In­au­gu­ral tour­na­ment raises aware­ness and fi­nan­cial sup­port for mil­i­tary he­roes


From 2004 to 2007, the city of Ra­madi, Iraq, was one of the most vi­o­lent and bloody places on the planet, where the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary was fight­ing a de­ter­mined en­emy and a stead­fast in­sur­gency. Mike Nares and Chris Moret served with the 1st Bat­tal­ion of the 503rd In­fantry Reg­i­ment on two de­ploy­ments span­ning 27 months of fight­ing to make peace in that city of tur­moil. In 2009, both men were sent to Afghanistan’s Kan­da­har prov­ince, where they spent an­other tour con­duct­ing pa­trols and car­ry­ing out hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sions. Nares was wounded twice over the course of his three de­ploy­ments, re­ceiv­ing two Pur­ple Heart medals: one from a blast from an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice in Iraq, and one from a 3½-hour gun­fight dur­ing which four of his fel­low sol­diers were killed.

Sit­ting aboard the sport-fisher Bad

Com­pany ear­lier this year in Costa Rica, Nares was ex­cited to hear that boat owner Anthony Hsieh was dream­ing big about hon­or­ing vet­er­ans. Nares had first met Hsieh through the Free­dom Al­liance, a char­ity that sup­ports the mil­i­tary and their fam­i­lies. In 2017, Hsieh had part­nered with Free­dom Al­liance to host a fish­ing trip for a group of vet­er­ans to en­joy Cabo’s most ex­cit­ing at­trac­tion: sport fish­ing. Nares was among the eight vet­er­ans se­lected for the trip, and his friend­ship with his bene­fac­tor con­tin­ued long after the re­turn flight to Cal­i­for­nia.

Hsieh en­vi­sioned a way to rally the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia sport-fish­ing com­mu­nity to not only host a fish­ing event, but to go be­yond the ac­tiv­ity to help a de­serv­ing char­ity that hon­ors the mil­i­tary daily. He se­lected the Free­dom Al­liance as the ben­e­fit­ing char­ity to re­cruit the troops. Spon­sor­ships were nu­mer­ous, and of­fers from boat own­ers came pour­ing in.

On Au­gust 16, 2018, Hsieh greeted 27 vet­er­ans, both com­bat-wounded and those with mul­ti­ple de­ploy­ments, at his home in Newport Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, to kick off the War He­roes on Wa­ter tour­na­ment. Spon­sors and donors came to the catered pri­vate party to cel­e­brate Amer­ica and its de­fend­ers. These men, some who had lost limbs in for­eign wars, were shocked by the grand ges­ture for which no ex­pense was spared.

The tour­na­ment con­sisted of fish­ing for sev­eral species around the is­lands of San Cle­mente and Catalina for three days aboard nine ves­sels. Rod Halperin served as tour­na­ment di­rec­tor, lead­ing a team of very tal­ented staff and vol­un­teers to tackle ev­ery lo­gis­ti­cal hur­dle for the event.

Nares and his com­rade in arms Moret hadn’t seen each other since they both served in the Army. Their friend­ship lasted through those three com­bat de­ploy­ments, and Nares rec­om­mended Moret to at­tend the tour­na­ment with him. Their re­union was un­for­get­table — from the bloody streets of Iraq and the IED-in­fested lands of Afghanistan to the calm waters of sunny South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the con­trast was in­com­pa­ra­ble.

Dur­ing the tour­na­ment, Moret and Nares fished on the 47-foot Paci­fica

Joint Ven­ture, owned by Colby Durnin and cap­tained by Jim Kingsmill. An­gler Pat Holmes as­sisted in the cock­pit, in­struct­ing the men on fish­ing tech­niques along­side Durnin.

The event’s first day was a prac­tice day, and the vets were split among the par­tic­i­pat­ing boats head­ing to Catalina Is­land. That evening, Hsieh gath­ered all the par­tic­i­pants on the 144-foot Bad

Com­pany to wel­come the vet­er­ans and re­lay his mes­sage of grat­i­tude for their ser­vice. Coun­try singer Colton James pro­vided on­board en­ter­tain­ment as the men en­joyed a meal catered by Hsieh’s per­sonal chef and crew.

