On September 24 injured veterans crowded around the south side of Pismo Beach Pier anxiously waiting to feel the ‘stoke’ of surfing their first wave with Amputee Surfing Champion and Founder of Amputee Surfers Alliance, Rodney Roller.
The surf was ideal for beginners. Wave sets came in around 3-5 foot and clean. It was some of the better surf in the last few weeks and it left a smile on everyone’s face. These guys and gals were definitely hooked and very stoked to experience the waves of the Central Coast.
Surfing was not the only experience the veterans had on the Central Coast of California. They would also be paddling outrigger canoes with the Pale Kai Outrigger Club in Avila Beach, golfing at Black Lake, partying a bit and doing some sea cave exploration with Central Coast Kayaks in Shell Beach.
Kayaking the Shell Beach Sea Caves
The vets showed up at the kayak shop at 0900, many of them still in their wetsuits from surfing earlier that morning. I am a kayak guide and I was excited to introduce this special set of students to the world of kayaking, especially to the sea caves at Shell Beach. John Bonaventure, another pro kayaking guide who was also guiding the trip, was also stoked to show them some awesome kayaking.
“You could tell right from the beginning these guys were gung-ho. A lot of them had never paddled a kayak but they just wanted to experience everything. Eagerness and excitement was not lacking in this group,” says John Bonaventure.
Each member of the group was given a ‘paddle talk’ that gave them a short course on paddle strokes and some sea kayak basics, and then we were off.
The Shell Beach area is home to a wide variety of sea life and some incredible sea caves only accessible by kayaks. The Operation Comfort Group saw harbor seals, pelicans, seals, and even a few otters. Even with this smorgasboard of sea life I could tell that most of them wanted to get to the sea caves and start testing themselves! This sea kayak trip, sponsored by Central Coast Kayaks, is locally known as the ‘Cave Tour.’ There are a series of caves and arches along the shore in the Pismo Beach area that were formed by differential erosion in the rocky shoreline. Some rocks in the area were softer and eroded out and left the caves and arches. Perfect for paddling in and out of and enjoying the Pacific waters as they crashed into and around the formations.
Even though there was a small swell running and an extremely high tide each member entered every cave and successfully maneuvered obstacles in the caves. Even though we had some minor ‘carnage’ , a few flips (the sit-on-tops were easy to get back on), not one person complained or was less than enthusiastic.
“I think what the kayak did for some of these people was to equalize their individual disabilities. I couldn’t tell who had a prosthetic limb or who didn’t. They were all equal with no limitations.”
At the end of the tour, one of the guys climbed up on Elephant Arch and decided he was going to jump in. I have to admit I was a little worried of the possible consequences as I sat in my kayak looking up at him. Standing on top of the rock, he fearlessly raised his hands, looked around as if to challenge the ocean and jumped. It’s a scary fifteen-foot jump and not something we let people do on our normal tours. This time John and I both knew we could not stop him from conquering this jump.
Watching these vets surf , paddle outrigger canoes and experience extreme sea kayaking in the caves of Shell Beach taught me a lesson in determination. Their disabilities were just another bump on the road called life. Sometimes you have to ride over the bumps, no matter how big, and keep on riding down the road to find the things that make life interesting. I realized you can’t stop these guys going down that road.
For more information on Operation Restoration please visit:
For more photos of the event visit my website at:
www.vincentshayphotography.com (Operation Comfort Gallery)