Veterans, first responders, surfers paddle from Catalina to Huntington Beach to bring awareness to veterans' issues

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Dozens welcomed a group of veterans, first responders and surfers as they finished an inaugural paddle from Catalina Island to bring awareness to veterans' issues.

The 10 paddlers traveled just more than 32 miles for nearly 10 hours on Veterans Day.

Danny Nichols is the event director of Operation Surf. The nonprofit works to heal wounded veterans through surfing.

Nichols said that work inspired this inaugural trip, Operation Open Water, to bring awareness to veterans issues.

"Just raising awareness for mental health issues. There's a high rate of PTSD and suicide between our veteran community and our first responder community," Nichols said.

Kyle Kelly lost one of his legs while serving in the Army in Iraq. Kelly said we can't forget our country is still at war.

"We do still have guys serving, girls serving, you know, people in the military overseas in combat zone serving our country," Kelly said.

The paddlers said by bringing together those who protect us, for nearly 10 hours in the open water, we can help them know they're not alone in their journey toward healing.

Huntington Beach lifeguard, Derek Peters, participated in the inaugural event.

"Makes sense on Veterans Day, representing all the armed services and first responders and everything, can't thank them enough," Peters said.

All the paddlers wore bands reading 'Jamie Strong' in support of a manager at Duke's Huntington Beach who is battling cancer.
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