Arturo was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California, under a strict Catholic household. Growing up, Arturo was active in the Cali-lifestyle; skateboarding, body surfing, and boogie boarding. Vying to see the world, meet new friends, and gain perspective, Arturo enlisted into the US Army when he was a senior in high school. After Basic Training in Oklahoma in July 1986, Arturo arrived at his first duty station in Fort Bliss, Texas, where his trauma began.
“I was a brand new private, young and dumb, my parents were older and I think they kind of kept me sheltered from the evils of the world,” Arturo reflected. “I was pretty naive getting to my first unit. I got lured into a Sergeant’s room and from what I can make of it after going to therapy; I was drugged, blacked out, and taken advantage of. I didn’t even realize it until later.”
Arturo’s betrayal by his peers forced him to compartmentalize the trauma he experienced by keeping his feelings inside. The culture at the time was to not report crimes against fellow soldiers. Keeping the thoughts pent up inside would only increase the other issues with substance abuse and relationships down the road.
Arturo continued to serve and later deployed to Korea where he worked in artillery, but was accepted to be a driver for a staff officer. Instead of getting out to explore the civilian world, Arturo elected to extend his time and go to the Defense Language Institute to learn German as a 98G Voice Interceptor. “Unfortunately I didn’t get through the course, I got distracted because I was going home too often and hanging out with my hometown friends instead of studying, thus not being able to go on with that,” Arturo said. “However, with the 7th Infantry Division, I offered my assistance in translating documents in Spanish and had the option to go to Interrogation school.”
After some hoops to jump through with security clearance issues, Arturo boarded the last plane with the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion leaving to go to the Middle East to participate in Operation Desert Shield. “I arrived on the 4th of January of ‘91 in Saudi Arabia, got with my unit, and from there, the war started on the 15th of January,” he remembered. “Before we knew it a few months passed and we were done. Spanish was my target language for interrogation and obviously they don’t speak Spanish over there. We had some American civilians that spoke Arabic that were assigned to our interrogation team.” Arturo was responsible for the follow-up interrogations of detainees on base that were captured out in the field.
“We were setup in a little village called Rafha and, it was on the Saudi/Iraq border about a 100 or so kilometers from Kuwait,” Arturo said. “We were pretty safe for the most part, but there were some Scuds [ballistic missiles] that went overhead. When I was out in the courtyard there was a Scud alert and for whatever reason, I didn’t have my [gas] mask, so that caused me some panic, so when I hear sirens, it throws me back to that startled state.” Arturo left the Army in January 2003 after six and a half years of military service, but his journey of trauma continued.
His first marriage failed, he had a hard break up with a girlfriend, and his past sexual trauma, all accumulated into an out of control spiral of depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse. “I was on a self-destructive course for a good number of years,” he said. “I was hallucinating so much that I was scaring myself into, I better do something, or else I’m gonna go crazy, be dead, or go to jail.”
One More Wave has given Arturo the equipment and tools he needs to get back into the water to achieve surf therapy. “I try not to think about it [the trauma], I just try to be in the calm, the floating, waiting for my next wave, it’s very therapeutic,” he said. “The squinting face I make right before I’m about to get crushed by the wave makes me panic more, so I relax my eyes lightly and close my mouth lightly, and I count: one one thousand, two one thousand. That helps me being able to face the reality of having sexual military traumas, because I used to be afraid to talk about it or even bring it up. When the emotions are pent up it makes me have that tension in the face look.” Surf therapy has given Arturo the confidence to face these issues head on.
The entire experience, even before Arturo enters the water provides relief. He starts with a warm up with Tai Chi to get his body, mind, and spirit into one equilibrium. “It’s ritualistic in the preparation: putting on the wetsuit, the flippers, walking out to the water in my swim fins, walking backwards through the small shore break.” Arturo has reconnected with his Catholic faith and likes to thank God when he is out there too. The sense of community and camaraderie among fellow surfers and One More Wave has built up his confidence and has helped him overcome the struggle of addiction. Arturo has been sober from alcohol for almost three years now and is leading the charge for One More Wave’s newest chapter.
One More Wave Santa Cruz
“This last year at the URT WOMP, Kyle [Buckett] told me they were getting us a One More Wave tent that would say Santa Cruz and that floored me, I was so stoked! There is also going to be One More Wave Santa Cruz apparel. I’ve become the point guy to get others gear and Rob [Garnett] promoted me to be the Santa Cruz ambassador. I’m so honored and grateful for these guys.”
Arturo describes his experience with the founders of One More Wave and the continued support within the One More Wave family. “Navy SEALs, you look up to them like a Hollywood actor or a superstar, and to be part of this, with those guys, and to see their humility and their acceptance of us is humbling,” Arturo said. “This experience gives me a new confidence to be able to go from the small waves to the bigger and more challenging stuff. One More Wave has given me the strength to do the stuff I didn’t want to take on before because I was apprehensive.”
Arturo hopes to continue his journey with surf therapy and is working towards improving to ultimately receive his own custom surfboard. His newfound purpose as a One More Wave ambassador will help other veterans achieve the surf and art therapy they need. When not surfing, Arturo has felt a similar relief with golf as it relates to a shared fellowship with veterans. Like in the ocean with surfing, PGA Hope uses the medium of golf to help veterans connect with each other, push themselves, get outside, and have fun.
Follow Arturo’s journey on Facebook: Arturo Ayala