2. Crown of the Sea

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
John Kabat-Zinn

If asked to dream up a place for growing up, it would be difficult to find a better community for a young boy than Corona del Mar (CdM), Spanish for Crown of the Sea. CdM was the quintessential beach community in the 1960s, with a small-town atmosphere (population ~8,000), beautiful sandy beaches, and balmy SoCal weather that was comfortable year-round. We had a tight-knit gang that hung together from grammar school at Harbor View Elementary through graduation at Corona del Mar High School. I maintain close contact with many today.

Looking back on those days growing up in CdM reawakens the simplicity of my youth. If we weren’t in school, throwing rocks at each other in the alley, or playing ball at the Community Youth Center, our days were largely about hanging out at the beach—which could easily fill an entire day! I have fond memories of “corn dogging” in the warm sand to heat up your body after a long stint in the water, and then going back into the water once you got too hot. Rinse and repeat until it was time to go home.

I had no idea at the time that CdM had a strong history of surfing. It was one of the premier spots on the west coast in the late 20s and early 30s, hosting the Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships[i] during that period. A large jetty extension was then built at the entrance of Newport Harbor in 1936[ii] and surfing popularity in CdM died out because of the change in surf conditions. Most of the serious surfing crowd (and the Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships) ventured further south to San Onofre in search of consistently good waves.

Corona del Mar – circa 1950 (it was all open fields to the east)

CdM Beaches
The primary charm of CdM was the beaches. Big Corona was a half-mile-long strip of fine white sand that had a jetty for surfing, bodysurfing, volleyball, girl-watching, a snack bar, and lots of tourists. We called the south end Banzai, which ironically had no shape for surfing at all (due to the jetty extension), but lots of open sand to hang out when the tourists were crowding near the jetty.

On a “red flag” day (meaning, big waves!), we would bodysurf at Banzai, taking the drop like we were diving off a cliff, getting completely bombed when the entire length of the beach seemed to break at once. There was also a very short tubular left by the jetty which magically appeared during the big south swells at low tide; our own homegrown Banzai Pipeline. It came out of nowhere and was astonishingly good when it happened.

Little Corona was a very scenic but much smaller option with minimal sand, lots of rocky coves and tide pools, decent surfing, and no tourists or snack bar. A mile south, The Coves (now Crystal Cove State Park) had lots of untamed beaches with the best surfing and no lifeguards to patrol our many antics. We staged our legendary 4th of July parties at The Coves, which the Newport Beach Police finally put a stop to after our senior year in high school. It was a mutually agreed-upon treaty—we pushed their police cars out of the incoming tide while agreeing to break up the shindig.

There was also The Wedge on the north side of the harbor, renowned for waves that could top 20 feet on a big south swell. We could see the wave cresting over the top of the jetty from CdM on those big days, so a few times we swam across the harbor to watch. Avoiding the Harbor Patrol was nerve wracking, but seeing people bodysurf a 20-foot wave just a few feet off the shore was worth the risk back then.

Foamers
When word got out that a sizable south swell was hitting, Big Corona was the place to be. Our small community of surfers lived for those hurricanes off Baja, California when the CdM jetty would break “off the end”. It was all word-of-mouth, so the first one to see a swell got on the phone (or bike) and let out the word that it was “foaming!” An all-out assault on Big Corona ensued, regardless of what you had planned for the day. Foamers were not something to be missed; they were right up there with Christmas and birthdays.

Pandemonium Eruption as a Set of Foamers Hits the CdM Jetty – circa the 1970s

When the call hit 507 Marguerite Avenue, I would instantly grab my Duck Feet fins with Converse Hodgman raft and sprint to Big Corona to get in on the action. It was a long paddle/kick out as I slowly passed the massive granite rocks with sharp barnacles that could easily turn you into ground round at Coast Super Market. Our rafts had no fins and thus absolutely no control, so the thought of “getting sucked” (as we called it) was a real fear.

