24. Surfing in Heaven

“Heaven walks among us.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Silhouette of a Surfer by Jean Beaufort (1)

Surfing in Heaven. Outrageous thought!
Or is it?

In the late 1940s when Dad surfed Malibu with his small band of friends who were lucky enough to have returned home from World War II (2), he told me he never went surfing in the winter. They did not have wetsuits then, so it was too cold to paddle out! Anyone who knew Dad would vouch for his hostility toward cold water (or weather for that matter). After fleeing the cold winters of Newport Beach to move to Kona in the 1980s, he would even tell us the winters in Kona were getting cold. He would ask for house slippers and sweatshirts for Christmas to stay warm.

Dad described standing on the beach at Malibu on a cold winter day, watching near-perfect waves rolling in without a single surfer in the water. That image has stuck with me. I fantasize about what it would have been like to paddle out in my toasty O’Neill wetsuit to have Malibu to myself back then. Just thinking about it gets me stoked.

It would have been a surfer’s paradise.

For me, heaven brings that surfing paradise into sight. I can envision waves better than Malibu peeling off perfectly without a soul in the water. I am giddy with anticipation to paddle out. Getting a clearer picture of my future in heaven has completely changed my perspective on life. For a God who moves mountains (3), waves in the world hereafter seem to be within reach.

Rewards in Heaven

In Jesus’ final hours with His disciples before His death, He told them He was preparing a mansion for each one of them in heaven (6), and that they would have great rewards waiting for them when they got there (7). I believe my mansion in heaven will be near a beach, and my rewards will include surfing. That seems like an easy one for a God who created it all (8). To put it from a surfer’s perspective, if Kelly Slater (11-time world champion surfer) can create a near-perfect 6-foot barreling wave in a desert in California’s Central Valley (kswaveco.com), could not our great God fulfill the promise of heaven with something even better? I am betting on it and looking forward to getting wet as soon as I get there! Grab your wax; I am excited in anticipation that you will be with me for the ride.

My portrayal undoubtedly will fall far short of the experience heaven will offer. Nothing in our human experience can reach the divine joy and beauty awaiting us there. I pray that this gives you hope and the will to accept God’s gift to ensure you will be there to paddle out with me.

Jesus’ final dying words to the thief who was hanging on the cross next to Him provides the perfect opening:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 23:43)

My Imperfect Sketch

My fascination with this idea has been running wild in my mind for years. In my zeal to envision what awaits me, a sketch came together of how my odyssey will go. It flowed naturally and feels right. In the words of Rebecca Ruter Springer (5),

“I submit this imperfect sketch of a most perfect vision.”

My time has come.

The angels arrive to bring me home. Without thought, I float up and away from my physical body, looking down on my family as I assimilate a complete timeline of my life on earth. Vivid images of home, family, friends, relatives, and so much more flow through me as I soak in the experiences they provided. Moving up and away faster than light can travel, childhood memories I had forgotten come back as vividly as the day they happened. Each recollection is like a giant Kodachrome slideshow. Tranquility envelops me as I see each moment in its perfect place. I am at peace and joyful. It is right with my soul. I am grateful for God’s hand in every part of it.

My sense of time disappears as my faithful Grandma Oa appears before me. Oh my! She is so young and beautiful, with her smile beaming at me. I am delighted to see her younger than I knew her.

“I am so glad to welcome you, Mike,” she says. “Everyone is very excited to see you!”

I know why without asking. Grandma faithfully prayed for me for many years. Tears of joy come to my eyes as I hug her. It goes beyond words to let her know how miraculous it is to see her again. We tightly embrace, feeling the love of God between us. Words are exchanged without talking. It’s as if we know each other’s thoughts before we think them. Our communication is perfect. There is no misunderstanding. Everything is right.

