Local veteran's surfing charity garners national attention

FOLLY BEACH, SC (WCSC) - A local veteran is in the national spotlight for his charity that helps other veterans.

The Warrior Surf Program provides therapy to veterans and their families through surfing.

"I spent a few years in combat with multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan," army veteran Brian Johnson said.

He says the transition from military combat to the real world was rough.

"We had no time to settle in," he said."We were training for the next time to go. The last tour when I decided to completely get out, it was a huge shock. It was putting the brakes on life."

Johnson heard about the Warrior Surf Foundation in April 2016 at a farmers market on Folly Beach.

He was invited to give it a try and, although he was hesitant, he showed up with his family.

The program starts with 90 minutes of family therapy on the beach then everyone hits the water.

"Kind of forced myself out and immediately fell in love with it, not just the foundation but the people in it," Johnson said. "There are other guys that know what they're doing and experienced similar trauma to what I had."

"It puts your body at calm and ease, even if you're uncomfortable with it and it gives you a sense of forgetting about everything," Warrior Surf Foundation founder Andy Manzi said."It's individually based on the veterans and our foundation works empower them and to get them back engaged. We need to bring the whole family out. We view [the foundation] as a family. It's a place to go and hangout with people like you."

Manzi said the program has big plans for expanding the outreach of the foundation.

They want to accommodate veterans with more severe injuries. They are currently up for consideration with multiple local and national awards and grants.

Manzi plans to apply to more in the future.

"With the right equipment and the right training, there's another group that does aggressive work with people with bad injuries," Manzi explained." We have plans to grow more but keep our roots true to South Carolina and North Carolina."

Currently, it practices on the Carolina coastline. Participants also go to Central America to surf and help out the communities there.

Johnson now surfs with the foundation every week and is hopeful they'll continue to help more veterans. He said the program saved his life.

"Building good, sustainable relationships with other vets that you can call anytime at any hour became a true lifesaver," Johnson said.

"You can still get out there and serve people, serve humans, and it doesn't have to be in a uniform," Manzi said.

Right now, Manzi is a top-ten nominee for CNN Heroes: Everyday People Changing the World. The award for winning is $100,000 towards the Warrior Surf Foundation.

For more information on the top ten CNN Heroes and how you can cast your vote, click this link.

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