On the morning of Saturday, July 31, you may have noticed more than the typical kayakers on the water in Avila Bay. If so, you witnessed the incredible sight of some of our Nation’s heroes paddling, fishing, and healing as part of Heroes on the Water.

Jim Dolan founded Heroes on the Water in 2007. A 501(c)(3) veterans’ charity, their objective is to create alternative wellness programs to serve veterans, active-duty military personnel, first responders, and their families. Andy Dibbern, the Central California Chapter Community Outreach Coordinator, stated, “As there is a correlation between kayaking and mental health, the primary proven therapy utilized by Heroes on the Water is kayak fishing. The mission of Heroes on the Water is to help warriors relax and reconnect through kayak fishing and the outdoors.” Volunteer-led chapters around the United States hold events which are free of cost to our nation’s heroes. Recurring activities give these heroes and their families a lifelong social network with like-minded people. No experience or equipment is needed, and kayak fishing is adaptive to those with disabilities. Numerous volunteers put time and energy into making this event happen.

Zachariah Clift, Head Coordinator for the chapter, explained, “These experiential programs incorporate structured activities proven to improve the lives of these men and women. Each experience reduces the impact of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury while providing much-needed camaraderie and support. The experiences serve to help the heroes develop their life story in a positive way.”

Their programs have proven to be effective and provide heroes with a way to positively improve their lives, enhance their family dynamic, and impact their community. Heroes on the Water provides a wellness therapy that supports over 9,000 veterans, first responders, and their families every year. The organization gives each man, woman, and child an opportunity to recover from the rigors and cost of being warriors and our nation’s heroes.

The Port San Luis Beach event started off at 7:00 a.m. with CalFire Station 62 making an appearance with their engine at the beach and then joined the heroes for coffee, scones, and muffins donated by the very supportive Hula Hut team. After a welcome by Coordinator Clift and a safety protocol presentation by Tom Reilly of Central Coast Kayaks, the heroes and their guides launched through the surf to paddle out and target some fish. Photographer Amy Joseph of Central Coast Pictures accompanied the safety boat and captured the memories of the day. After a few hours of productive fishing, the heroes returned and landed on the beach with their ocean bounty. 

Volunteers were there to process the catch and send them home with meat to enjoy with their families. The heroes enjoyed a very social lunch of amazing pulled pork sliders, mac & cheese, and delicious salad donated by Chef Jesse Smith, a US Coast Guard veteran of Avila Valley Barn and The Farmer’s Guild Catering. During lunch, CHP Air Operations performed a fly-over, projecting to the heroes, “Heroes on the Water! Thank you for your service! You are awesome!” which appropriately captured the deep appreciation for our heroes and robustly echoed the purpose of the event.