She leads me down a long path of the most beautiful grass I have ever seen–a brilliant shade of green that rivals the fairways at Pebble Beach. It feels like velvet under my feet as we walk together. A wondrous variety of plants and flowers surround us, so bright and colorful that I want to stop and inspect each one. They are perfect and appear freshly-bloomed. Everything is pure and clean as if bathed in an afternoon shower. Tall, majestic trees tower above us with hanging branches like weeping willows laden with flowers of every variety and color imaginable. Beyond the trees, I see orchards of ripe fruit-bearing trees with a translucent river meandering through. Waterfalls roar in the distance from lush mountains capped with white snow. Small birds in the trees are singing joyous songs of heaven’s praise. They drench me with their melodies from above like a mountain thunderstorm. It is breathtaking. The music embraces my soul as I behold an overwhelming feeling of harmony with nature (9). I have never felt more alive in my life.

I want to stop and explore the depth of what I am experiencing, but we continue walking, almost floating among this stunning scenery. I marvel at the perfection; a master gardener is in charge. We reach a rushing creek with water as clear as crystal running over brilliant stones of gold, silver, jasper, emerald, and pearl—even more stones than I can identify. It’s as if a pirate’s treasure chest has poured into the stream’s bed. Beautiful soft music soothes my spirit as we wade along the creek. It is a most breathtaking scene. Time is irrelevant. I could walk here forever.

The sky above is overflowing with brilliant colors, brighter than a noonday sun. Yet, I see no sun. A golden radiance fills the atmosphere like the afterglow of a brilliant sunset , although more intense. Grandma and I are not talking, yet our communication is complete. She knows what I am feeling. “It is well, Mike,” she reassures me. It is well.

Our path opens onto a massive beach with sand like freshly fallen snow. I pause to contemplate how it could be. The sand is warm and sneaks between my toes to nuzzle and comfort me. The air is soft and balmy, giving me energy and vitality. A light breeze feathers my face. I want to lie down and soak all this in, as I would in my youth on a hot day at Big Corona State Beach, where I grew up.

As we cross the sand with freshly-laid footprints, I see a structure that reminds me of the surf shack I’ve known so well at the San Onofre Surfing Club. Its design is perfect, with beautiful wooden surfboards lined across the side and a large white cross on top of a humble wooden steeple. I feel myself being drawn to it as we walk.

The surf shack at San Onofre is a haven of memories over the years.

Approaching the structure, I see it is made from living trees that resemble palm trees growing in the sand. Their leaves naturally cover the roof, allowing the right amount of light inside. Dazzling multicolored flowers like Hawaiian leis grow from the tree limbs and branches. They are intricately woven around the steeple and roof. The air is full of sweet smells like gardenias, which engulf me as I am lured inside.

Euphoria overwhelms me as a hoard of family and friends are there to welcome me. It is the finest homecoming party ever! One by one, they greet and embrace me in mutual joy and wonder of shared experiences. Words cannot describe my feelings. I see mom; how glorious she looks! Her smile and laugh knock me over with emotions. We embrace as never before. Then Grandpa Cannon, Aunt Kathryn. Grandma Mary and Grandpa John wrap me in their arms! It’s as if they all have been friends forever. Then Aunt Sallye and Aunt Norma, my delight is breathtaking. Friends from our church, our former pastor Doug Goins, and even a classmate who passed away in junior high school, Scott Lusher. Holy cow!

Then I see the coach himself, John Wooden. Oh my! He looks at me with that Coach Wooden sparkle in his eye and says, once again,

“The most important thing in the world is family and love.”

Everyone is jubilant. The feeling of love consumes me. We gather in the delight of it all for longer than I know as more people continue to arrive. Even our dogs Riley and Redwood playfully push their way through the many people to nuzzle me with cold, wet noses, tails wagging with zeal for a scratch. I immediately roll onto the ground to grab them in playful hugs. Nothing could be better. I hear the words singing in my soul,

“His love endures forever.” (9)

Time stands still. Nobody is rushed or in a hurry to leave. I have lived my whole life for this. It is really heaven!

Surfing in Heaven

Beyond our gathering, I notice the ocean beyond with perfect eight-foot tubes curling in. Whoa!

I move in that direction, savoring the warmth of the sand on my toes. Nearing the water’s edge, I see three surfboards lying in the sand. I am overwhelmed by the scene before me. Angels are singing my praises to God.

