Retired Staff Sergeant Brandon Forbes paddled his surfboard into a gentle wave at Wrightsville Beach, jumping to his feet as the swell pushed him forward. Nearby, his nine-year-old daughter Stella caught the same wave and they glided to shore side by side.
Forbes, along with his daughter Stella, seven-year-old son Kai and wife Leila were among the 12 families participating in the Indo Jax Wounded Warrior Surf Day in Memory of Don Boyd on Saturday, Sept. 13.
Indo Jax founder Jack Viorel said the camp, now in its sixth year, had undergone several changes from past years. Rather than limiting participation to members of Camp Lejeune or the Wounded Warrior Project, this year’s camp was open to anyone involved with the armed forces.
“There were others who weren’t a part of [these groups]that wanted to surf too,” Viorel said. “We wanted to make that possible. Now they don’t have to be with any certain group.”
Viorel also invited family members of the wounded warriors to go surfing, something he said he is incorporating into all his charity camps.
“Where there’s an issue, whether it’s with the parent or the kid, the whole family is affected,” Viorel said. “So the family can gain some healing by being out on the beach…it’s therapeutic to the whole family.”
Leila Forbes stood on the beach, taking photographs of her family catching waves together. She said her husband had been taking part in the Indo Jax wounded warrior camps every year, but this was the first year he could share the experience with his children.
“This is Brandon’s time to clear his head…but I really appreciate that Jack’s including families this year,” she said. “It’s a good bonding experience.”
Viorel said he had seen a noticeable difference in Brandon Forbes since Forbes first participated in the camp not long after he returned from war. Viorel said around that time, in 2010, many soldiers were returning from overseas suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with limited ways to cope and heal.
“A program like ours is all about emotional healing,” Viorel said. “So many life skills are covered in learning to surf, like getting knocked down and getting back up…and all of these guys have suffered a little bit of a wipe out so they have to get back up and start again.”
After three hours of catching waves, Forbes finally returned to the beach. He described the mental healing that occurred in the ocean.
“Being out in the water is a lot more therapeutic than everyday life,” he said. “You have to really be in tune with the ocean in order to catch waves and it lets you concentrate on something else and not the rest of life…it’s just about living right now.”