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Service members often encounter physical, psychological and emotional adversity when protecting the freedoms this country was founded on. The injuries sustained both on and off duty require recovery in many forms – including physical competitions, religious programs, community outreach opportunities, behavioral health and more. Some may only need a surfboard and a wave to ride.

Veterans, recovering service members and their loved ones attended the 12th Annual Operation Amped Surf Camp at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Aug. 17-19. Operation Amped is a non-profit organization that promotes surf therapy to aid in the recovery of wounded, ill and injured veterans and active-duty service members.

According to Joseph Gabunilas, Operation Amped co-founder, this program exists to provide a positive change in a participant’s future. Operation Amped accomplishes this by providing surf training once a year to wounded warriors, family members and veterans.

“It’s a good way to keep that negative stuff out of your mind while catching a wave,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. David Simons, participant at Operation Amped. “Surfing has given me a goal, something to work towards and keep my focus straight.”

The organization, which began in September 2006, had helped nearly 300 recovering service members, veterans and their loved ones. Along with the support and attendance of family members and friends, that number has now reached the thousands, said Gabunilas, who served in the U.S. Army. Having both the recovering service members and their loved ones in attendance, can provide the therapy needed to overcome the trials and tribulations they may be experiencing.

“Ocean therapy is good for the mindset,” said Simons. “It’s good for those that have difficult issues they’re dealing with.”

Some of the adversity these warriors face include the loss of fellow service members in and out of combat,overcoming pain and physical injury. For three days each year, with the support of organizations such as this one, participants move closer to recovery one wave at a time.

Provisions come from volunteers and supporters who donate surfboards, wetsuits, food, tents, and tables. Most importantly, they donate their time.

“This is my way of giving back,” said Gabunilas. “I served 21 years and this is another way I can give back to the brave men and women fighting for our country.”

This annual event drives a passion for surfing for some and provides a recreational outlet for warriors and their family members to enjoy while physically and mentally challenging themselves in the water. The next clinic is scheduled for summer 2019.


Operation Amped Foundation will be hosting their 12th annual Surf Camp for 15 Injured, Disabled and Wounded Veterans and their Families 17 – 19 August 2018 at the Camp Pendelton/San Onofre Facility. This year’s event promises to be one of the best ever. Please donate at our website to ensure the continuation of our mission for many more years to come! THANK YOU!

The Smiles for Veterans event will be held November 18, 2017

Cick the links below for more details!



Dear Operation Amped Volunteers and Participants,

You are cordially invited to spend a day at the beach “North Torrey Pines Beach” on Saturday, 24 September from 10 AM to 4 PM.  Operation Amped has been selected the Benefactor of the Annual Saltdog Classic!

There will be plenty of chairs and pop up shade tarps provided for our group.  There will be food vendors and 5 bands lined up for your listening enjoyment.

If you are interested in competing, please let us know ASAP so we can submit your entry form.

I am asking for 10 volunteers to help me setup our booth, sell T-shirts and stickers, field questions about our organization and tear down.  ALL volunteers will be provided meals, snacks and refreshments.

If you are interested in volunteering, please RSVP by Friday 16 September at 5 PM.

Thanks everyone and I hope to see you on the 24th!!

Click here for the flyer

Date: 12 – 14 August 2016
Who: 12 Ill, Disabled and Injured Veterans and their families
What: Using the healing properties of Surf Therapy for our brave veterans and their families, Fun, Sun, and Community!


You are cordially invited to the FIRST Operation Amped Saturday Surf Clinic

Location: Silver Strand State Beach, Coronado Island San Diego

Date/Time: Saturday, April 30th
Volunteer arrival: 8:30 AM
Participant\Warrior arrival: 9:00 AM
Clinic ends: 2:00 PM

Who: Injured, ill or disabled veterans and their families

What to bring: Sunscreen, Beach towel, Beach Chairs and lastly….AN ALOHA SPIRIT!!

How: To register and receive more details contact Jered Cherry @


Snacks, Drinks, Equipment and instruction is provided by Operation Amped



As crashing waves compete with the sound of shelling at Camp Pendleton, a beginner surfer makes her way to her board. “It’s strong,” Sarah Rudder says of the unusually high swells this Saturday morning at San Onofre State Beach.

The left leg of Rudder’s full wetsuit is tied off below her knee—the amputation a result of a devastating ankle injury the former Marine suffered while carrying bodies out of the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Rudder, who worked in the Marine Corps headquarters across from the building, was scheduled to be promoted to lance corporal the day American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into it. She was 18.

Now 32, Rudder (who did get that promotion) recently lost her injured leg after years of excruciating pain. And today she’s ready to test the water. A volunteer from Operation Amped pushes her in a beach wheelchair to the surf. He helps her onto a longboard. After paddling out a bit and catching a white-water wave—she rises to her knees and rides it for several seconds before falling. Rudder ends up laughing on the sand: “It was like flying.”

