‘Little Warriors’ show spirit on waves

Surf camp at La Jolla Shores last week was all 6-year-old Benjamin Wilson and his twin brother, Zeke, could talk about.

“My kids were so excited. ... When they walked out the door, the day was lost,” joked the boys’ mom, Lisa Katz-Wilson, the wife of a Camp Pendleton Marine. The boys were attending the Little Warriors Surf Camp, co-hosted by Freedom is not Free military support group, Surf Diva and INT Softboards. “That’s all they talked about at the dinner table when their daddy got home.”

Benjamin was so engrossed trying to surf that he could barely be pried away from the water for comment. Asked what he liked best he replied, “Popping up,” before asking, “Can I go back now?”

It was all part of the fun at the 2010 summer camp providing children of active duty military, with preference to families of the wounded and fallen, with an “escape” and a show of appreciation.

The sponsoring group, Freedom Is Not Free, is a nonprofit established in 2005 to raise funds to serve, support and increase awareness of the military with the aim of easing the burdens of service members and their families.

Cathy Pratt, Freedom Is Not Free’s development director, said 103 military youngsters ages 6 to 16 are benefiting from this year’s three-week summer surf camp program at Kellogg Park.

Pratt said the camp’s popularity increased exponentially in just its second year. She said: “Last year, it took us three months to fill our surf camp. This time, it took less than 24 hours.”

Little Warrior Surf Camp serves a multitude of purposes.

“It’s a give-back to military families,” Pratt said. “The kids make new friends: It lets them know they’re not alone, not the only kid with a parent deployed.”

“It’s an amazing opportunity what this organization is doing for these kids, and for the parents, some of whom are being deployed for the sixth or seventh time,” agreed Katz-Wilson. “It gives them (kids) something to look forward to.”

Isabelle “Izzy” Tihanyi, owner of Surf Diva and La Jolla Surf Camp who has partnered with the nonprofit to give surf instruction to military youngsters, said teaching children really isn’t all that much different from teaching others — just more abbreviated.

“We don’t do the half-hour introduction, and we bring safety talk down to a digestible five minutes,” she said, adding: “It’s a lot more interactive with the younger kids. Tell you the truth, the kids learn so much faster than anyone else. But we don’t push the kids until they’re ready. We’re very encouraging and nurturing: We don’t want them to ever not feel comfortable.”

For information on the nonprofit’s programs, go to