As the wounded troops walked single file out of the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, a crowd of Central Coast residents stood waiting for them, applauding and patriotically waving flags.
Twenty-one active military and veterans from throughout the country and Great Britain will spend the next week surfing in local waters through Operation Surf, a program run by Avila Beach-based nonprofit Amazing Surf Adventures.
Cal Fire used its crash trucks to welcome the plane with a water salute as it taxied into the airport.
The troops, being treated for a range of conditions including amputations, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, will be paired up with surf instructors in the waters of Avila Beach, Cayucos and Morro Bay.
A motorcade of antique cars from the Bent Axles Car Club of Santa Maria escorted them from the airport to their hotel in Avila Beach.
This is the eighth year that Operation Surf has welcomed the wounded veterans for the surf clinic. The effort has grown over the years and now more than 100 volunteers assist.
Lindi Woods, a volunteer with nonprofit Welcome Home Military Heroes, was at the airport Thursday to welcome the troops.
Woods, who has two sons active in the military — one in the Army and the other in the Marine Corps — said greeting the troops as they arrive has helped her get through her sons’ deployments.
“This brings peace to my heart,” said Woods. “I do it to pay it forward because all veterans deserve a welcome.”
Robert Tolan, who founded the nonprofit Woods volunteers with, was also at the airport Thursday. His son, Robert Tolan Jr., 20, in the 1st Cavalry Division of the Army, is deployed in Afghanistan.
Three days prior to Thursday’s event, his son’s unit was attacked and more than a dozen men were wounded. Tolan said his son was physically unscathed.
“I wish that was him getting off the plane right now,” Tolan said.
The surf clinic is particularly close to Woods’ heart because of the inspiration it brings, she said.
“They all have such great attitudes,” said Woods. “It rejuvenates the heart. To go through the adversity that they have and to survive while staying so positive is just unbelievable.”
If you go
Opening ceremonies will be held at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Avila Beach Pier. The surf clinics will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. in Avila Beach; Monday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. in Cayucos; and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. in Morro Bay at Morro Rock. A farewell party is planned at Mr. Rick's in Avila Beach at 8 p.m.