Re­turn­ing to Joint Ven­ture that evening, Durnin asked the sol­diers to de­cide on which species to tar­get first. Bluefin tuna hadn’t been seen in those waters for 100 years but had showed up three sum­mers ago, and ev­ery­one was abuzz with the po­ten­tial of catch­ing these big fish. Both Nares and Moret agreed they wanted to tar­get the bluefin. “Go big or go home,” said Nares.

On Satur­day, Kingsmill spot­ted sev­eral white-wa­ter boils on the sur­face where the bluefin were feed­ing, but couldn’t get a bite by cast­ing to them. The next sev­eral hours were spent us­ing a kite rigged to skip fly­ing fish where the tuna were. As the sun hung low in the sky, Nares’ reel sang. Moret was told to reel in his bait, and as soon as he touched the rod, he was bit too.

Joint Ven­ture was hooked to a dou­ble. An hour later, after the crew was soaked from back­ing down on the fish, Nares’ tuna was in the cock­pit. Among high-fives and cel­e­bra­tions, Moret kept crank­ing away. It took an­other hour and 20 min­utes, in the dark, be­fore his tuna was landed. He was ut­terly ex­hausted, but couldn’t stop smil­ing.

The sec­ond and fi­nal day of the tour­na­ment, the team caught their limit of Pa­cific rock cod be­fore head­ing to the scales on Bad Com­pany to weigh their tuna. Nares’ fish weighed in at 178 pounds, and Moret’s bluefin tuna was just 2 pounds shy of 200.

The other boats ren­dezvoused at Bad

Com­pany for the fi­nal din­ner and awards cer­e­mony. As James per­formed, sev­eral World War II-era fighter planes buzzed the boat for a fly­over. In a very emo­tion­ally charged ad­dress to the par­tic­i­pants, Hsieh de­scribed how grate­ful he is to live in a coun­try like Amer­ica and to have war­riors like those stand­ing be­fore him to de­fend it. Oth­ers echoed his sen­ti­ments, in­clud­ing the cap­tain of the 92-foot Bad Com­pany, Steve Lass­ley, and tour­na­ment di­rec­tor Halperin.

Team Bad Com­pany took the top over­all prize in the event. One of the an­glers, a Navy diver, landed a bluefin tuna 5 pounds larger than Moret’s. In all, 208 qual­i­fy­ing fish were caught, in­clud­ing eight bluefin tuna, 15 do­rado, one yel­lowfin tuna, four yel­low­tail, 92 cal­ico bass and 88 rock­fish.

Be­yond lead­ing the lo­gis­tics of the tour­na­ment and rais­ing money for the oper­at­ing costs of the event, Hsieh also spear­headed the ef­forts to raise money for Free­dom Al­liance. He ar­ranged a silent auc­tion and en­cour­aged giv­ing from the com­mu­nity that tal­lied over $90,000 in cash do­na­tions.

Bill Larkin, owner of the 65-foot Mikel­son Play-N Hookey, summed up what the par­tic­i­pat­ing boat own­ers and cap­tains ex­pe­ri­enced: “We got to meet some out­stand­ing young men, and the sto­ries of what these guys went through — and are still go­ing through — were un­be­liev­able. They rep­re­sent Amer­ica’s best, and yet ev­ery one of them will tell you there are oth­ers more de­serv­ing of this sup­port. We are hum­bled even more by be­ing in the pres­ence of those who have sac­ri­ficed so much, and it re­ally hits home how much of an im­pact some­thing like this can have.”

Anthony Hsieh’s 144-foot BadCom­pany served as the float­ing tour­na­ment head­quar­ters for the in­au­gu­ral WHOW event.

While the Bad Com­pany team won the event, each of the par­tic­i­pat­ing he­roes came away with a great fish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

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