Arriving at the end of the jetty, my eyes were nervously glued to the bell buoy (top center of the picture above) as an indicator of how big the next set coming would be. When it dipped to the crown, my adrenaline skyrocketed, knowing it was a guaranteed BIG foamer set. We immediately jockeyed for position, shouting out our claim to the wave of our choice:
“1st end!”
“2nd end!”
“3rd end!”

Pandemonium erupted as that first foamer exploded off the end of the jetty, sending white water out like the exhaust from Apollo 13. Proper positioning was essential as I vice-gripped my raft and the mountain of white water exploded onto me. It was like trying to catch a snow avalanche without skis as it raced by. Once I was in, the experience to follow was unforgettable—a guaranteed “E-ticket” ride at Disneyland. The initial drop was completely blind, smothered in white foam, and made it impossible to gain any sense of where the death-dealing rocks were as you bounced along like you were riding a wild bronco.

Breaking free from the upheaval, I got my first view of the jetty and immediately kicked like crazy to steer toward open water to avoid side-slipping out of control. An incredibly long and very bumpy ride followed that was both exhilarating and hair-raising as the gap to the barnacle-crusted rocks quickly narrowed. I navigated my raft with precision to make it to the shore break inside, which sometimes earned a hoot from the crowd watching on the beach.

I remember some of those rides vividly—as if they just happened yesterday. Riding that Hodgman raft off the end of the jetty rivals anything I have done on a surfboard since for pure fun and adventure. It was surfing nirvana.

Woody Woodworth (left) and me on a CdM Foamer – circa 1971

The odds of getting sucked finally caught up with us when Mark Magiera became an instant rock star (pun intended) for becoming our first casualty while riding a surfboard on the inside channel of the jetty, where the boats were! He magnificently survived, while setting a Hoag Memorial Hospital record for visitors during his stay.

Mark had been sucked into the jaws of the jetty and lived to chronicle his story. We were lined up in the hospital waiting room to pay our tributes. In our small community, that was right up there with being awarded the armed forces Purple Heart. We were incredibly envious of his bravery and many bandages. I imagine our parents were all aghast at the sudden fame Mark achieved for such an act.

As a result of this ever-present danger, in the early 1970s, Woody Woodworth and John Park pioneered a technique of gluing two fins onto the Hodgman raft bottom to help hold you into the wave. This dramatically changed the scene at Big Corona when it was foaming, enabling you to maintain a line across the wave without side-slipping toward the jetty rocks. A new era had been born!

CdM Shenanigans
If I ever run for elected office (not something to worry about), our many CdM Shenanigans from those days would likely boot me out faster than you can say “Quick Draw McGraw”. We were safe and sensible (for the most part), but like any kids, we had our fun and games.

As our surfing improved, we coveted travel beyond the CdM beaches. Sometimes we could persuade a parent or older sibling to drop us off at a local spot nearby. We had no way of knowing if it would be any good (it usually wasn’t), but we always pounced on the opportunity to venture beyond our home turf.

One time Matt Cox got his mom to drop four of us off at the Huntington Beach cliffs with our boards on a day when there was not much surf. She forgot to come to pick us back up. Not kidding. Without phones or money, we were shipwrecked. Just as we were plotting a robbery on a nearby convenience store to stave off starvation, her car rolled up. We never let Matt hear the end of that one.

If we weren’t at the beach, we did have one or two organized activities we participated in. Below is an acclaimed picture of our CdM Community Youth Center All Star baseball team circa 1964. This was an elite team of ballplayers, coached by Scott Flanagan’s brother (top middle and bottom row). The total score of “120 – 0” tells it all (the negative of the picture is reversed).