I look up to see Dad next to his Bob Simmons surfboard. We embrace. Joyful tears run down my cheeks. He is healthy and robust with a tan as dark as a native Hawaiian. I am so glad to see him. Without speaking, he tells me he is sorry. Words cannot express my wonder and joy. There are no longer any barriers between us. It all makes sense now.

Uncle Charles learned the Haka dance on his mission in New Zealand.

Next to Dad is my uncle Charles, his face painted like a Māori warrior, looking as if he is right off the mission fields of New Zealand, strong and full of energy. His board must be twelve feet long of the most beautiful, laminated woods I have ever seen. It is polished to a shiny gloss and looks like a surfboard Duke Kahanamoku would gloat over. He tells me that Dad taught him to surf and then calls out to me in his Māori tongue:

“Me haere ki te ngaru Mike!”.

I somehow know he said, “Let’s go surfing, Mike!”

Dad hands me the third surfboard and I am aghast to see my Hobie Corky Carroll “Super Mini” model that he bought me at the Hobie Surf Shop in San Clemente in 1968. What? It’s as new as the day we picked it up, with the exact blue, yellow, and green acid splash color design. The bright colors radiate between the pure white foam. This thing would glow in the dark! Picking it up, I realize it is lighter than any surfboard I have ever held. I can’t wait to catch my first wave on it. It is ready to go. I call back to them,

“Cowabunga dudes, let’s go surfing!”

Surfing in heaven? You must be kidding me!
It is a dream come true.

Gazing out, I see a long strand of glittering ivory-white sand extending to the horizon with perfect waves rolling in like clockwork on both sides of the strand; right-facing waves on the left and left-facing waves on the right. I watch the waves on both sides, stupefied. Unbelievably clean barrels are peeling off in succession for as far as I can see. The wave is a flawless combination of a point-break shoulder with a reef-break curl. I could not imagine a more ideal surfing spot. It is too good to be true.

“Lefts or rights?” I call out to them as we pick up our boards. In saying that, I quickly realize that we can go either way—there is no such thing as a goofy foot in heaven. I laugh out loud.

Stepping into the water, its clarity immediately catches me as it washes over my legs. As I wade out, I see a bright, multicolored coral reef with a myriad of neon-colored fish hoovering over the rocks under the crystal-clear water. I pause to comprehend it all while pinching my arm to remind myself that this is not a dream. I am going surfing in heaven.

The three of us are a picture of God’s provision as we beam smiles of joy in anticipation of what we know is coming. “Yeehaw!” I call out as the first wave rolls over me with a sweet smell and flavor. Its taste refreshes me as my body rinses completely dry like water off a duck’s back. Huh? Paddling over my next wave, I am sprayed by a feathering lip that trails a spectacular rainbow of colors in its wake.

Looking down, I notice I’m wearing my yellow “Hang Ten” surf trunks from my grammar school days in Corona del Mar. I chuckle, thinking how much I love them.

We quickly stroke around the breaking sections with Uncle Charles leading the way. I joke to Uncle Charles and Dad as we crest over yet another feathering lip,

“Only in heaven would I let that one go by!”

The white water explodes in brilliant white light as each wave breaks, as if light-emitting plankton are creating the light of day in the foam. The contrast with the exceptionally clear water is literally out of this world, like painting daylight onto a nocturnal night sky. I gasp at the beauty of it all before me and give the glory to God:

“His love endures forever.” (10)

Paddling beyond the impact zone, I can see no end to the strand of bleached white sand, with waves breaking on the horizon as far as I can see. Only when I decide to sit on my board to pause and take it all in does it hit me that everything in heaven is interrelated. It blows my mind.

Below me is an extraordinary collection of colored plants, fish, and rock emitting light rays as bright as daylight. It reminds me of a coral reef in Hawaii, but so much more intense and vivid. I can’t take my eyes off it. Dad and Charles are laughing as they see the grin on my face.

Dad calls out, “It’s as if the earth was a black-and-white movie, Michael.”

