Blog Archives

When surfers speak of “stoke” they are not just engaging in Spicoli surfer speak. Surfing, done right, delivers a tremendous psychological high.

Paddling hard in the ocean, catching waves, riding waves, and plunging into an environment can be as dangerous as it is thrilling: People who start surfing learn that “stoke” is an overall feeling of physical and mental cleanliness that can lead to a lifetime obsession with riding waves in the ocean.

For veterans returning home from foreign wars with physical and mental injuries, that stoked stimulation can mean the difference between elation and depression, and even between a good life and a tragic death.

According to the Wounded Warrior Project, as of July 1, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had wounded 52,343, with an estimated 320,000 suffering from traumatic brain injuries and 400,000 suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

These veterans all require care and rehabilitation, and the Veterans Administration is aided by private organizations like Operation Amped, a group of veterans, surfers, medical professionals and volunteers whose mission is:

“To share the ‘stoke’ of the surfing community and the healing potential of surfing with seriously ill, injured, or disabled U.S. military veterans and their families. Our vision is of a surfing community that demonstrates appreciation for the sacrifices of servicemen and women with its welcoming environment and sharing the grounding and healing of surfing.”

*Content from

Read the full story at

Staff Sergeant Matthew L. Slade is not a professional photographer. If he wanted to take a photo two months ago, he’d have used his cell phone. Despite no prior formal photography training, Slade now looks every bit the professional as he walks up and down San Onofre Beach with a tripod and camera in hand, crouching in the sand and on the rocks looking to capture the moment.

Slade is a wounded warrior and student of Wounded Warrior Battalion West’s photography class, fStop.

“fStop is a group of men and women who are learning to become amateur photographers at Wounded Warrior Battalion,” said Slade. “It teaches a different way to cope with our injuries.”

Slade recently had the opportunity to practice the skills he learned in fStop during Operation Amped. Operation Amped is an annual weekend surfing event open to Wounded Warriors and their families. Operation Amped’s mission is to share the surfing community and the healing potential of surfing with seriously ill, injured, or disabled U.S. military veterans and their families.

“I just wanted to take photos originally, because I thought that was cool,” said Slade. “But I’ve really become interested in it and it’s become a really important hobby for me.”

Slade, a former Marine recruiter, has found more than just a hobby in fStop.

“It’s a lot of great people doing fun stuff,” said Slade. “It’s like a family. It offers a group that knows you and gets you and we take photos together.”

Master Sergeant Hugo L. Gonzalez is another student of fStop.

“I was taking photos for a long time, but I never actually knew the ins and outs of a camera, how to operate it,” said Gonzalez. “I think it’s another way to help out, for those of us who enjoy taking photos, getting out there and shooting. I find it’s therapeutic, a different way to cope with whatever is going on. Photography works for me.”

Photography isn’t the only hobby that works for Gonzalez. On the beach, Gonzalez is a surfer.

“I’ve been surfing for about two months now,” said Gonzalez. “I started with the Jimmy Miller Foundation, they come to the battalion every two weeks, taking us out to Del Mar Beach and teaching us to paddle and stand.”

Where fStop gives him a chance to enjoy photography, Operation Amped gave Gonzalez an opportunity to explore surfing with a weekend on the beach and lessons from volunteer instructors.

“Just being around the ocean is very therapeutic,” said Gonzales. “As a kid I grew up around the ocean and now being near it just makes me feel a lot better.”

Gonzalez, a motor transport operator, has found many opportunities to stay active while healing from his injury.

“I wish I could clone myself because there is so much offered at the battalion,” said Gonzales. “I try to take part in everything, but I also don’t want to take it away from the Marines. I try to make sure all the junior Marines get a chance to participate and if there’s anything left, I volunteer for it.”

Once Slade was done shooting for the day, Gonzalez suggested he come back the next day and learn to surf.

Content from – read more at

Download photo here



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