CdM Community Youth Center All Star Baseball Team – circa 1964

There is a lot I could say about almost everyone in this picture, including the two who opted out on the team uniform. I’ll hold it to John “Go-Go” Bandel, top left (standing). Go-Go was a very talented athlete in all sports (especially rock throwing), and simply had a way about him that you could not help but like. When we were picking sides, I always wanted to be on Go-Go’s team.  He was one of 17 children being raised in one of the original (and small) two-story CdM homes built in the 1940s. I only went inside their house a time or two and remember wondering how the heck it all worked. It did not seem possible that 19 people could fit in there at the same time, let alone carry on with life!

A funny story snuck out at a CdM wedding reception a few years back about those days. One of the Bandel kids was caught in a backyard picking fruit off the tree of another family in the CdM neighborhood.  When they got caught, they had a piece of paper in hand which turned out to be a detailed map of all the many fruit trees in CdM. We confirmed that night that each Bandel kid had an assigned fruit tree to be picked on a specific day of the week for the family. Mr. Bandel was one resourceful man!

Once in high school, jobs became a necessity, as our parents (who had survived The Great Depression and WWII) held on to the cash tightly. I was a busboy at the Rueben E. Lee restaurant, and soon was also working weekends at Ken’s Mobile gas station with my friends Danny Moore, Mark Magiera, Frank Frost, and Jeff Zerkie.

Located at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Jasmine Avenue, Ken seemed to love hiring local CdM high school kids to pump the gas and check under the hood while he was playing poker in his RV parked in the back or at Whitman’s Garage up the street. It was a dream job to get paid to hang out with my best friends, work on our cars, get greasy, and be the conduit in town when a big event (aka party!) was coming down. It was almost as if Ken was partnering with our parents to keep us off the streets while putting a little cash in our pockets.

On weekends Ken was not around much, so we had free reign on running the gas station. I’d be lying to say that things didn’t get a little out of hand some of those days. It was just a little too much freedom for high school boys with lots of ideas.

Jeff Zerkie, Frank Frost, and I were doing our “Petroleum Exchange Engineer” work (as we called it) one of those weekend days when the topic of the “baby’s butt” resurfaced. There was a vacant lot next to the gas station with a large billboard that was recently plastered with a Pampers ad that was mostly just a gigantic bare baby’s butt. It was appalling! We had convinced ourselves that the entire city was disgraced by it. We even complained to our parents. It was an abomination that simply had to be fixed. We might even become famous if we could do something about it.

Well, the next thing I know, Frank strolls by carrying the extension ladder from the gas station telling us he had an idea . . . As Jeff and I manned the pumps, we watched Frank climb halfway up the billboard on the ladder and duct tape an M-80 firecracker to the middle of the baby’s butt.

“Uh Oh . . . ”

He then placed a cigarette to its fuse, lighting the other end of the cigarette, and climbed down before the excitement began.

We were all three giggly for what seemed an eternity while serving customers and looking up at the baby’s butt with great anticipation. Nothing happened. We concluded that the cigarette must have gone out or the M-80 was a dud. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, it exploded like a cannon on a warship. 

KABOOM!

It was ear-piercing, with a quick flash of fire followed by a large plume of smoke, creating a scene that we had not envisioned. All cars on PCH suddenly were screeching on their brakes crossing the yellow divider lines as if “the Russians were coming.”[i]

People were streaming out of Albertson’s across the street to see what happened. We were dumbfounded. Amazingly, no cars collided and no one was hurt. As we hid in the gas station office, it soon became clear that everything was quickly coming back to normal. Whew! For a week after we were certain that every car pulling up with an “E” on the license plate was the FBI coming to interrogate us.

Our mission was accomplished, as the Pampers ad did get replaced a few weeks later. The scar left by the M-80 surely tarnished their brand in a way that needed immediate attention.

