there, and experience the crowd cheering for you.”

Building confidence and connections

Participants say the week left them feeling confident, with a renewed sense of community and camaraderie.


“As a veteran, one of the big things you miss is the connections you had with the buddies you served with,” said Kyle Kelly, an Army veteran and Operation Surf alumni. “You go through shared missions, shared experiences and a shared purpose, every day. When you lose touch with that, it can really bring you down. Getting out into the water is humbling — and because it’s humbling, it brings everyone together as a team, working for the same purpose once again.”

A number of research studies are underway to measure the impact of Operation Surf’s program on veterans. One such study showed that participants experienced sharp reductions in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and depression throughout the week.

Ronald Knowles, who’s served in the Army for the past 17 years, said the week gave him much more than he expected.

“To be honest, I thought I was going to come here and learn how to surf,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to be like this. Getting to know people, having that network and building friendships has been exciting. It’s pushed me, which I like. I love challenges.”

Dinner, discussion and a look at the day’s videos and photos

Each night, after the last wave was conquered, staff and participants gathered for dinner in a closed session to talk about the day’s highs and lows, and to view photos and videos of all the day’s action. Those images play an integral role in helping veterans open up with one another, lowering their walls and sharing their feelings in a supportive atmosphere.


As a sponsor of Operation Surf, Seagate contributed funding to support the week’s activities and also donated our LaCie DJI Copilot — a unique drone- and photography-assistive BOSS drive (Backup On-Set Solution) — to the nonprofit’s media team. The team used the portable drive to store, share and quickly access all of the photos and videos captured each day. The DJI Copilot has an SD card slot and USB port to copy files directly from devices, no laptop needed, and lets the photographers sort and manage files on the go with the Copilot BOSS app.

“Media is a huge part of our operation,” Curaza explained. “The Copilot hard drive has been key in allowing our media team to focus on what they do best — being out in the water. We don’t want them missing any rides or smiles. We’ve been able to use the Copilot to quickly offload all of that footage from our drones and cameras and get it into the hands of our editor, so she can get those photo and video highlights ready each night.”

Putting on an Operation Surf event takes some serious planning and an army of volunteers. Operation Surf relies on community members to help with planning meals and setting up equipment, fundraising efforts and much more. The organization puts on four events each year in northern and southern California.

“It’s a massive production,” Curaza said. “It takes about six-to-eight months of planning. We rely on sponsorships and donations from the community and businesses to make this happen. There’s no cost to our participants — we take care of all of their travel, hotel accommodations and meals throughout the week. Having support from companies like Seagate is how we’re able to bring these men and women together.”


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Steve Pipe