In 2010, Hamilton deployed to Afghanistan as a corpsman as a part of a Marine Infantry unit. While on patrol, one of his vehicles ran over an Improvised Explosive Device, commonly referred to as an IED. The explosion sent shrapnel in every direction and the blast engulfed the vehicle in fire.
Without hesitation and ignoring the numerous injuries suffered to his own body, his training kicked in as he started pulling his teammates away from the danger.
“I’ve been involved in quite a few incidents,” said Hamilton. “The one that got me was I was actually on foot next to a vehicle that ran over the IED. The guys in that convoy thought I was a pink mist, and somehow I came out of that dust cloud and pulled the guys out of the vehicle.”
Hamilton was medically retired in 2013 and was taking medication to combat his injuries before he found solace in the ocean. “I was on a lot of medicine back in the day and one day decided to stop it”, Hamilton said. “According to my family, I wasn’t the same person. I started to get in the water and I don’t need to take medicine - it’s one of those self-healing things.”
In March of 2016, Hamilton picked up surfing as a means of relieving his pain through ocean therapy, but quickly realized difficulty in popping up onto his feet. With no experience and picking up new skills as he went, Hamilton saw some gradual progress. A year later with help from Micah, and support from his friends and family, they noticed his tenacious spirit to catch a wave showed his eagerness and determination to improve.
With collaboration of shaper Dan Van Zanten, Addict Surfboards, and the rest of the team, Hamilton customized his own board. According to Hamilton, “We basically dished out the top of the board to keep my legs on the board as well as added forward handles that enabled me to have leverage to pop up on my knees,” he said.
Hamilton added, “There is also a slight rise where my chest sits while paddling to help with my C-Spine issues. The fin boxes were moved forward more under my center of gravity and makes it super responsive compared to normal boards I’ve been on.”
The board also features a unique wood grain top that pays tribute to his father’s service as an A-10 pilot and skilled woodworker. The graphics identify his time spent as an FMF Corpsman as well as an additional tribute to Chuck Keating, a close friend of many of the members of the team that made this happen.
Like many surfers, Hamilton enjoys the feeling of catching a wave, focusing on the challenge of being out in the water, and clearing his head. “When you are on that wave, the pain goes away; the thoughts go away”, Hamilton reflected. You don’t think about all the stuff you have to do, the medicine you have to take, it just all goes away”.
Hamilton tries to surf as much as possible where he lives in North Carolina. And added that the feeling is hard to put into words but noted, “I’m always in a better mood and smiling more, even after a big wipeout. Sometimes you lose track of time and just enjoy your surroundings as every wave is different.”
Just two years ago Hamilton was learning how to surf, and now he’s conquering it. After a recent trip to Pavones, Costa Rica, surfing some of the best waves in the world, Hamilton hopes to setup a retreat for everybody from combat wounded veterans, to experienced adaptive and novice surfers, and organizations around the country. He plans to compete in some competitions but ultimately values sharing the stoke and getting more people involved in the healing process that pertains to surf therapy. Whether it's in the ocean or wake surfing with Wake For Warriors, Nate strives to do his best each outing and has a lot of fun doing it.
Author: Matt Fratus