Veterans on the Waves

Minnesota Wakesurf Championship welcomes military members and vets to “shred it” on Lake Minnetonka.

Andy Weigman had a vision.

Wakesurfing was immensely popular on the west coast and in Florida. Why not bring it to Lake Minnetonka? In 2011, the sport made its debut in Mound, with the inaugural Minnesota Wakesurf Championship. Professional surfers from all over dominated the competition. Weigman’s ultimate dream was to attract a cross section of athletes, including those who had lost limbs but were eager to perform.

After receiving approval from various local organizations and municipalities, the Minnesota Wakesurf  Championship became an annual event, drawing thousands of competitors and spectators to Lake Minnetonka for a full-blown festival. These days, among the surfers are members of the military (including veterans and active-duty) who have suffered life-altering injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2016, Wake for Warriors was invited to participate in the championship. The organization says its mission is to “connect with injured military veterans through sharing our passion for wake and water sports. We believe that in doing so, we can help to heal the emotional and psychological wounds of military veterans and their families.” Wake for Warriors was founded by David Deep, a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot.

This year, on a sunny weekend in July, the Minnesota Wakesurf Championship welcomed athletes of all kinds, and ten disabled veterans became reacquainted with the joy of “ shredding it.” Maple Grove’s Adam Warden says, “This is a blast. To be with both people in the services and those who have similar experiences is awesome.”

(Pictured above) Air Force security specialist Adam Warden, of Maple Grove, returned from Iraq uninjured but was crushed by a damaged tree as he began to dismantle it after a storm in 2013. His back and several ribs were broken, and his left leg was mangled. After consulting with his physician, he decided to have a portion of the leg amputated.

Founder of Wake For Warriors and former Marine attack helicopter pilot David Deep (left), helps Chance Field into a seat mounted on his wakeboard. Field was paralyzed below the waist in a vehicle accident while in the Navy.

Marine rifleman Tim Conner was repeatedly injured by IED explosions, then suffered another injury when a suicide truck bomber detonated explosives within feet of the Marine. Conner was treated and released to return home but was later critically injured while competing in a motocross competition. That accident resulted in his paralysis below the waist.

Former Navy corpsman Nate Hamilton balances gingerly atop a wave’s crest. Although he can walk with the aid of support braces, Hamilton can only surf while kneeling on his board. While serving with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, he suffered multiple traumatic injuries from IED explosions and mortar attacks.

A single amputee veteran, one of ten prior service and active duty surfers at the event who have suffered grave physical and psychological injuries, holds his own as other service members encourage him.