By: Emily Rangel (Board Member)
This week Nonprofit Connection Santa Cruz County (NPC), would like to spotlight Veteran Surf Alliance (VSA), a nonprofit organization, which helps veterans transition between military service and civilian living (Visit Website Here). Events hosted by the organization include a monthly surf on the last Saturday of the month from 8 am-12 pm see upcoming dates HERE. The organization fulfills its mission by “Teaching, coaching and mentoring veterans to surf and be respected members of their communities, providing access to surfboards, vital equipment, routine surf meetups, and annual events.” The Organization’s founder Sean Meyer shares his story and the story of creating the Veterans Surf Alliance. We invite you to read the full story and celebrate the amazing accomplishments of the organization and the support it provided to veterans.
“I was born in Oakland and raised in the north bay area. Living in a broken home prompted me to join the army shortly after high school, enlisting as a combat engineer. At that time, the army was trying to address the improvised explosive device (IED) problem in Afghanistan by establishing Clearance Companies to execute route and area clearance operations and my company was one of the first to deploy out of Germany. Our mission took us into the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan where we suffered significant casualties; these losses prompted me to become a medic. Upon completion of training, I was sent to Fort Bragg, NC where I earned a role on the Forward Surgical Team (FaST). As an advanced trauma life support medic on a FaST team, we trained in busy trauma centers like Ryder Trauma Miami, FL. We would operate within the special operations community responding to global conflicts at a moment’s notice to provide critical and life-saving care to the severely wounded.
In 2016, I transitioned from active duty to national guard and returned to the bay area where my son was born. Transitioning home was difficult: I was dealing with various injuries, including several TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). I struggled to find greater purpose and meaning working in the civilian sector. I had returned home but I was not the same; I did not view the world around me in the same way and I lacked a sense of belonging. In 2017, I attempted to end my life. But God had a path for me.
As my rehabilitation began, I was invited to participate in Operation Surf’s week-long therapeutic surf in Santa Cruz, awakening the blue mind inside me. Surfing was something I was on awe of and wanted to learn; I became obsessed. A couple fellow veterans and I committed to each other that we would use this as a healthy outlet to come together and have positive shared experiences in the water. We would discuss the waves and use words like “stoked” and “shredding” while enjoying a sandwich in a coffee shop just a stone’s throw from the beach. I knew right away how powerful this “thing” was, and that it was saving my life.
In 2018, I was sent to Michigan for traumatic brain injury treatment and made good progress. Reflecting on my experience with these other veterans, surfing together, getting to know each other, healing through surfing and connection, I committed to building an organization that would support more veterans. After returning home, our small group would meet every Tuesday rain or shine and I would post the stoke on social media.
LDRSHIP is the acronym for the Army’s seven basic values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage, all of which resonated immediately and deeply. With these as my core values, and the encouragement and support of others, I established a code of conduct and created the Veteran Surf Alliance (VSA)
Throughout this time the VSA trained, coached and mentored many veterans in the water and land. We helped members understand how to read the ocean’s waves, sets, and currents, we introduced them to other veteran organizations, pointed them to available resources and benefits, essentially helping them navigate the transition from service to civilian life. Participation in this healthy community was reducing the negative effects of trauma and war. We would feel like kids again in the water with our boards, playing with friends. Many spouses have stated their partner is not as angry or antisocial anymore, that they have something to look forward to. The ocean was calling to them and we were helping them get there. I had to reach more veterans to share this.
Because we were 100% self funded, I filed for 501(c) 3 and was granted nonprofit status in July 2019. With a book on how to start a nonprofit, I learned we needed a whole lot more. I moved my family to Santa Cruz and began holding monthly events while inviting as much of the community as possible. With help from the local surf and veteran community, we continued to grow. I learned to raise funds by holding surfboard raffles and BBQ fundraisers. These funds enabled us to travel and campout in Big Sur and San Onofre and provided opportunities for other community building events, sharing our stories, strengthening our connection.
Since the launch of the VSA, our veteran community has grown to 200 members and my family has grown as well with the addition of two beautiful daughters. Feeling the timing was right, I recently transitioned from the president position, handing the reins to Dan Redmon. This has allowed me to continue my healing path of helping others in and out of the water.
I met Dan at our 2020 Memorial Day Paddle Out and knew right away that I wanted him as a member of the board of directors. As a Marine Corps officer who recently retired 20 years as a Marine Corps Infantry Recon Officer, Dan has the right leadership values and organizational mindset to assume the president’s position. I remain an active leader and present director, supporting the team in any way possible.
Building this surf community has altered my life in the best ways possible. I am forever indebted to those who supported my dream and joyfully look forward to seeing what’s next.”