It is common knowledge that nearly all Marine Corps duty stations are next to the ocean, and that surfing comes with the territory. With surfing comes a community strengthened by a shared desire to be mentally, emotionally, and physically strong, creating a basis for life-long friendships.
Surfing truly is a more than just a sport; it is a community made up of people from all walks of life, whose similar interests unite them and allow them to support one another through the tribulations of life. On base, this community is a subset of the Marine Corps community at large.
Physical fitness, looking out for fellow Marines, and mental fortitude are just a few of the many pieces that make up the community of the Corps. These pieces are only amplified by the men and women that come together every week to escape into the ocean and surf.
“Surfing can be an inherently selfish sport,” said Darren Klassen, co-founder of Torrey Pines Surf Ministry. “But once I realized the value of community rather than going out to do something for myself, I started to use surfing as a tool to develop relationships, introduce people to others, and develop my own sense of community.”
Finding community was only the first step for Klassen. He now works with more than four surf therapy organizations closely tied to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton’s military population.
One of these organizations is Operation Amped, which has held a surf competition every year on the installation for 13 years. These surf competitions have helped thousands of service members and veterans in their recovery. Year round, Klassen spends his time working on events like this and finding other ways to use surf therapy to assist in the recovery of wounded, ill, and injured active duty military members and veterans.
Klassen stated that, even with the current struggles of COVID-19, he is still active. Once a week on Del Mar Beach, he and a close team of volunteer surf instructors meet with a small group of veterans or service members to catch up with one another—while keeping their social distance—and enjoy the ocean.
“Some of the best waves in San Diego on are on Del-Mar beach; but it is a better spot for more experienced surfers,” said Klassen. “The waves at San Onofre are easier to ride and is a great place to learn how to surf.”
Marines are amphibious by nature. Therefore, it is easy to leverage surfing as a means to improve Marines’ physical fitness and knowledge of the ocean, both of which are foundational to mission success. What is not so obvious is the physiological benefits associated with the sport.
“You don’t need to be extremely physically fit to surf,” stated Klassen. “I know a lot of people who use surfing as their therapy and as way to start their day in a way that heals your body and your mind.”
Surfing is used as a therapeutic way to recover from trauma or significant life events. It is also a way to simply wash away day-to-day stressors throughout the Marine Corps. Through the tranquility of the waves and the support of the community, Marines engaged in surfing can find peace.
The culture of surfing found throughout the Marine Corps is well represented on Camp Pendleton. For those going through seemingly insurmountable adversity, surfing offers vital assistance. For those beginning their journeys toward recovery, their first step might just be onto a surfboard.
This story was originally published July 7, 2020, by Marines.mil.