Folly Beach, S.C. Resident Andy Manzi's life changed the day he tried surfing. He had been suffering from PTSD since returning from two tours in Iraq and found that out of all treatments and therapies, nothing compared to the power of the ocean.
Andy started the Warrior Surf Foundation to introduce other veterans to surfing.
I put a suit on one day; first time I put it on it was backwards and I haven't stopped surfing since. And it kind of just took over my life.
"I always wanted to learn how to surf. And I was born and raised on the Connecticut coastline, almost in Rhode Island," said the co-founder of the Warrior Surf Program."
His new hobby has changed his life drastically.
Manzi saw the worst of the worst in Iraq and then brought home the nightmares. PTSD was weighing on him like nothing he’d ever felt.
"You know, for a long time I kind of, I pushed myself like very far away from the military. You know, when I was in, I was a Marine. I did my job," he said. "It is overwhelming sometimes. I get teary eyed all the time. I don't know if a lot of people see it. It's just, I know what that weight feels like."
The only major relief came when he was out on the water, riding the waves.
Mindfulness is one of the most powerful things to get through some of our issues, whether how small or how big. And there's only a few environments in the world where you can be really mindful of the present moment and it's out there.
He says that the ocean is one of the few environments where he's really in the moment.
Manzi found a group of fellow veterans in Folly Beach that were needing more than they were receiving.
"I always wanted to be back around a bunch of vets. I wanted to find a way to give back," he said. "I would see all these examples of things that, of programs that were started for veterans. And I was like, I know one that will definitely work and help and that's surfing ... teaching veterans and their families how to surf."
The group has steadily grown. Veterans bring their families and hang 10 every Saturday.
'He wouldn't give up on me, and that's huge for us vets somebody who won't give up on you. We talk about everybody having your six. That man has our six.
"Yeah, I'm not in the same place I was seven years ago. There was a flyer that came out and said come out surfing and I thought, 'That's crazy,'" said veteran Mike Lovett.
It’s not just for vets, their families are also welcome. It’s a rare chance for them to create a new positive normal. "You can put a family in the environment to kind of give them an environment to heal in, and to give them an area where they can come out and just practice every week. They get stronger as a unit," Manzi said.
Mike Lovett's wife Becca is a believer. "Slowly but surely, the trust and the connections with the amazing people and the excitement of the waves. He's just returned my husband to me. He's just come out of his shell," she said.
It's a healing thing for us because you get out there and it's just peace. The nightmares are gone, the flashbacks are gone. All you feel is the ocean underneath you, and you're just free.
It's a feeling these men haven’t felt in a long long time.
The foundation just returned from Guatemala where ten veterans were taken on an all-expenses paid trip to surf in Guatemala.
The group also gave back by doing charity work in area villages.
Vets and families of vets are welcome to join the group on Folly Beach every Saturday morning. Surf's up at 10 a.m. on 3rd West Street. For more information, visit the Warrior Surf Website.