Local event helps veterans, amputees go surfing
When Chris Lopez was an infantryman stationed in Iraq in 2003, his father would go out surfing and sit on his board to send him prayers across the ocean. Today the 27-year-old, who retired from the service and returned to Santa Cruz with an injured lower back and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), assists fellow veterans through his work at the local Veterans Affairs office. Taking a cue from his father, he also picked up surfing as a source of relief from the memories of war, and the stresses of the everyday. Now, he’s helping other veterans—and amputees—do the same.
Lopez has been working with The Association of Amputee Surfers (AmpSurf) to coordinate the 3rd Annual Surf Clinic for Wounded Soldiers, Disabled Veterans and Local Disabled Adults and Children on Saturday, March 13, at Cowell’s Beach. From 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. Lopez and a team of volunteers made up of locals and people from other parts of the state and country, will assist participants onto surfboards and into waves. Following the free outdoor event will be an AmpSurf fundraiser at El Palomar Restaurant (tickets are a $25 donation). Volunteers can sign up to help, and fundraiser tickets can be purchased, at ampsurf.org.
“The majority of the veterans [at the AmpSurf events] are new to surfing, so it’s a life-altering experience to go out there and work together as a team like we used to do at war,” Lopez says. “We’re all equal out there regardless of ranks or disabilities—regardless of anything.”
AmpSurf, a nonprofit based in San Luis Obispo, was founded in 2003 by Dana Cummings, a Marine Corps veteran who lost his leg in an automobile accident in 2002. Cummings, who says in his bio, “I lost my leg not my life, and I realize that I have been given a very precious gift. It is not the gift of life, but the awareness of how precious life is,” will drive up to Santa Cruz with surfboards and gear ready to be dispersed to those he meets at Cowell’s. One such face he’ll greet will be Andrew Plam from Watsonville.
“We all lost something at war [whether physically or emotionally],” says Plam, a 23-year-old Cabrillo College student who returned from Iraq in 2008 and also battles PTSD. Plam will act as both a first-time volunteer and participant at this year’s AmpSurf clinic in town, and he’s bringing his brother and a friend to join him. “I didn’t lose my leg, but everybody has issues,” Plam begins, “and what better way to work with it than to work with other people having issues as well.”
Meanwhile, Lopez has seen the annual AmpSurf day at Cowell’s Beach serve all types of disabilities and amputees, with two to four volunteers per participant. There’s a pervading sense of camaraderie, he says, and Lopez will be the first to admit that it’s not always the volunteers motivating the amputees:
“I remember one year I told a participant known as One-Legged Joe (Julie Carruthers) that I wasn’t comfortable going out with her because the rip tide was so strong. She said, ‘I drove up here from L.A., I’m going out there!’ I was scared with all my limbs, and here she was with one leg tackling it.”
AmpSurf’s 3rd Annual Surf Clinic takes place 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, March 13, at Cowell’s Beach, West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. Free. The AmpSurf Fundraising Mixer follows at 2-4:30 p.m. at El Palomar Restaurant, 1336 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are a $25 donation. For more information, go to ampsurf.org.Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw