MALIBU – They met the waves early Wednesday, some for the first time, others after years away. They were soldiers, Marines, sailors and pilots, all affected by wars both present and past, all injured in ways those who never faced a battlefield or vigorous training could ever know. But within the glassy, blue-green waves of Zuma Beach, these men and women transformed into surfers. Many faced, then conquered a new challenge: finding balance with wounded arms and legs, injured necks and spines, loss of vision and memory. “I’m a little winded, but it feels pretty good,” said a breathless Glenn Alley, 59, a Vietnam veteran, as he emerged from the surf. Once in the Air Force, Alley served two years in Vietnam, where he suffered an eye injury from enemy fire. On Wednesday, he learned to paddle out, catch a wave and glide onto shore. “I always wanted to surf, even though I’m not a fan of the water,” the Palmdale man said. “It sure feels different.” Dubbed Operation Amped, the dozen servicemen and -women were invited for a day of surfing thanks to organizers from the William Morris Agency, the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and with the help of Calabasas resident and surfer Tom Tapp. The idea came to Tapp one day when he saw a surfer without legs. He has since organized similar events for Marines out of Camp Pendleton. “Surfing is freedom,” Tapp said. “These men and women fought for our freedom. I wanted them to experience that free feeling.” South African native and 1977 world champion surfer Shaun Tomson joined the event to offer a few pointers. “Surfing can teach you wonderful things,” he told the group. “It makes you look at the world from a different place.” Sun Valley resident David Vidana, a 27-year-old Marine who underwent emergency surgery in Iraq after an enemy’s bullet pierced his helmet and skull, said the sport was tougher than it looks. “It’s tiring, but the adrenaline keeps us going,” he said. Ex-Marine Richard Pineda, 30, said a day at the beach was a pleasant change from frequent trips to the VA hospital, where he receives speech therapy. He suffered an aneurysm after he returned from serving in Iraq. He became one of the first in the group to stand up on his board. “It’s beautiful out here,” he said, just as the sun broke through clouds, casting a golden light against the cliffs. “It’s harder than it looks, but it feels so good.” [email protected] (818) 713-3664160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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