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How a Day at the Beach Changed My Perspective on Life

Some days are so inspiring that they can change your outlook on everything. Dane Tullock, REI's outreach specialist in the Boston area, shares such a story:

Typically, spending a day at the beach rarely involves thoughts deeper than, "Should I turn over before my back gets burned?" However, on a recent sunny Sunday at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts, my life was changed forever by a handful of adults playing in the surf.

These adults were wounded US military veterans, and their ability to embrace the simple joys and challenges of learning how to ride waves was both inspiring and humbling.

Mark takes a wave

As an avid kayaker, surfer and stand up paddling (aka SUP) enthusiast, I know well how playing around in the water can clear one's mind and reset the internal compass back to True North. So when my friend Mike Simpson from SUP the Coast posted a message on his Facebook page about an event called Waves for Braves, I immediately took notice.

Mike, along with his partner in adventure, Will Rich, recently completed an epic journey from Key West, Florida, to Portland, Maine, on stand up paddleboards. They embarked on this water-bound adventure to raise awareness for the Wounded Warriors Project, an organization that provides advocacy and support services for US military veterans who have been wounded in the course of duty.

Volunteers at the waterline

Waves for Braves is the organization's 2nd annual series of events that provide an opportunity for wounded veterans from around the Boston metro area to spend a day learning how to ride waves. They get support from VA New England Adaptive Sports, local businesses and a virtual army of volunteers.

I arrived at the beach parking lot around 6:30am and introduced myself to Dom and Mark, locals who were born and raised on the beaches of Massachusetts. We sat discussing the odds of getting some kind of swell as the tide continued to roll in.

Ed catches a wave

Soon other volunteers began to arrive and I quickly realized that Waves for Braves was not just another event, but the gathering of an extended family that includes tanned surf bums, parents, friends, members of the greater community, active-duty military personnel and veterans of all generations. These people were here to have fun and support those who have given so much for their country. The energy was palpable and infectious. Soon after we all gathered for a preliminary safety talk, the veterans began to arrive and the real fun began.

The volunteers were given various responsibilities, from keeping an eye on the action from shore to assisting the veterans as they paddled out into the line-up. I had the opportunity to work with several of the surfers by helping to stabilize their stand up paddleboards as they waited for the next set or to give them a slight push to get going on a wave as it approached the beach.

One vet's drop-knee style

With each set, the waves began to build along with everyone's excitement. Every successful ride was met with cheers from volunteers and veterans alike. Impromptu competitions rose up among the surfers. I overheard one veteran tell another, "The one-legged area of the line-up is over there. This is the one-armed section over here, so watch out!"
Throughout the morning, the swell continued to grow, providing ample power for the surfers to ride as many waves as they could handle. One of the event coordinators later told me the story of a similar session last year when the ocean would not cooperate. Everyone was ready to surf, but there were no waves to be had. A call to the Coast Guard brought 2 cutters that drove back and forth along a short section of the beach creating waves for the veterans so that they could surf. Such is the determination that this event inspires. Never give up, never surrender.

Waiting for a wave

As the waves finally began to slack with the incoming tide, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with many of the veterans over lunch provided by the local Elks Club. What really stood out to me as the day went on was the amazing way that these veterans approached their various challenges with humor and camaraderie. Using the term "disability" is ill-advised in this crowd, unless you want to want to get run over by a speeding surfer as they go by.

I was genuinely inspired and profoundly humbled by the fearless determination with which these men and women approached the challenge of riding waves. Regardless of their condition, each veteran that I spoke with expressed a sense of confidence that was truly inspiring. To think that some days I complain about the most mundane of inconveniences. Here were men and women, who after literally sacrificing a part of themselves to serve others, fully embraced the simple joys of acting like a kid at the beach, laughing and playing in the sun and surf. They unwittingly provided inspiration to those of us lucky enough to be on the beach that day.

Party wave!

As the saying goes in Hawaii, "mahalo" is loosely translated to mean "thanks, gratitude, admiration, praise, esteem, regards, respect." I give a hearty mahalo to all the veterans and volunteers that I met on the beach during the Waves for Braves event. Thank you for your sacrifice, for your commitment, for your inspiration and for helping me to reset my own personal compass back to True North.

Below: Volunteers are ready for surfers needing assistance. All photos courtsey of Dane Tullock.


Posted on at 1:05 PM

Tagged: REI Boston, SUP, Waves for Braves, stand up paddleboards, stand up paddling and volunteer

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camp daddy

Thanks for sharing and inspiring with that story.
Lynn L.

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