In 2002, U.S. Marine veteran Dana Cummings lost a leg due to a traffic accident. Predictably, he suffered depression from the incident, but was determined to overcome his emotions.
Always having a desire to learn to surf, he decided this was the time to take on the project and feel whole again.
“Surfing with just one leg was a big challenge, but it did wonders for me,” Dana said with a broad smile. “With three other friends, we decided to form an organization devoted to teaching surfing to those who were physically challenged — that was in 2003. After promoting our surfing clinic, we had seven people sign up for the first one, including a fellow from Florida.”
Their organization, AmpSurf (The Association of Amputee Surfers), began to focus on disabled veterans in 2006. More than 130 participants took advantage of the program in 2009; two-thirds of them were veterans.
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“Now we hold surfing clinics every month and will teach over 300 applicants this year.”
Seventy percent of them will be disabled vets or active military. Dana added that the other 30 percent are not from the military.
“We try to assist any and everybody who is disabled for one reason or another — regardless of age. We have a 6-year-old girl amputee and an 86-year-old gentleman who had a disability — he was blind.”
When CNN featured a segment worldwide about AmpSurf, things began to happen.
“People all over the world made contact with us, including media outlets from France and Germany.”
As a result of his appearance on CNN, the network named him a “Hero” earlier this year.
“An ever-increasing segment of our participants are veterans from the wars in the Middle East. It is estimated that 20 percent of those young men and women are victims of the invisible wound, post traumatic stress disorder,” Dana related, his voice taking on a somber tone.
The risk of suicide among U.S. male veterans is more than double that of the general public.
As our visit came to an end, Dana emphasized that all those who volunteer in the program do it without pay. However, according to them, the compensation comes in seeing these damaged individuals develop an entirely different attitude about their lives.
“They feel if they can learn to surf with their disabilities … they can conquer anything,” said a volunteer.
Post office clerk Romi West had surfed off and on for several years, but her opportunities to enjoy the activity became rarer as she did not always live near surfing areas. She moved to Cambria in 2000.
While on a wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii in 2004, husband Frank provided a surfing lesson for Romi as a gift. This was followed by a Christmas surfboard from her son, Erin.
“Ron Waltman, former Cambria American Legion Post commander, suggested I get involved with AmpSurf. I saw a lot of happy people and I decided I wanted to be a part of the program,” Romi said with a radiant smile.
While in the Air Force, Karina Tiwana entered law school at night in pursuit of a degree. After discharge from the service, she received her degree and went to work with a law firm in the San Francisco area.
“I felt a sense of satisfaction in providing assistance to my clients, but there was something missing,” she said in reflection.
She moved to Cambria in 2003 and became active with the American Legion for five years, including being commander of Cambria Post No. 432 in 2008.
AmpSurf came into her life in 2009. “Seeing the confidence gained by the amputees, and how they began accepting other challenges, brought me an even greater satisfaction in life,” Tiwana said.
Don’t know how to surf or not physically able get in the ocean? You can support this vitally important program by sending a check to: Ampsurf, P.O. Box 5045, San Luis Obispo CA 93403; or by donating through their website at www.ampsurf.org.
AmpSurf’s fifth annual Operation Restoration Event will run from Sept. 10 to 16 in Pismo Beach. The public is invited to show support from 8 a.m to 1 p.m. Sept. 11 and 12 at the beach, to join the participants for dinner at Pismo Beach Golf Course on Sept. 13, and for the closing luau on Sept. 16 at Mongo’s Saloon in Grover Beach. More volunteers are still needed. Call 744-8622 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to view the CNN segment.
John Brannon writes a weekly column for The Cambrian. E-mail him at email@example.com.