EWA BEACH, Hawaii --
Sgt. Rafael Cervantes remembers his first time learning to surf.
He went to White Plains Beach during a session with AccesSurf, a nonprofit organization which provides surfing lessons for people with disabilities or special needs.
The 24-year-old spent two and a half hours on what he called a “beautiful day,” and caught his first wave. Although an injury he has occasionally makes balancing on the surfboard difficult, he continues to enjoy the activity that helps him decompress.
“Nothing else matters at the time,” Cervantes said. “It’s just the water and you.”
Cervantes has been attending AccesSurf sessions since October 2011. The San Diego native is a wounded warrior with Wounded Warrior Battalion West - Detachment Hawaii, makes an effort to go every chance he has.
“(Surfing provides) that great feeling when you go camping or when you go to the beach,” said Mark Marble, the Military Adaptive Sports Program coordinator with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Schofield Barracks. “The sun and water mixing in the air promotes a very healthy, well state of mind.”
Marble, who co-founded AccesSurf more than seven years ago and previously served as its president and CEO, currently continues to volunteer with the organization. When Marble was a recreation therapist at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, he noticed there weren’t any community programs available on Oahu that provided water activities for the disabled.
He said wounded warriors can also benefit from surfing because they are taken out of their familiar, routine environment and they can meet new people. During AccesSurf events, the families of wounded warriors are also invited to join the fun.
“It’s multifaceted,” Marble said of the benefits. “It’s an incredible experience for them.”
In addition to surfing, participants at these sessions can also stand-up paddle, swim among other activities.
The wounded warriors in particular have ongoing sessions throughout the year, on the third Wednesday of every month. Marble said as many as 30 wounded warriors attend each session.
“The third Wednesday of every month is the wounded warrior day and we encourage all the transition units including Kaneohe Bay, Schofield Barracks as well as Tripler Army Medical Center, to surf, stand-up paddle and do all types of ocean activities once a month,” Marble said.
One wounded warrior was able to heal even though his emotional scar came from the water. Marble said he remembered a service member based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam last year who couldn’t bring himself to do any water activities because of a traumatic event which cost his friends their lives.
“He did not want to go near the water,” Marble said. “So his therapist brought him out to (AccesSurf). He did like to be by the ocean at the beach but he didn’t like to get in the water."
The service member chose to walk along the beach, avoiding the water entirely. Marble said within months, the man slowly started to walk closer to the water, and eventually could wade into the water up to his knees.
“That was a huge thing for him to overcome,” Marble said. “That was a really neat story for him coming out to the program."
No matter what injury a person may have, Cervantes said the volunteers at the organization help teach and support people who want to learn how to surf.
He has been able to surf even though he has issues with his ankle.
“I just want to go there every single time,” he said. “I wish they had (surfing sessions) weekly.”
But the wounded warriors are not the only ones from Marine Corps Base Hawaii taking advantage of the waters. Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 37 sailors volunteer with AccesSurf throughout the year.
“While it is not a command-sponsored program, there is a group of personnel from the command who are very committed to the success of the program,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Cody Berg, an aviation warfare systems operator with HSL-37.
Berg helps coordinate volunteer efforts for the squadron. He said he first started volunteering with AccesSurf when he received encouragement from former Master Chief Jim Lyle.
“I was absolutely amazed at the number of people helping give the participants something that most of us would take for granted — a day of surfing and hanging out on the beach,” Berg said. “After that first (session) I was hooked.”
According to Berg, as volunteers, the sailors do a variety of tasks, from helping with set up to assisting participants as they enter or exit the water. Some sailors are skilled in surfing and help participants as they learn.
Though AccesSurf has professional volunteers in related fields such as therapeutic recreation, but it also trains additional volunteers at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific.
“These professional volunteers are also assisted by trained volunteers ensuring a safe atmosphere that encourages our participants to reach their highest level of independence,” the website reads.
Whether volunteering or healing, MCB Hawaii members have taken full advantage of the island waters.