She is among thousands of American veterans who are severely injured and ill, many having seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the 2.5 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, reservists, and guardsmen deployed to those countries since the 9/11 attacks, an estimated 16,000 have suffered severe disabling injuries, including 1,500 single-limb amputations. About 30,000 have some kind of traumatic brain injury, often an invisible wound. And the number of veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder soon is expected to reach 500,000. According to a 2010 study, 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

Dave Donaldson reads these grim statistics in late August as he sits in one of the rented cottages near the beach where Rudder and 14 other veterans and their families have gathered for a three-day surfing camp-out. He co-founded Operation Amped eight years ago. The nonprofit’s free event is as much about camaraderie as it is about spending time in the water. Local mentors—many are veterans themselves—help participants focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t.

“If I didn’t have surfing, I don’t know what I’d do,” says 32-year-old Christopher Tomlin, who retired from the Marines in July 2013 after serving 14 years, but who still has seizures and memory loss from 13 combat-related concussions. “The water cures all.”

Volunteer Bob Burke teams up with Edwin Gomez, a 20-year-old who’s blind in his right eye and has limited tunnel vision in his left—the result of a howitzer recoiling into his head during training. After 30 minutes riding a longboard together in the punishing waves beyond the surf break, Burke and Gomez retreat beneath a canopy for soft drinks and lunch. Gomez smiles. “I got up a few times,” he says. “I was even standing.”

Says Burke of the veterans: “They come away with a sense of independence, feeling they can do more than they thought they could.”

Get Involved!

Operation Amped
Surfing and paddleboarding
Project Healing Waters
Tee It Up for the Troops
Golf fundraisers
O.C. Chapter:

See more at:


Operation Amped was featured in Surfer Magazine in a piece titled SURFER’S AGENT OF CHANGE: OPERATION AMPED

Click here to view the article on Surfer Magazine.

Click here for more Operation Amped news on Surfer Magazine

The, hat, the shirt, the jeep, the swagger. You just know he means business. Other T shirts in Matt’s collection. “Leg story – $10″ “I went to Iraq and lost my leg and all I got was this lousy T shirt”

Operation Amped

Joe Jackson. Started out in Operation Amp as a participant a few years ago. Now, he mentors some of the new participants and is one of the hardest working organizers in Operation Amped. His sense of humor on the beach and in the water make him a lot of fun to be around. The helmet is mandatory for him in the water and makes him easy to spot. If you see him at your local break in San Diego be sure to say Hi.

If you hear any kooks giving Joe some static about wearing a helmet in the water, take a minute and stuff their board up their but. All of America will buy you a beer.

Operation Amped

Getting some surf lessons from some of the most skilled surfing instructors in the world.
. Operation Amped

At Operation Amped, we don’t believe in bringing a knife to a gun fight. Operation Amped

Clayton Wright. He rolls in with his expensive, top of the line, stand up paddle boards for us to use. They are wide and stable .Perfect for what we do what we do.

Clayton’s boards often get beaten up on the rocks and sometimes need extensive repairs. Due to the fragile core of a surf board, once damaged, more often than not, it cannot be completely restored to its original state.

For those unfamiliar with surfing culture, borrowing a surf board and damaging it is one of the biggest transgressions in the sport. Many a longtime friendship has ended over these types of incidents.

Clayton is completely unfazed by the damage to any of his boards. This happens routinely and yet Clayton is with us year in and year out. If there’s a better example of Aloha, I’d like to know what it is.

Operation Amped

2 Marines holding their own against strong surf, heavy kelp, and a rocky bottom. Don’t think for a second that their injuries would keep them from having the time of their lives. Operation Amped

Joe, “If that man’s a Major, he’s a Colonel now” Gabunilas. No one has worked longer or harder on the beach and in the water than Joe. Operation Amped

A couple of the warriors checking in. Operation Amped

Look where they’re staying. The window overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Operation Amped

Keynan Hobbs and Meredith Perry. Couple of the Pillars of Operation Amped and the force behind the many San Diego 1 day events. Operation Amped

Meredith going for the girlfriend of the year award. Operation Amped

Surfing on 1 leg requires incredible athleticism. Having balls of steel doesn’t hurt either. Notice all the other warriors in the background Operation Amped

Taking advantage of a lull in the waves, warriors and instructors head out to the lineup.
Operation Amped

Look closely at the nose of the surfboard and you’ll see a lot of water draining off the front of the board. This warrior was in a nose dive and seemed headed to the bottom. Against all odds, he pulled out of it and is now on his way to standing up. Operation Amped

First course of dinner. Top grade, all organic. Delicious. Donated by a very generous company. List of sponsors and vendors coming very is prepared at a free surf clinic for wounded veterans

Rocking the unit colors1st marine division

The dark horse battalion, 3rd battalion, 5th marines suffered some of the heaviest casualties of the war in Afghanistan with more than 30 killed and 200 wounded.dark horse battalion camp pendleton

Despite dozens of wipe outs, this young service woman wouldn’t give up until she got it. Although the lighting is low, if you look closely you’ll see a smile as big as the board she’s riding.

We’ve got many more pics and posts coming very soon. Please stop back. We’ve got photos coming from Peter Kragh, who took a break from filming episodes of shark week for the Discovery Channel to shoot some water pics. More pics of volunteers, water videos, and big thank you’s to our sponsors.

Posted by Keith Lovgren