I can’t resist diving off my board into the depth of the rejuvenating water. Astonished, I can see perfectly and continue to breathe and talk underwater. “This is crazy!” I shout. Fish of unimaginable varieties and colors swim up to me as if they are a part of the homecoming party. I swim to the surface to tell Charles and Dad about my discovery.

They call back, “Welcome to heaven, Mike!”

Sitting on my board, I can see this is a surfing photographer’s dream, yet taking pictures no longer matters. The golden glory of the sky is powerful without any heat or sense that I could get sunburned. Clouds of unimaginable variety streak the stratosphere like a Matisse painting with colors I have never seen. I am at total peace to know I am home. I lift my voice to praise God for it. Heaven is way more than I had imagined.

Time is lost, but irrelevant. There are no boundaries around how long I have been out. The ocean and I are one.

“His love endures forever.” (10)

I look up to see Dad crossing a beautiful deep blue breaking wave that is well overhead and feathering a rainbow of vivid color behind him. He drags his foot off the tail of his Simmons Foam Sandwich to make a sweeping bottom turn and lets out a loud hoot as he sails by me, drawing a straight line across the face of the crystalline water. It is a sight to behold. My dad, ripping across an eight-foot wall on a 1940s vintage balsa surfboard. I howl at him, “Yeehaw!”

Dad surfing Malibu circa 1949 on a Bob Simmons Foam Sandwich surfboard.
(photo by Doc Ball)

Behind him, seven blazing-white pelicans with gold-tipped wings appear in perfect formation, gliding just above the lip of the next wave. They are telling me “this is my wave!” Swiveling my board around in eager anticipation, I push off, and suddenly am flying down the smooth face of a double overhead wall of brilliant clear water. The pelicans sweep into view, marking that my time to surf in heaven has come.

I stand up and realize my balance is solid, and my feet are gripping my board, as if with booties. There’s no fear of falling. I howl praises to God,

“How great thou art, Lord!”

Screaming across the towering face of the wave feels like I am racing downhill from the top of a snow-covered mountain on skis. The brilliance of the sea life underwater lights my path as I lean right and carve a long, effortless bottom turn. My speed thrusts forward like the afterburners on a jet plane as I stare down the thick lip of the wave ahead, knowing I will make it.

I begin carving up and down the wave in total confidence of my abilities when seven pure white dolphins propel into my wave from behind, as if waiting for me. They cruise in formation leading the way like an escort of military fighter jets. They are guardian angels, magnificent in size and beautiful. In and out of the wave together, they gaze at me and know my every move. The symmetry and elegance of their surfing prowess are beyond words. I follow them turn for turn as we ride along the shore of the strand. They laugh, and I laugh. We make more turns than I can count. We share the perfect harmony in God’s eternal creation.

A dozen dolphins surfing together.

The wave transforms into a soft Steamer Lane-style shoulder as I jet out ahead of the break to carve a roundhouse cutback that makes a complete half-circle around the dolphins, back toward the curl. My trail is marked in the brilliant white light of the foam. The dolphin’s launch into the air in perfect formation as I fly by their glimmering hulks.

Cranking a floater off the white-water lip turns me back into the building face as the dolphins shepherd me into the next section of the wave as my momentum jets forward. The sand is glimmering in the shore break as I streak by faster than ever before on a surfboard, catching a glimpse of dad watching from the shack in his beach chair. He beams a broad smile as I consider how many times he watched me over my life.

The Green Room

Then it happens. In an instant, everything around me turns a glorious shade of green as the double overhead curl completely covers me, as if the wave is closing out. I center myself into the barrel of the wave, perfectly balanced as I ride inside a tunnel of green water. As I speed ahead, all fear washes away. It is my destiny to be here. My physical and spiritual body have become one with the energy of the wave. Joy overwhelms me as I realize this wave is beyond anything I have ever experienced on earth. It’s as if I am in slow motion, almost floating, as the surge of the wave carries me deeper into a brilliant cloud of green spray. A bright light leads me forward as I am humbled by God’s everlasting love. I sense every atom in my being. It is nirvana. I have never felt better. Thank you, God! Why did I doubt? Words cannot describe my connection to The Creator of it all. Like Moses at the burning bush, I am standing on holy ground. (11)

“His love endures forever.” (10)

Unaware of how long I am in there, I am next airborne, launching out of the green room as if I were shot from a circus cannon on my board. I hear the wave exploding behind me as I land softly onto the shoulder and look around to understand it all. The back spray showers me with warm rain drops. An ear-to-ear grin is frozen on my face. I can’t digest what just happened. My soul is at peace. My joy is complete.

