A SOLDIER who almost lost his leg while serving in Afghanistan surfed for the first time in six years after Help for Heroes helped him go on a surfing trip in California.
Second in command infantry officer Captain Peter Hayward, from South Croydon, stood on an improvised explosive device (IED) while leading his troops from the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh on a routine patrol in 2010.
And he said the "healing power of the ocean" has shown him that everything will be okay.
The IED shredded the back of Mr Hayward's right leg, his arm and his back. His men dragged him to safety and an American paramedic helicopter winched him to Camp Bastion where doctors almost decided to amputate his leg.
"It was surreal," said Mr Hayward. "I don't remember a bang I just remember a big bright flash of white light, one minute I was running and then I was flat on my front.
"Then the blokes did a hell of a job sorting me out with morphine and putting on bandages. They dragged me through the fields to cover and gave me first aid until an American paramedic helicopter came and picked me up."
Mr Hayward joined the army in 2008 after spending time in Afghanistan with the Territorial Army while at university in Swansea.
Since his injury four and half years ago Mr Hayward has had 14 operations and has been in and out of army rehabilitation centers 15 times.
"The recovery was pretty brutal," said Mr Hayward. "It was like taking two steps forward and then one back. I'd do the rehab and get quite good and then have to go in for more surgery.
"There are a lot of dark days when you are injured. Even for me I had some really dark days, it was really frustrating lying on a bed in hospital while my men were in Afghanistan fighting for their lives.
"I was quite pragmatic about it. I was leading my troops and I wouldn't do anything differently. These things happen so I have always been pretty positive about it."
Mr Hayward said he has always loved the sea. He first surfed on the Gower Peninsula while at university and now lives in Cowes on the Isle of Wight working as a yacht master.
And last week Help for Heroes supported him to go on the 10th annual Op Surf, an adaptive surf program for serving and veteran wounded, injured and sick service personnel in California.
"It was more than a jolly for injured soldiers. It opened my eyes and made me really know things are going to be okay," he said.
He said surfing in California is the first time he has really forgotten about his injury. Mr Hayward can walk and get around day to day, but he cannot walk as far as he would like and cannot sit or stand in one position for too long.
"My injury never goes away, it's always niggling in some way causing pain or discomfort," said Mr Hayward.
"When I was out there I was having too much fun or concentrating too much to worry about my injuries I didn't notice it at all. But then when I came back to the beach I felt it.
"Being able to escape was really nice."
After spending a day on land learning how to stand on the board – not easy for the soldiers who had lost a limb – Mr Hayward spent the whole trip in the water.
He said: "I was doing wave after wave after wave. It was awesome. My instructor, a surfer called Richard Rodrigues from Santa Cruz, would tell me where I was going wrong and how to improve.
"It was really nice to be out in the water again."
My Hayward added that the trip couldn't have happened without Help for Heroes, who he described as safety blanket for injured soldiers.
"Before there was no real provision for injured soldiers," he said. "If you're really struggling you can go to them and they'll help you out.
There's a community there that didn't exist before. Leaving the army isn't as frightening as it used to be."