A journey of 1,000 miles may start with a single step—or riding that first wave.

By Perri Ormont Blumberg
October 26, 2020
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Credit: Warrior Surf Foundation

It's always a good day to celebrate our nation's veterans. When the surf is up and the sun is shining, it's a good day to hop in the water and get to work.

At least such is the case for Andy Manzi, who founded Warrior Surf Foundation (WSF) on Folly Beach, South Carolina, in 2015 to help veterans find healing and strength as they engage in free surf therapy, yoga classes, and more wellness-centric offerings.

Credit: Warrior Surf Foundation

In addition to being founder and executive director of WSF, Manzi actually knows firsthand of the mental health challenges veterans face as they transition back to civilian life. Having served as a Marine in Iraq from 2003 to 2007, he was all too familiar with the realities of adjusting to being home after serving in the military, and by 2015 he found his stride—and ultimately his calling—in teaching surf lessons.

Credit: Warrior Surf Foundation

"While teaching surf lessons on Folly Beach, I began to see the therapeutic nature of surfing and the power it had to wash away stress, anxiety, and fear. I knew I wanted to introduce veterans to the healing power of the ocean as a way to deal with post-service issues and help them become the best version of themselves," Manzi recalls to Southern Living. The former Marine then got to work on building his nonprofit from the ground up. Fast forward to the current day, and his organization has served over 500 veterans on the beautiful shores of Folly Beach in their 12-week surf therapy, yoga, and wellness program. "Seeing the lifelong connections that form between veteran participants has been one of the most rewarding parts of the job," he says of this accomplishment.

Credit: Warrior Surf Foundation

Jeremy Miller, a Marine who served in Iraq in 2004 and currently resides in Charleston, is one example of the many inspiring individuals Manzi has helped. "Four days post-service Jeremy found himself in a college classroom where he didn't feel his needs were being met. It has been amazing to watch how surfing has changed Jeremy's life for the better, and helped him manage the stress and anxiety that carried over from his service," says Manzi. After graduating from the WSF program, Miller even proceeded to become a wellness coach for the group himself.

These lifelong bonds and strong social support network are part of what makes WSF flourish. "Our program allows veterans to grow their team building and interpersonal communication skills—and everyone truly does feel like a tight-knit family by the time the 12 weeks is over. Many Veterans go on to become volunteers with the program themselves," he adds. Like countless nonprofits in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, WSF has had to cancel in-person benefits and find ways to raise funds for their life-changing services virtually. "We still found a way to raise $25,000 through our virtual surfboard auction this summer, which was thankfully a success. For a period we also began to offer yoga and wellness remotely instead of in-person—which was difficult since fostering community and relationships is so key to our program. The pandemic has been very hard on people mentally, and we have actually seen that our participation has increased since prior to COVID-19," notes Manzi. With surfing lessons back up and running, we're grateful WSF can be a literal life raft for so many vets in need of healing.

If you'd like to help support Warrior Surf Foundation, you can make a donation here.

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Know a veteran in the Charleston area? Share this piece with them. A journey of 1,000 miles may start with a single step—or riding that first wave.