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Vets to Catch a Healing Wave Thursday

The annual "Hit the Beach" celebration is less than a week away.

Ralph Fatello has a mantra that surfing "heals all wounds."

The American Legion Post 35 commander, as well as dozens of other volunteers, will set out to prove that theory for the fourth year in a row next week as part of the annual Wounded Warriors "Hit the Beach" event.

Roughly two dozen wounded veterans of all ages will jump in the water off North Beach on Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. as part of the event, which Fatello said is designed to give back to veterans by providing them with surf instruction and therapeutic fun.

"There's something about riding the waves that washes everything away," said Fatello. "Lot of them want to stay in the water all day long. They don’t want come out."

Fatello said volunteers create "lanes" for each veteran near the 18th Street entrance, and each veteran, some of which are missing limbs or are partially paralyzed, is monitored by two to four volunteers to ensure safety and help the individuals ride a wave.

Fatello said that doesn't mean each surfer has to "hang 10," though.

Surfing is a broad term that covers many ways to ride a wave, from lying on a surfboard like a boogieboard and coasting into shore to standing tall on a cresting wave. 

"Surfing is riding wave -- period," he said. "You still feel the sensation if you're paddling through a wave, lying down or standing up. That's surfing. Whether you stand up or don’t stand up is irrelevant -- you're riding the wave. That’s the feeling we're trying to convey to these veterans."

Fatello said one of the most memorial moments he's had while trying to convey that feeling came last year, when a veteran who lost both his arms in Vietnam spent the entire day attempting to stand up on a wave.

It may have taken the entire day, but the veteran eventually did it, at which point Fatello said a thundering wave of cheers washed over the entire beach.

"The place went crazy," said Fatello.

Among Thursday's expected surfers will be brought to Hampton from the Walter Red and Bethesda Naval hospitals.

The annual event is held in partnership with local surf shops Cinnamon Rainbows, Pioneers, Zapstix, and Summer Sessions, all of whom provide surfboards, wetsuits and instructors for the event.

Post 35 members will also be on hand to provide moral support, food and drink, and police, fire and rescue officials and lifeguards will also be present if needed.

More information about the event is available by e-mailing Fatello at ralph@adlantic.com.

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