_________________

Footnotes:

[i] Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships – In 1928 the Corona del Mar Surfboard Club hosted the first notable surfing competition held in the United States at Big Corona State Beach, as it is known today.  As soon as the harbor entrance was dredged and over 200,000 tons of rocks were dropped to form the jetty, it moved south to San Onofre in 1935 due to the blockage of the surf by the jetty.  The winners between 1928 and 1941 were as follows:

1928: Tom Blake
1929: Keller Watson
1932: Pete Peterson
1934: Gardner Lippincott
1936: Pete Peterson
1938: Pete Peterson
1939: Lorrin Harrison
1940: Cliff Tucker
1941: Pete Peterson

[ii] A remarkable story about the building of the jetties was told in a 2014 PBS documentary called The Wedge: Dynasty, Tragedy, Legacy.  In 1926, a 15-year-old polio victim (George Rogers Jr.) drowned in the Newport Harbor as the boat he was in capsized in heavy surf. As a result of his polio, the heavy weight of his iron leg braces sank his body to the bottom of the harbor, and it was never found. His father, George Rogers Sr., consequently sold his business and focused his remaining years of life seeking the funding to alter Newport Harbor to prevent such an accident from happening again. Despite the scarcity of money during the great depression, he raised over $2 million in federal and local funds to build the jetty extension in 1936. A month following the re-dedication of the improved Newport Harbor entrance, George Rogers Sr. suffered a heart attack while on his boat as he entered the harbor entrance and died at approximately the same location his son had died, ten years earlier.

[iii]The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming – was a 1966 American film about the chaos following the grounding of the Soviet submarine off a small New England Island during the Cold War. I should note that we were the generation who had nuclear bomb drills in grammar school where we would get under our desks and put our hands over our heads for protection. The thought of the Russians coming during the cold war of the 1960s was not all that far-fetched.

1. Malibu and “The Greatest Generation”

“Surfing is the deceptively simple act of riding a breaking ocean wave on a surfboard.  In reality, as a fundamental physical feat, surfing on a wave is a phenomenal conjunction of forces; the mathematics of it are profoundly complex. However, as an expression of the essential relationship between man and nature, surfing is unique in its clarity. And as a metaphor for life and just about anything life throws at us, it is unparalleled. Life is a wave. Albert Einstein even said so.”

Drew Kampion, Stoked! A History of Surf Culture

Lunch time at Santa Monica’s Incline Beach, circa 1958

My earliest memories of the beach date back to the late 1950s when our family would go to Incline Beach in Santa Monica. We lived just up the hill on 22nd Street until I was almost five years old. I don’t remember much around those early years, but the picture below of my sister Terry and me in the back of our 1947 Plymouth Woody captures a glimpse. I do remember looking very forward to our trips to the beach to play in the ocean and sand.

The beach was a place of complete freedom—open space to roam and recreation in the purest sense of the word. There were very few rules—mostly around water safety—and lots of ways to spend your time, unencumbered by the usual restrictions at home. Life became a very simple event, focused on playing in the ocean, warming up and drying off in the sand, and then eating and drinking whatever Mom and Dad happened to throw into the car that day (which was not much, if it was just Dad!).

The Greatest Generation, a book written by Tom Brokaw, is about those who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression, and then went on to win a global war that cost 60 million lives.  In the opening chapter, Brokaw declared:

I think this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”

Both my father, Jack Mulkey, and father-in-law, John D’Zurko, were a part of this fraternity, born into the false sense of prosperity of the 1920s, raised through the depression in the 1930s, and sent overseas to fight for global freedom in World War II in the 1940s. They were humble Americans who did not ask for a pat on the back for what they had accomplished for us all. Both were bound by common values of loyalty to their country, selfless service, and a desire to preserve world order.

When my son Matthew turned 16, I looked long and hard at him to try and conceptualize the decisions and experiences Dad had at that age. Imagine writing this letter to your widowed mother about vanishing from your home to fight in a world war [1]:

Dear Mom:

I have joined the navy with Todd. I just couldn’t turn down an opportunity like this to join with a good friend the same age as I am. We are leaving for San Diego this morning. I know you want me to make good and this is the only way I will ever do it, don’t worry about me I am in the best hands in the world. I will probably be home in about 21 days because I will be in quarantine for 3 weeks (looks like I’ll miss UCLA’s opening game with T.C.U.). I will write first chance I get don’t worry about me.

