Body surfers get ‘womped’ to help military veterans
More than 100 men, women and children paid money to get crushed by waves in Coronado Sunday morning.
All in the name of fun and charity.
“Urt Womp,” an annual bodysurfing competition in Coronado, raised money for One More Wave, a nonprofit that aims to reduce veteran suicides by making custom-made surfboards for wounded vets.
The event itself was named after what happens to people who get caught inside a six-foot wave.
“Womp is basically the feeling you get when you’re thrashed around in the water like a washing machine,” said event organizer Ian Urtnowski. “It creates this womp, womp, womp.”
Apparently that’s a good thing.
“There’s something to be said about being rag-dolled but also in control of the situation,” he added. “It’s all about comfort and chaos.”
Urtnowski, who founded a clothing and lifestyle brand, Urt, in 2009, held the first Womp nine years ago. About 22 people showed up, mostly friends and family, he said.
Sunday’s event offered spectators free donuts and breakfast burritos. Some competitors came to Coronado from as far as Newport Beach, and more than 100 onlookers attended, saying a collecting, “oof,” whenever a body surfer got crushed by a particularly powerful wave.
The clothing company hosts community events throughout the year to build a sense of community around the water, said Urtnowski, who also works as a lifeguard in Coronado.
“We are a lifestyle brand that tries to live by what we do,” he added. “That doesn’t mean sitting behind the computer and packing shirts. That means being out there and getting wet.”
Swimmers, surfers, and most notably, Navy SEALs have embraced Urt’s logo, which is of a seal. A patch of the Urt seal recently appeared on the Amazon Prime television series, “Jack Ryan,” in part because of a consultant on the show who is a former Navy SEAL.
That military connection is also how the company got involved with One More Wave. The nonprofit’s founder, Alex West, and Urtnowski have been friends for a couple of years.
West, who was a Navy SEAL for 20 years, founded the nonprofit in 2015.
“Our main goal is to get veterans out into the ocean for ocean therapy to impact the veteran suicide rate of 22 a day,” he said.
He originally got the idea while volunteering as a surf instructor at Balboa Naval Hospital, also known as the Naval Medical Center San Diego.
The program uses foam boards to get people in the water but some disabled veterans – like those with spinal cord injuries or amputations – were limited in what they could do in the water.
One More Wave builds custom surfboard tailor-made to an individual veteran’s needs.
The nonprofit flies out injured veterans from all over the country to San Diego where board makers can study their surfing styles and create find the perfect board of them.
Surfing helps veterans strengthen back, shoulder, arm, core and neck muscles. Being active and in the water also helps people suffering from PTSD or clinical depression, West said.
“Every time I’ve come out of the water, I’ve always felt better than when I went in,” he said. “Even if the conditions were horrible or even if the conditions were great but I performed badly.”
Sunday’s event raised about $3,000 for One More Wave. Most of the money came from a $40 entry fee for competitors.
That should be good enough for a few new boards, Urtnowski said.
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