Fence & Deck Connection Sends Veterans to Surf Therapy Camp For Second Year in a Row

For over thirty years, Fence & Deck Connection has been proud to support our local military heroes — through employment opportunities, military discounts, and community involvement. While we know that monetary donations to charitable organizations are always appreciated, our team has invested in offering local veterans a unique, life-changing experience for two years in a row.

At the end of October, FDC teamed up with Warrior Events, a nonprofit organization providing local veterans with event and community support programs, and Trex, our composite deck partner, to sponsor five veterans attending a week-long surf therapy clinic hosted by Warrior Surf Foundation (WSF) in Folly Beach, South Carolina!

Taking a break and getting warm after a morning surf session

Founded by Marine Veteran Andy Manzi in 2015, WSF helps to break the cycle of trauma, reintegration disorder, anxiety, and depression so the body and mind are able to work through residual feelings of discomfort and distress. After his return from deployments in Iraq, Manzi found that the unfortunate effects of war and trauma can be counteracted by using the ocean as a healing remedy. This amazing and life-changing experience is available to Veterans and active service members with psychological and/or physical disabilities.

Fence & Deck Connection’s Founder, Jim Rubush met Manzi in 2014 as his program was starting to take root. As the organization evolved, Rubush and the FDC team were inspired to contribute to the program. In 2020, FDC sponsored eight local veterans to attend the program and this year, five members of Warrior Events spent one week in Folly Beach with Warrior Surf Foundation. Warrior Events is an organization that provides veterans and their families the opportunity to engage with and become pillars in their community following military service.

The group preparing to get into the ocean in the chilly morning air

Captain Bruce Black, USN (Ret), found the experience cathartic and satisfying on a deeply personal level, 

“Since the fall of Afghanistan and the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I’ve questioned if my service was meaningful or worthwhile. Attending the Warrior Surf Foundation camp put me together with my fellow veterans and the actions of all the volunteers and support staff made me realize that not only what I did in Afghanistan, but during my entire Navy career, was indeed meaningful and worthwhile. I am truly grateful for the experience.”

Captain Bruce Black, USN (Ret) poses with his board and Warrior Surf volunteers

Due to weather conditions during the week, program attendees surfed three days in a row. Typically, the surf days are spread out throughout the weeklong camp. The first day was especially windy, rough, and rainy. To see all five veterans walk into the water with their boards, without hesitation, was incredibly moving and inspiring! Each morning, every veteran participant was assigned an instructor —most often a team of instructors — who would be their support and guidance in the water. All instructors are volunteers and despite balancing home, school, and work life, they came to the beach every morning with a smile and eagerness to help veterans gain confidence in the water. One of this year’s participants shares her experience on learning to surf,

“The patience they demonstrated, and the one-on-one coaching they gave out in the water over and over and over again — in cold and less than ideal conditions to get me to learn — it was so humbling it moves me to tears.”

In addition to daily surf lessons, participants also took part in yoga and wellness workshops, led by certified instructors and therapists. By focusing on mindfulness and resiliency, these offerings help guide Veterans into maintaining a healthy lifestyle well after the program ends. One of our participants attended the program both in 2020 and 2021. This year, they walked away feeling just as accomplished on land as they did in the water,

“The real take away for me was the things we did out of the water. The wellness classes and yoga were incorporated in my first year, but I was sensationalized with the idea that I was surfing. This year I spent more time with my thoughts and practicing what we learned and discussed during wellness sessions and it has paid off dividends. I am now looking for places and programs in the area to continue with these practices so I can routinely incorporate them in my life. This program starts with surfing as a means of teaching people to let go — once we actually let go and balanced our thoughts between the water and land, things were completely different.”

Daily afternoon yoga sessions were held at the group house on the pool deck
Lessons differed each day, as the team got to experience different yoga instructors

Program attendees develop a close bond in this supportive, tight-knit community formed by volunteers and past participants, sharing stories and experiences with one another. Since the group lives together in a house during the program, it was noticeable to see the family dynamic take shape as the week progressed. Meals were cooked by Warrior Surf Foundation volunteers, many of whom had participated in the program in years past. It was amazing to see so many volunteers taking the time out of their busy work schedules to contribute some of the meaningful aspects of the program they once experiences themselves. During “down time,” our five veterans had time to explore Folly Beach and Charleston. Since its beginning, WSF has served over 500 Veterans on the beautiful shores of Folly Beach.

FDC and Warrior Surf Foundation participants being tourists in downtown Charleston, South Carolina
Jim and Michelle Rubush’s son, James, playing a happy hour set after a relaxing yoga session
Our Warrior Surf family out to lunch at Lost Dog Cafe, “cheersing” to a successful last surf day

Rubush, his wife Michelle, and Fence & Deck Connection’s Marketing team, Sarah Ditto and Nicole Bailey, witnessed firsthand the powerful, life-changing moments experienced by this wonderful group of heroes. Fence & Deck Connection is proud to provide local Veterans with this opportunity for years to come!

If you know a veteran that would benefit from the Warrior Surf Foundation surf therapy program, please visit www.warriorsurf.org.