P.S. I am now 17, so any body that you talk to or asks you I am 17 and you signed for me, this will help very much.

P.S. You can get Sam to do the work around the house he’s a pretty good gardener and would be glad to work around the house.

[1] Unedited letter written by my father, Jack Mulkey.

Navy Days

Dad’s home life in the 1930s had its hardships beyond the Great Depression. At age 13, he lost his father to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), leaving him to grow up fast as the only man in the house (older sister Sallye was a big help). Three years later after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Dad and his good friend Todd Bernarding enlisted in the U.S. Navy (a month shy of his sixteenth birthday).

Both lied about their age (you had to be seventeen to join), signed each other’s enlistment forms, and the next thing Dad knew, he was headed to the U.S. Naval Training Station in San Diego for two weeks of basic training. Amazingly, no ID was required through the entire process. As Dad would tell it, “At that point of the war, we were simply throwing bodies at the problem in the Pacific.”

After surviving basic training his life was dramatically altered in a mind-boggling way. He was first shipped to the Naval Air Radio School in Alameda, California for a month to get schooled in Morse code.  Then back to San Diego (Naval Air Station North Island) for a week of skeet shooting under the command of Lieutenant Robert Stack, who starred in the television series The Untouchables.

Once he had mastered the art of hitting a moving clay target, he traveled back to San Francisco for his official ship assignment as an Aviation Radioman Petty Officer 3rd Class sailor. Suddenly, he was with 2,000 others on the 488’ Dutch Freighter Bloemfontein, cruising out of San Francisco Bay to Noumea, New Caledonia, an island 900 miles off the east coast of Australia. He was below deck seasick for the entire two-week journey! Somewhere in there his sixteenth birthday came and went.

Flight crews ready to launch off the USS Saratoga (Dad is 2nd from right in the 2nd row)

From Noumea, Dad climbed aboard the monstrous aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, which had by chance been in San Diego harbor at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Before he knew what had hit him, he was flying off the Saratoga’s deck in a two-man Douglas SBD Dauntless aircraft on submarine patrol missions while manning the trigger of a twin 30-caliber machine gun. His initial flight at sea was the first time he had flown in an airplane. Ever.

Here is an excerpt from a handwritten note [2] Dad sent me describing his experiences:

As I remember I went to radio school for about 1 month, mainly to learn Morse code.  Then went to gunnery school for a week on North Island [San Diego] where I shot 1,000 rounds of skeet.  Really sore shoulder!  That’s where my deafness started. When I finally got on the Saratoga & started flying there was a radio silence & no contact was allowed between plane & ship. So much for radio school. I think I flew about every other day. This was for submarine patrol to guard the fleet (at like 4 hours a flight).  You just hoped you had a good navigator for a pilot. With no ship to plane contact, and the fact that you were well out of sight of the fleet most of the time, if you missed the fleet on return ‘that was all she wrote.’

When I first got on the Saratoga we were the only main line carrier afloat. The rest were all in dry dock being repaired.  So we would try to let the Japanese see us and [then] take off, hoping they would think we had more than one carrier available. That was ok with me.

It is hard to comprehend what would go through his head in all this. Surely it was a bit of a blur. He told me about shipmates whose aircraft never did find their way back to the Saratoga. At the battle of Rabaul in the Caroline Islands (covered by Times and Newsweek), their planes would have just enough gas to sputter back onto the carrier deck. Ironically, that area where those battles took place (Truk Lagoon) is now a major tourist attraction for scuba diving among the many shipwrecks left behind.

After somehow surviving his service on the USS Saratoga, Dad was assigned to a Carrier Aircraft Service Unit (CASU) by his request. These ships were highly strategic to turning the tide against Japan in the Pacific by providing a mobile organization to keep U.S. Navy planes in the air. Dad was stationed at several locations on the west coast of the U.S., including San Nicolas Island (75 miles off the coast of Los Angeles).

