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Encinitas surf camp provides healing, stoke

Bob Nichols, chairman and founder of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, cheers on a Wounded Warrior.
( / Jared Whitlock)

Consistent waves don’t exactly make for the easiest learning conditions. But that didn’t stop Wounded Warriors the morning of June 6 at Moonlight Beach.

Fledgling surfers were grinning ear to ear as they glided across waves, and instructors and other participants cheered them on. The Surfing Madonna Oceans Project put on the surf camp, providing everything from wetsuits to foam boards at no cost.

A Wounded Warrior is all smiles as she dismounts from her board
( / Jared Whitlock)

“They can cheer each other on and share this stoke,” said Bob Nichols, chairman and founder of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project while watching from the shore. “And they experience the power of the ocean — it’s healing.”

Nichols, a military veteran himself, said: “We’re teaching them a skill where they can come back to the beach on their own and surf.”

For the surf camp, Wounded Warriors with injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder are schooled in the basics of water safety, reading the waves, board handling and, of course, riding waves. Likewise, camp

Surfing Madonna artist Mark Patterson pushes Wounded Warrior Tom Clardy out to the surf
( / Jared Whitlock)

instructors also teach special needs youths, who took to the water later in the morning.

“For kids to get out there and experience this, it just lights up their whole week,” Nichols said, adding the positive impact is “astonishing.”

The surf camp, which launched last year, started up again May 30. It’s benefitting more than 200 local families this year, about double the number in 2014, according to Nichols. And about 80 volunteers have signed up to lend a hand, too.

Not to mention, when the 2015 surf camp draws to a close in November, there will be a surf contest among the year’s participants.

A team effort, Wounded warrior Tom Clardy rides a wave, with Bob Nichols on back. Kaelon Russell pushes the wheelchair, Tim Wakruk (left) films with a Go Pro and instructor Jon Peterson watches (left foreground).
A team effort, Wounded warrior Tom Clardy rides a wave, with Bob Nichols on back. Kaelon Russell pushes the wheelchair, Tim Wakruk (left) films with a Go Pro and instructor Jon Peterson watches (left foreground).
( / Photo by Megan McCarthy)

Wounded Warrior Tom Clardy said he swims quite a bit at the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA to stay in shape. But, he added, there’s just something about being in the ocean.

“This is a godsend,” Clardy said, adding he also really likes encouraging others while out in the water.

Jon Peterson, owner of Surfin Fire surf school, which leads the surf lessons, said seeing the joy on participants’ faces “warms the heart.”

“They love it — it’s contagious,” Peterson said.

The surf camp currently has a waiting list. To register for the waiting list, visit www.surfingmadonna.org. Volunteers can also sign up at the website.


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