Kicking Out

“I don’t know what the future holds — but I do know who holds the future.“
― John Wooden (quoting his father)

Today, kicking out is somewhat of a lost art in surfing.
It’s not often I see a surfer cleanly exit the wave they are riding while going over the backside to get a glimpse of any waves coming; positioning for a quick paddle back out. A good kick out leaves you in control of your destiny, but it is not a simple maneuver.

Kicking out at Playa Linda, Costa Rica (2019)

Prior to the advent of the surf leash and subsequent shortboard revolution in the late 1960s (see: Surfing Without A Leash), knowing how to kick out was a fundamental requirement for serious surfing. One had to master it to get back out into the lineup after a ride without losing your board. Diving off your board into the white water (something I see all too often today) was absolutely not an option in those days.

‘Senior Boys’ getting briefed before a heat in the 1964 San Onofre Surfing Club contest

While competing in the San Onofre Surfing Contest in the 1960s I learned the judges rewarded a surfer who could properly execute a clean and controlled kick out. This indicated good judgment to ride the wave to its proper ending while demonstrating control of your board and vision for your next ride. In those days, that was styling and the judges liked it.

Today professional surfers competing in the World Surf League are awarded points for a kick out based upon the degree of difficulty as well as how innovative and progressive it is. The following are some fun (insane!) shots from the 2015 Billabong Pro Tahiti (52-second video).

2015 Billabong Pro Tahiti — Air is IN!

Kicking out too early

Sometimes I kick out of a wave too early, anticipating a better wave behind. It is a gamble as I ride over the crest of the wave scanning the horizon for a bigger set coming. I realize that I should have enjoyed the wave I was on, and feel a sense of a wasted opportunity to think something better was coming.

On May 9th of this year a 26-year-old Santa Cruz surfer kicked out too early in life. Ben Kelly was fatally attacked by a shark while surfing at Sand Dollar, just south of Manresa State Beach. I was at work when I got word that a surfer had died from a shark attack at Sand Dollar. Since my son Matthew and I surf there (he had been there the day before), I immediately called his cell phone. It went to voicemail. I then called his work and after what felt like an eternity on hold, he picked up the phone and greeted me.
So grateful.

Thinking it was my son, even if just for a minute, gave me insight into the unimaginable pain of Ben’s family and friends.

Ben Kelly

I was touched by Ben’s story as more came out about his life. Ben was a seasoned surfer and board shaper who started his own surfboard company in Santa Cruz (Ben Kelly Surfboards). He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Vanguard University in Southern California where he was awarded the McNaughton Award, its highest honor for business and management students. He had recently celebrated his third wedding anniversary with his wife Katie, whom he met at Vanguard. Together they had founded a social media marketing company (Authentic Approach, Inc).

Ben was active in the Capitola Village Business Improvement Association, Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, Calvary Chapel in Capitola, and even selling surfboards at one point to support mission’s work in Africa. Ben was stoked about the life God had given him.

Ben and Katie Kelly

On May 21st a memorial service and paddle out was held in San Clemente to honor Ben on his 27th birthday (amazingly, my daughter Marisa was celebrating her 27th birthday that same day). The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors declared that May 21 would be “Ben Kelly Day”. The proclamation stated:

“Ben practiced his belief that surfing was so much more than just catching waves — it was about the people he met and the continuous grand adventures that made it fun while blessing others along the way.”

Walking the Talk

Ben’s love of Jesus was front and center. He did not just talk about his faith; he exemplified it by his character. In the words of a close friend, “Ben lived the way Christ wanted us to live”. His opening line About himself in LinkedIn boldly calls out his love for his Savior:

“Hello my name is Ben Kelly. Some of my life passions include: a love for my Savior Jesus Christ …”

Ben was not hiding who he believed was going to save him on his day of reckoning. Here’s one tribute from the Ben Kelly Memorial Fund website (fundraiser for his wife Katie):

“The most memorable thing about Ben was his unashamed, unrelenting passion for his faith and his relationship with Jesus. I don’t say this to somehow selfishly reassure myself or others that he’s passed on to Heaven. I don’t have to wonder whether he knew Jesus, or whether his faith was secure. It was. Everybody knew it. He truly lived his faith out. In nearly every conversation I ever had with him, he tied God and the redeeming love of Jesus into it.” 

― Zachary Shull

My son Matthew at Sand Dollar reading the inscriptions on a driftwood memorial to Ben

In the book of Matthew, Jesus spoke about the importance of doing God’s will to reveal His love and presence in the world:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
― Matthew 7:21

Jesus called us to act on the words of the Bible, to embrace them as our own so they are central to our day-to-day living. He said true wisdom is about actions of love, mercy and peace (James 3:17-18). It is not enough to say “Lord, Lord”. Ben Kelly has both inspired and challenged me in this respect. I find myself asking if this is how I am living out my faith. If my eternal day of reckoning came today, how confident am I?

Though he never saw it coming, Ben Kelly kicked out of this life with full control over his destiny. His future was secure. I believe Ben is now surfing in heaven. Jesus says that He is preparing a place for each one of us in heaven (John 14:2), and that great rewards are waiting for us there (Matthew 5:12). Surely the God who created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) could arrange for a little surfing. What awaits us in heaven is far greater than we can let our imaginations explore (1Corinthians 2:9).

Ben loved the ocean and surfing. He had that surfer’s “stoke” about him. Some called it his good vibes. But those close to him knew it was fed by his faith. Ben hoped in a God who created the heavens and the earth. He wanted to live his life honoring God, knowing his rewards would be in heaven.

I praise God for the example Ben Kelly set for us.

“Well done, good and faithful servant!”
(Matthew 25:23)

** Resources **

Ben Kelly Memorial Fund website: please consider honoring Ben’s life by contributing to this memorial fund in support of his wife Katie.

Surfing in Heaven (Part I) – if you are wondering what it would be like, I wrote these two blogs from a vision I had of my entry into eternity. Surely this vision falls far short of the divine joy and beauty that awaits us there, but it felt right to dream about what it might be like.

Surfing in Heaven (Part II)

Ben Kelly Santa Cruz Paddle Out (video)

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