CASU Unit on San Nicholas Island, circa 1944 (Dad on far right)

At the time the war ended (VJ-Day on August 15, 1945) Dad’s CASU was in transit to Adak Island in Alaska, which he suspected was preparation for an invasion of Japan. They spent a month in Adak before returning to San Francisco to celebrate the end of the war.

He received his Honorable Discharge (C1766958) on November 18, 1945, three years following his enlistment, and just after turning nineteen. Like others so lucky to return home, Dad took advantage of the G.I. Bill to test out of high school and enroll in college while living “high off the hog,” as he described it, on $20 per week compensation from the U.S. government. 

The G.I. Bill covered him for two years at Santa Monica City College and two years at UCLA. Below is a picture of dad taken at Ciros Night Club on Sunset Boulevard (circa 1944), which was the place to be seen during that era in Los Angeles.

Dad (left) in a scene right out of a Humphrey Bogart movie

Malibu

Following the war, Dad became part of a select few individuals who were pioneering the sport of surfing in Southern California. Malibu was the place to be for post-WWII era surfers when summertime south swells swept up the coast for a long day in the water while the heat of the white sand beach awaited to warm you back up.  It had to seem too good to be true after all he had been through.

Charley French and Dad lugging two Simmons concave’s up from the beach at Palos Verdes

As Charley French told me the story of making these two boards pictured above, he and dad went to General Veneer Manufacturing in L.A. to purchase the balsa wood which they then glued together into large planks. They hauled them over to Bob Simmons’ house and watched as he shaped them into the concave surfboards. Dad and Charley then took the finished boards home to be glassed and sanded in the backyard, ready for the trip to Palos Verdes (above).

As the world recovered from the ravages of WWII, these early trailblazers of surfing at Malibu had an ideal setting for the birth of a craze that would quickly sweep across the globe. Surfrider Beach at Malibu had the ideal weather, a long stretch of fine white sand, and waves as clean and perfectly breaking as one could find along the Southern California coast.

A spirit and camaraderie developed among these early surfers which boiled life down to its most simple elements. Many called this the birth of the surf culture, a new way of life outside the usual societal boundaries in Southern California at that time. Dad never spoke of it that way. They just survived a world war, many of them in a direct line of fire. It was the freedom they had fought for, and they were going to make sure they enjoyed it.

As progress would have it, this unique setting did not last long. With the popularity of the Hollywood movie production Gidget (along with several others that followed), thousands were soon flocking to Surfrider Beach at Malibu to test their skills at the new emerging sport. In 1959 our family moved 55 miles down Pacific Coast Highway to a sleepy beach-side community, Corona del Mar (CdM). Mom and Dad found a quaint beach house just four blocks from Big Corona State Beach. It even had a shower in the garage to wash the sand off. It was a dream come true!

The beach soon became my home base. It was where my friends and I always seemed to end up when we had free time. It was ground zero for the path my life took until graduating from Corona del Mar High School in 1973.

Three generations in front of the plane Dad flew off the deck of the USS Saratoga.

_________________

Footnotes:

  1. “Dear Mom” letter:

2. This handwritten note was unedited.

3. The picture on the cover of surfingforbalance.com is the only picture I have of my dad, Jack B Mulkey, surfing. It was taken at Malibu circa 1949 by Doc Ball. Doc was an early pioneer in surfing photography and was one of the leaders in establishing surfing on the west coast. He helped organize the Palos Verdes Surf Club, where dad often surfed in the late 40s and early 50s. Here is the original photo:

JackMulkey_malibu1948_600x288

Dad is riding a 10’9″ Bob Simmons Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”). This surfboard was a major breakthrough from the Redwood Planks they had been riding, which could weigh in over 100 pounds.  An exact replica of this surfboard sold for $40,000 at the Hawaiian Islands Vintage Surf Auction in 2009.  Dad did not even know this picture was taken but ran across it in a photo album at a party at Doc Ball’s house. As he told me the story, a friend yelled out to him, “Hey Mulkey, check this out; your picture is in here!”.

