Prologue: Waxing Up

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”
-Russell Crowe as Maximus in, Gladiator

Life has been a series of waves thundering through my life, maturing me successively throughout my walk on this earth. As a lifelong surfer who revels in the ride, each wave requires a finely-tuned balancing act to ride to its conclusion and successfully kick out. Sometimes I fall and it can take me a while to acknowledge what went wrong and paddle back out, scanning the horizon for the next test of endurance. My patience is tried as I submit to the lulls and dream of the perfect wave coming. It will be better than I can imagine, I’m sure. Soon, another set arrives out of nowhere to shake me back into reality, and I paddle like crazy to drop in.

Growing up at the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960s was an idyllic environment for a surfer grom like me. We had a tight-knit community of friends who gathered daily at the beach, constantly anticipating the next big south swell. Best of all, my dad was one of the lucky WWII sailors in the Navy who returned home and found a lifestyle of surfing at Malibu while benefiting from the GI Bill. He had me out on his Dave Sweet surfboard riding waves at San Onofre earlier than I can recall. It was my time surfing with Dad on the weekends at San Onofre that most influenced my early years. As I grew into adulthood, I began to realize that I was at my very best when I was in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity.

The surfing culture I grew up with in Corona del Mar soon clashed with my adult career when I relocated to Silicon Valley in 1990 to become a cog in the high technology revolution that was taking off like an Elon Musk rocket ship. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself encased in the innovation capital of the world where there was no longer enough margin in my life to hang out at the beach and wait for waves. Fast-forward from floppy disks to flash memory and I found myself spending the next quarter century raising a family in a marketing career that paid me well to drive the network computing revolution for the emerging world wide web. We called ourselves the “dot in dot com” at Sun Microsystems. Flying high in jet planes around the world, I was in a constant struggle to balance the demands of my career with the needs of my health and the joy of raising my family, including my wife Marla (of 30 years) and two wonderful children (Marisa and Matthew).

Surfing was my escape from the incessant “real-time” processing of riding the Silicon Valley Express train each day at work. Like the pressure release valve at the now-defunct San Onofre Nuclear power plant, the ocean set me free from the urgency of my career while providing a connection point for my kids to join in. Getting wet drew me closer to God and his magnificent creation as I delighted in the powerful waves of Northern California. As this inner-battle of work/life balance consumed me, I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to blog about my drive to stay afloat in the valley of endless work. That blog eventually led me to writing this book, Surfing in Heaven, to consolidate my experiences through it all.

Surfing in Heaven is both a metaphor and a vision for how I invest my time and energy each day. As I was pouring myself into the blog about my struggles to find balance, I kept coming back to the Bible and what God’s Word would have to say. Jesus spoke about storing up treasures in heaven rather than investing in what we have here on earth (1). Like cymbals in a marching band, this rang out loud for me. By starting each day with my eternal future in mind, I found myself able to navigate the many perilous waves I was riding at the time. Heaven became a game-changer!

As the waves kept coming with increasingly shortened intervals, I was able to gain a radical new perspective on how I invested my time and energy. The chaos of the storm settled. It was like going back to the 1960s and surfing without a leash. My life became untethered from earthly expectations. All at once I had peace of mind about laying the groundwork each day for my life to come in Heaven. I was stoked!

To be clear, I believe that I will go surfing when this life on earth ends. In Heaven. Surely the God who created the heavens and the earth (2) could arrange for a little surfing. I think so, as what awaits us in heaven will be far greater than what our imagination can explore (3). More on that coming.

Marisa applying some “Cold Sticky Bumps” for a session at Steamer Lane

Waxing up a surfboard is an often-overlooked part of surfing that helps to describe this time of preparation for our life to come. When I am going out at Steamer Lane in a large northwest winter swell on a cold January day (a birthday tradition), waxing up is a strategic time to get ready before paddling out.

This process starts by closely reviewing the surf, tide, wind, crowd, currents, and tactic for paddling out. Steamer Lane is not to be taken lightly on a big swell. Next, I thoroughly wax the top of my board. With the amazing variety of surf wax available today (by water temperature), this takes just a minute or two. Finally, I firmly attach my leash and launch.

Waxing your board in the 1960s was much more involved. Since we all had longboards, they required a lot more wax. There were no surf leashes, so hanging on to your board was largely dependent on how well you waxed up. Parowax (called “paraffin”) was the only choice for wax and was a far cry from today’s sticky surf wax.

Paraffin was hard as a rock, so you first had to soften it up to avoid shaving off the wax that was already there. Then you would dip your board into the ocean to harden the surface wax while roughing it up with a couple handfuls of wet sand. Applying the paraffin required serious elbow grease, being careful to cover the nose (for hanging five), the tail (for cranking bottom turns), and the rails by the nose (for turtle diving big waves as you paddled out). Extra wax was needed there.

I would then walk the top of my board a few times with bare feet at the shores edge to get some of the wax onto the bottom of my feet (no booties yet) while rubbing in some more wet sand to rough the surface one final time. I carried an extra bar in my trunks, as you had to repeat the process a time or two if you were out for a long surf session—especially if you lost your board to the beach (the ride in would slicken the wax). Suffice to say, paraffin was better suited for candle making!

Like properly waxing up for a good surfing session, I believe this life is laying the groundwork for our life to come in Heaven. In a sense, it’s our dress rehearsal. We are waxing up for our eternal ride home. This is not our home, Heaven is. Our life here is very short (4), but what we do while we are here really does matter (5). Big time. Jesus emphasized this to His disciples at the last supper just before His death when He told them He was preparing a mansion for each one of them in Heaven (6). He is doing the same for each one of us.

My hope is that you can embrace my journey while catching a few waves with me along the way. I pray that when you kick out of the final wave, you will believe that Jesus Christ is who He said he is.

Time to get out your wax and prepare for the ride of your life!

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Colossians 3:2

7 thoughts on “Prologue: Waxing Up

  1. Thanks for sharing Mike I think most of us growing up in the roots of the the CDM surfing world ha e experienced a very similar
    path and journey in our lives.
    You have expressed and articulated the life of a us surfers in an excellent manner.

    Thank you

    Oh yes the waxing was a big part of our beginning surfing days.

    All the best

  2. Hey Mike,
    Impressive start. Like the drawing too. Looking forward to the next chapters. Your waxing is way beyond my experience with surfing (there are sharks out there! oh no), but perhaps it is similar to the eight hours I put in to the German ski team wax pros seminar I attended to master the perfect ski wax to take me down the runs at Squaw. Hope there is skiing in heaven too!

  3. Mike,
    It’s well written. Just a couple of nitpicks: in paragraph two do you think you should explain what a grom is for non surfers? and in the paragraph below the photo of the paraffin box first sentence “to avoid shaving off wax that was already there” maybe you could say something like “already on the board”??” Again for non surfers.
    I really liked the prologue! Nicely done.

  4. Great start….I like that each of your blogs will have a theme. I’m thinking as you author more sections it will be good to think of the key words and where we can promote this via social media so we pull in interested readers around the world and that will build your “base” when the “book” becomes available.

  5. Okay Mike; great start. So you’ve managed to reference the Bible six times already, and you’re just getting started; enough said. I love and understand the waxing metaphor. Wax on, wax off, as the cycle of life continues.

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