Tony never had any aspirations to join the military, since his uncle served in Vietnam and later became a POW (Prisoner Of War) and still remains MIA (Missing In Action) to this day. While growing up in a small suburb called Littleton, located just outside of Denver, Colorado, Tony was an all-sport athlete. In his early years he played soccer and skied the snowy mountains of the countryside, but when he entered high school he ventured into contact sports like football, rugby, and wrestling. After graduating from high school he attended college for a year and a half and moved out to Kansas with his then-girlfriend at the time. He worked odd jobs, had a kid, and realized he needed more stability in his life.
In 1995, at 24-years-old, Tony walked into the recruiting office and saw a Marine and a navy recruiter and described it as follows, “The Marine standing there in his dress blues looked more legit and put together than what the navy guy had on, so I enlisted in the Marines.” Originally he signed up to be an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) technician, but after finding out after boot camp that his recruiter had lied to him, he picked up the MOS as an Ammunitions Technician. Tony deployed twice to Okinawa, Japan; had two combat deployments serving with MARSOC (Marine Special Operations Command), one each to Iraq and Afghanistan; and held instructor positions including a stint as a combatives instructor. Tony got out of the Marines in 2012 after 16 years of military service.
“When I got out of the Marines I was going through a rough patch in my life,” he said. “I had a hard time assimilating back to society and had the stereotypical issues of veterans; Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and anger issues.” After his departure from the military he and his girlfriend Susan lived in North Carolina before moving to Florida to move closer to family. While in Florida, Tony attended his first surf therapy session held by the Wounded Warrior Project“It was my first time ever surfing but this is where it all began,” he said.
Tony and his family moved to Hawaii between years 2013-14 and Tony committed to his path in surf therapy. “I volunteer for AccesSurf Hawaii the first Saturday of each month”, he said. “Since I would be surfing with them as they help provide assistance to those with cognitive disabilities or any disability really, Susan said I should help volunteer too”. Every veteran has a similar but unique experience while on the wave and Tony is no different. “Feeling equal to everyone else in the water is something I get when I train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). I talk to everyone, even someone I don’t even know, and they treat you with respect. When I’m out surfing it’s my happy place. If I haven’t gone surfing my girlfriend tells me to either go surfing or to BJJ because it helps me with camaraderie, as I generally don’t like being around people.”
While volunteering at AccesSurf Hawaii, Tony became friends with One More Wave’s Ambassador of Stoke Buster Kawasaki and worked towards making his own customized board.
“I have a classic sea foam green 10-foot longboard. On the top I have the One More Wave logo and a Hawaiian sea turtle with an Oakland Raiders emblem in the middle of it. At the bottom I have the initials CKIV, some of Micah’s work, and white, blue, purple, brown, and black BJJ belts that wrap around the board because Jiu-Jitsu has helped me stay out of trouble,” he said. Tony explains with a laugh when he first described to Alex how he wanted to add a Stitch for a design, “I told Alex I wanted a Stitch on the board, you know from the cartoon Lilo & Stitch, and he looked at me funny. He had never seen the show so he had no idea what I was talking about! Once we got passed that, I told him I wanted to have Stitch staring at a lovebird because Susan had them 30 years ago and when I look at it, it reminds me that she’s out there surfing with me”.
Last year after traveling to Germany on vacation with Susan, they came back and adopted a rescue duckling named Daffy that has since become an unofficial therapy duck. “We rescued her while she was in a canal and brought her home and she does most things I do. She likes to ride on the top of the board with me while I surf or float in the waves, she’ll lay next to me while I watch TV, and she’s great to bring to surfing events because she’ll ride on the shoulders of those in wheelchairs and she’s really responsive with the kids, especially those with autism”, he reflected. “I believe it’s because of the her different textures and the kids have high sensitivity with their touch; her soft feathers and scaly feet like an alligator, they really love her.”
Tony currently works in the Coast Guard as a civilian but he is considering becoming a probations officer or a teacher because he believes he can do some good to give back like so many others did for him. “When I think about it, it was my high school coaches and teachers that kept me out of trouble with the extra practices and the time they spent with me. If it wasn’t for them, I would be out partying or getting into trouble, so I want to help kids avoid going down the wrong path.” Aside from surfing, Tony enjoys training BJJ where he is a brown belt, spending time with his children Jordan (23), Marina (22), Kody (18), Torii (15), his girlfriend Susan, and of course, Daffy.
Author: matt fratus