Mark Brown Digital Arts did the wonderful recoloring work.

Prologue: Waxing Up

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

When Heaven comes calling, I am counting on being able to surf. That vision has transformed my walk here on earth. Surfing in Heaven is my ultimate goal.

As a lifelong surfer, my world has been a series of waves rolling through my life at varying intervals. Each wave is unique as it parades in a band of swells toward my beach of choice on any given day. Surfing, for me, has been all about the ride. One good ride can easily highlight my day or even my week. There is something extraordinary about paddling into a swell created deep in the ocean and riding its natural energy into the shore.

I often daydream of the perfect wave as I sit, testing my patience during the lull between sets. I fantasize that it will be my best ride ever, beyond epic. That vision keeps me searching the horizon for an early sign that it might be coming. I want to be ready! It will be a dream come true.

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 a surfer. He was one of the few who returned home unharmed from WWII and found a surfing lifestyle 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. My time surfing with Dad on the weekends at San Onofre most influenced my early years of life. As I grew into adulthood, I realized that I was at my very best in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity.

The surfing culture I grew up with soon clashed with my adult career when I relocated to Silicon Valley in 1990 to become a cog in the high technology revolution, which was taking off like an Elon Musk rocket ship. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself embedded in the innovation capital of the world, where there was no longer enough margin in my day to hang out at the beach and wait for waves. Life was full.

From floppy disks to flash memory over the next quarter-century, I found myself in a marketing career at Sun Microsystems and Oracle Corporation that paid me well to drive the network computing revolution for the emerging worldwide web. We even called ourselves “the dot in dot com” at Sun. 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 our young family, including my beautiful bride Marla (now of 30 years) and two wonderful children (Marisa and Matthew).

Surfing became my escape from the incessant “real-time” processing of Silicon Valley. Like the pressure release valve at the San Onofre Nuclear power plant, the ocean set me free from the stress of my career while providing a connection point for my kids to join in. As this inner battle of work/life balance consumed me, I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to blog about my passion for keeping it all above water. That blog eventually led me to write this book, Surfing in Heaven, to consolidate my learning through this time and offer it to a wider audience.

Surfing in Heaven is both a metaphor and a vision for how I invest my time and energy each day. It shifted my focus from the wave I was riding to the ultimate ride, my eternal destination in Heaven. As I poured myself into the blog about my struggles to find balance, I kept coming back to the Bible and what God’s Word said about Heaven. Jesus often spoke about storing up treasures in Heaven rather than investing in what we have here on earth (1). Like the sharp sound of cymbals in a symphony, this rang loud and true 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. Heaven became a game-changer.

As the proverbial waves kept coming toward me with increasingly shortened intervals, I was able to gain a radically 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 as I focused on this beautiful eternal future and what I had to learn along the way. Laying the groundwork each day for my life to come in Heaven provided peace of mind. I was stoked!

To be clear, when this life on earth ends, I believe that I will go surfing, in Heaven. Surely the God who created the Heavens and the earth (2) could arrange for a bit of recreation up there. 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
Waxing up a surfboard is an often-overlooked component of surfing that helps to chronicle this time of preparation for the 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 elements (surf, tide, wind, crowd, and currents) to determine my tactic for paddling out. Next, I thoroughly wax the top of my board with the amazing variety of surf wax available today (by water temperature), taking just a minute or two. Finally, I firmly attach my leash and launch.

In the 1960s, waxing up was much more involved. For one, longboards required a lot more wax. Without surf leashes, waxing up was critical to hanging on to your surfboard. 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 in the sun 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 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 edge of the shore to get some of the wax onto the bottom of my feet (there were no booties back then) while rubbing in 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 it to say, paraffin was better suited for candle-making!

Like properly waxing up for a good surfing session, I believe in this life, we are 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 final destination. 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.

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

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