NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — For the third consecutive year, Narragansett Town Beach on Saturday played host to an event that saw veterans and other participants from around New England take part in surf therapy.
Vet Surf Narragansett – part of the “Learn to Surf” series from the Association of Amputee Surfers, or AmpSurf – brought veterans with wounds both visible and hidden to the beach to catch some waves with the help of volunteers.
Lead organizer Mike Tubisky said he was inspired to start the event when his youngest daughter, Lauren, sent him a video of a physical therapist named Carly Rogers.
“She did a really awesome TED Talk, and I just got inspired, because she talked about how she’s helping a lot of these veterans with [post-traumatic stress disorder] and other issues, so I said, ‘I want to do that,’” he said. “I ended up going online ... and I hooked up with this organization AmpSurf out in Pismo Beach, [California], and we pulled this together.”
He added, “Each year we get a little better at it, a little more organized. They all have a great time and they really enjoy it.”
Tubisky said the event has a great deal of therapeutic value.
“When you surf, you pretty much forget about everything. All you do is focus on catching the next wave,” he said. “So the idea is these guys and gals who have sacrificed so much for us, sacrificed for our country, this is just a small token of us giving back to them.”
Randi Woodrow from the VA Medical Center in Boston said the Vet Surf event draws veterans from well beyond Narragansett.
“We’ve got vets from Boston ... we’ve got vets from Rhode Island, all over New England. We’ve got vets who use the VA, we’ve got vets who don’t use the VA,” she said. “What Mike’s been able to put together is nothing short of astounding. This is really very organized. Great community support, great town support, great beach support ... People drive down from New Hampshire and Maine, and people come up from Connecticut for this.”
Elizabeth Kellogg, who has volunteered with AmpSurf for several years, said she has volunteered for a number of the organization’s events on the East Coast.
“The first year they were out here, they put out an announcement on a meetup surfer board, so that’s how I found out about it. Then I did the instructor training, and I keep coming back,” she said.
Justin Speegle, a retired Air Force colonel who sits on the board of directors of AmpSurf, also praised Tuberty.
“He’s the local man on the ground here that’s gone and got a lot of business support to try and help the veterans that are here,” he said.
After a quick lesson, volunteer meetings and a group photo, participants got into the water. Three groups of seven veterans were surrounded by volunteers as they caught the waves, some for the first time.
“I was a volunteer snowboard instructor at Sunday River [ski resort] in Maine for 10 years and I never surfed. That’s the reason I’m here,” said Navy veteran Ed Stewart, who lost his right leg below the knee.
After his first time in the water, Stewart said it was “quite the rush.”
“I had fun,” he said. “For a 78-year-old guy, I’m not bad.”
Kathy Ann Simonini, who served as military police during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, has participated in a number of surf events.
“It gives you a break from the everyday norm, and you can come together with fellow veterans who can relate to personal issues, and just forget about everything and have a good time,” she said. “I came here, wasn’t pretty, but I felt so welcomed and I felt so appreciated, especially being a woman veteran. It’s a nice experience, and I’m glad I came back.”
A number of sponsors help with the event, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Mews Tavern, Warm Winds, Liberty Rentals, George’s of Galilee and Delta Dental.