CAPITOLA — Martin Pollock was deployed to Afghanistan after he completed training in the British Army. He was severely injured just four months later in a blast that took both legs and his left arm.
After five years of rehabilitation, he was ready to get active, and he did so by trying various sports such as skiing and water skiing.
Pollock, 34, said he finally found what he was searching for with surfing.
He traveled from England to take part in Operation Surf, a program for injured veterans run by San Luis Obispo-based Amazing Surf Adventures.
About 20 veterans participated in the event at Capitola Beach on March 23, which was run with the help of 350 volunteers.
The program was designed as a way to offer veterans a chance to take part in a safe but thrilling activity.
Pollock said being on the water brings him personal serenity, and inspiration for his artwork.
“[Surfing] lets me find a piece of myself I didn’t know was missing,” Pollock said. “There isn’t a part of my life that isn’t intertwined in it.”
Founder Van Curaza said he got into surfing about four decades ago when he was struggling with drug addiction.
“It has given me a sense of worth and of peace,” he said.
And so he started his own surf school for young surfers, based in Avila Beach.
He said his foray into helping injured veterans stemmed from his desire to thank them for their service. What he said he discovered is that the two groups share a surprising similarity. Both, he said, thrive on the adrenaline rush that comes from participating in sometimes dangerous activities.
That connection helps build a bond, which in turn helps the veterans feel comfortable enough to share their stories, something that can be difficult with traumatic events.
“Once you hit the water it just takes over and it takes all your concentration and all you can give to be one with the ocean,” he said. “We respect what Mother Nature has to offer.”
Surfer Alana Hendrickson, 27, said she has participated in the program for three years.
In taking veterans out onto the waves, Hendrickson said she wanted to share the sense of peace she gets from the sport.
“I’m here to share the waves and the water and the power of the ocean,” she said.
Richard Rodriguez of Santa Cruz, who served as a surf instructor for the event, said it was an honor to help the vets.
“My dad was a Vietnam veteran so it only makes sense that I give back and help these folks,” Rodriguez said. “Being out there on the waves with the veterans is one of the most gratifying and rewarding things I do. It makes you humble. When I am having a down kind of day I think of these wonderful folks and it puts it into perspective. It’s my way of giving back.”
For information, visit www.amazingsurfadventures.org.