Surrender to surfing and change your life

Phil Briggs
June 21, 2018 - 3:01 pm


To hear Caleb Brewer describe his life, you’d never believe he would ever surf.

Injured by an IED blast that nearly took his life, the retired Army Green Beret explained, “I lost my left leg below the knee, my right leg above the knee, I had three or four blood clots, pulmonary embolisms in my lungs, went into kidney failure, had to go on dialysis, got about 64 blood transfusions, and had fungal or bacterial infections from the dirt…so recovery was a long and drawn out process.”


His road to the waves of Santa Cruz, California, first passed through Texas. “I ended up in San Antonio at the Center for the Intrepid, which is the world’s leading spot for amputee recovery.

"They completely set me up for success,” Brewer explained. “They got me walking within four months on some state of the art prosthetics, which was pretty incredible…and they sent me on trips. They sent me rock climbing, shooting, running, golfing, scuba diving and even surfing…but it was not just to have fun, it was to rehabilitate you through life experiences.”

Enter Danny Nichols, former pro surfer and Surf Instructor for Operation Surf. Nichols described how their program was founded by surf pro Van Curaza, who initially developed a program for at-risk youth, but after giving lessons to a wounded warrior from the Brooke Army Medical Center, he created Operation Surf.


Above: Caleb Brewer, Danny Nichols and another amazing veteran enjoying their week at Operation Surf

“The ocean is a very healing place,” Nichols said. “We have no control over the ocean, so instantly, every single one of us has to surrender. And when you get a group together and they all experience that surrender, we can start start to heal whatever is going on in the mind.”

Though it may sound like some kind of surfer poetry, its truth could be heard in Brewer’s voice as he described his experience. “It’s hard to describe the peace that comes from out on the water. Even if you’re not on a board, just being out there helped calm all the PTSD demons. It was literally a 90-degree turn in my life of positivity, and the feeling of "‘Oh, I can do this’…it was amazing.”

But getting up and actually riding a wave? Is it possible within one week at the beach? “Oh, I’ll never forget that moment,” Brewer smiled.

“I was waiting for this wave when my instructor Danny Nichols said, ‘You got this one’ as I moved into position. I thought it was going to go right under me, but I paddled, and I could hear him giving me cues. And when I shifted my weight forward, I just dropped.  Like a skateboarder on a half pipe, my board dropped right in front of the wave, and I rode it all the way in. It was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.”


And Nichols explained how that feeling is what it’s all about, “You take that feeling and multiply it by like 40 or 50 people...everyone is high fiving, and pushing each other, carrying each other,  and the ocean starts teaching them the life. And the cool thing is, when the participants get together, they start realizing ‘Oh yeah, I served not too far from you, or I was attached to this group’ and now they’re building relationships and then they realize they’re not alone.  And when they carry that message back out into their daily lives, they’re embracing a message of hope.”

As for Caleb Brewer, “I’m hooked, and I’m gonna to keep going surfing as often as I can,” he said confidently. “I mean it’s a bummer living in Arizona, but that just means I’m going to have to travel more.”

PODCAST: Hear Caleb & Danny on VetStory


Operation Surf conducts surf adventures for veterans in Santa Cruz and Huntington Beach, with plans to offer more events on the East Coast and England in the future. For more information about Operation Surf click here



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