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A veteran’s mission to help others through surfing

Local resident Eric Franklin is riding a wave of giving back

Eric Franklin on the beach
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Born in Minnesota, Eric Franklin caught the surfing bug while going to high school in Orange Park, Florida. That is not so unusual, but what Franklin did next in pursuit of his newfound love likely puts him in a category of his own: He joined the Marines. “I was trying to go to school and surf at the same time, and school kept getting in the way,” says Franklin, who spent 18 of his 22-plus-year career stationed “aboard” Camp Pendleton.

Franklin was able to make the move to San Diego because when he enlisted two years out of high school, he signed up for six years, which came with a guaranteed job and rank of E3 at the end of bootcamp, as well as a West Coast option. There was a small chance he could have spent some time at Twentynine Palms, but Franklin had the added incentive of a military family that included the Army, the Navy, and a cousin who followed his father, Franklin’s uncle, into the Marines.

Eric Franklin
Eric Franklin

That was in 1993, a time when the world was relatively peaceful. Post 9/11, that was not the case, and Franklin, by then a staff sergeant, did two deployments in Iraq. His specialty is telecommunications operations and maintenance, and Franklin is happy to say that since retiring in 2015, he has continued to do exactly what he was doing before. The only difference is that he is now paid by Skylla (pronounced Sil-uh), a government contractor based in Texas.

Back to surfing. In the early 2000s, before being deployed to Iraq, Franklin started what is now known as The Pendleton Surf Club. “It was completely informal. There were 15 to 20 of us. Navy and Marines from Coronado, Miramar, and 32nd street, who would come up to Pendleton to go surfing,” Franklin explains. The internet was only just beginning, so it was all word of mouth. Eventually, the club created a website and email list, but Franklin was still a young sergeant with little authority or flexibility. The group put on numerous surf contests for local military surfers, and when he returned to Pendleton as a master sergeant in 2012 after three years in Hawaii, Franklin was able to do more with the club.

Members of The Pendleton Surf Club

Between 2012 and his retirement, the club not only staged surf contests for the local military, they also started volunteering with the VA Summer Sports Clinic and the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project.

The VA Summer Sports Clinic is a remarkable week-long program that enables disabled veterans who suffer everything from lost limbs to brain injuries and PTSD to partake in a variety of outdoor activities, including a day of surfing for all involved. “First and foremost, our goal was to get them in the ocean, and then to stand up and surf,” says Franklin.

At about the same time, Franklin heard the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project was looking for volunteers to help with surf camps for disabled kids. “So, a couple of buddies and I would go down to Moonlight Beach to help out,” he says.

Jon Peterson, Eric Franklin, and Mike Redman, president of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project
Jon Peterson, Eric Franklin, and Mike Redman, president of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project

In addition to his role as president of the Pendleton Surf Club, Franklin is now also a board member of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, and is quick to credit all he’s learned to his work over the years with other organizations including the Oceanside Longboard Surfing Club, Swami’s Surf Club, and the California Surf Museum.

Franklin, who now resides in Carlsbad, has a 25-year-old son, Skylar, who also lives in the area, and while COVID has put a damper on many activities, Franklin and The Pendleton Surf Club are looking forward to taking part in a series of surf camps for kids with disabilities hosted by the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project at South Ponto Beach beginning in June.

It is a program funded entirely by community support and the volunteer efforts of people like Franklin, who, though retired from the Marines seven years ago, continues his service to this day. pendletonsurfclub.com

Image Credits Eric Franklin: Photo by Vincent Knakal; All other Photography: Courtesy Photography

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