The Veteran

The photo is grainy. But it is the moment, and it is enough.

The For The Sender-sponsored surf camp for veterans was this weekend in Huntington Beach. I spoke to the whole group at the beginning, with policemen and firemen standing in a line behind me in remembrance of 9/11. I talked about service and how their sacrifice afforded me the freedom to be ignorant of war’s true costs, but that I didn’t want to be ignorant anymore. I talked about my family, my beliefs, my gratitude. And how surfing can bring a lot of things. Peace. Humility. Power.


And then we got in the water.

We got humbled by the current and the swell. We took a lot of waves on the head, me and that veteran. I showed him how to push through waves on his own and how to sit on the board so he could spin around quickly and paddle. I suggested that he not think about getting up, instead he should take his mind completely out of the equation and just get up.

Which he did. And we got close on a couple of smaller, inside waves. He was so full of stoke, so happy to be out there, even if ‘out there’ meant the inside section.

And then we had to take a break.

But he told me that he wanted to get all the way out there, past the inside section, and do this on his own. So I borrowed a board and paddled out with him, all the way out there, and told him I was there for support, but this was all up to him.

And we waited.

And then it happened.

I didn’t even stand up as I rode along next to him. I was on my belly, looking up at his triumph.

I didn’t have to stand up.

Because he’d already stood up for me on the battlefield, in brutal, oppressive heat approaching 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

He was a long ways from 140 degrees Fahrenheit now.

But he was doing it again.