The Hodads will have to hear about this one! The green room is much more than I could ever have imagined. I want to go back in, but the wave keeps me accelerating forward.

The dolphins take another jump in unison as they kick out from the back of the wave while I try and reflect on it all. I hear the praises of their work from above:

“Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth” (12)

Gliding across the shoulder onto open water like a water skier on Lake Tahoe, I leave the breaking section of the wave behind at full speed, as if I am kicking out. Yet my speed continues as I crank another turn on the glassy open water. I see mom watching from the shack with her patented Charlene smile, looking like she is at Malibu in the 1950s. I make my final cut back on flat water toward shore that carries me onto the warm white sand as the cool crystal water rushes up the beach.

I feel more at home than ever before. All my worries, anxieties, and concerns are lost. Finally, I can rest. This is where I belong. Hallelujah to our Lord of creation!

I ponder how the reality of heaven changes everything. This is the life that God planned. Oh, how my life on earth would have changed if I had seen the glory of what God had waiting for me. I am overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and love for a God who could provide such perfection. I want to go and shout the truth to every surfer I know.

Colossians 3:2 (TLB) becomes my mantra:

Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here.”   

Thank you, Lord Jesus!

————-Footnotes——–

  1. Silhouette of a Surfer by Jean Beaufort – Source Public Domain Pictures:
    https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=448973&picture=surfer
  2. Chapter 1: Malibu and the Greatest Generation
    Source: https://surfingforbalance.com/2021/10/20/2-malibu-and-the-greatest-generation
  3. Matthew 21:21 (NIV):
    “Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.”
  4. Revelation 22:21-25 (NIV):
    “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.”
  5. Author of: “Intra Muros, My Dream of Heaven,” 1898. Rebecca Ruter Springer captured a unique atmosphere of life in heaven like no other book I have come across. Published 120 years ago, she writes of an experience she had of going to heaven while seriously ill in a care home in Kentville, Illinois.
  6. John 14:2 (KJV):
     In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
  7. Chapter 17: Heaven Can’t Wait
    https://surfingforbalance.com/2022/07/18/17-heaven-cant-wait
  8. Genesis 1:1 (NIV):
     “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. ”
  9. Job 12:7-10 (NIV):
    “But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
        or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
    or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
        or let the fish in the sea inform you.
    Which of all these does not know
        that the hand of the Lord has done this?
    In his hand is the life of every creature
        and the breath of all mankind.
  10. Psalm 136 (NIV):
    “His love endures forever.” (Repeated 26 times in Psalm 136)
  11. Exodus 3:1-5 (NIV):
    “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
    ” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
    And Moses said, “Here I am.”
    “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” ”
  12. “Angels from the Realms of Glory” is a Christmas carol written by Scottish poet James Montgomery. It was first printed in the Sheffield Iris on Christmas Eve 1816
    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_from_the_Realms_of_Glory

—————————

**Authors Note**

“Contact Mike” at surfingforbalance.com if you want to know more about heaven or if you would like a list of books I recommend on heaven.

Will there be seas in heaven?

Revelation 21 (the second-to-the last chapter in the Bible) describes how Jesus sets up his kingdom of heaven on the New Earth and calls it the “New Jerusalem.” This New Jerusalem is where believers will spend eternity with God in their resurrected bodies. In essence, heaven returns to earth with Jesus as our King.

This chapter contains a detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like, including this statement about the absence of a sea:

“and there was no longer any sea on the new earth.” – Revelation 21:1 (NIV)

Throughout Scripture, the “sea” is symbolic of chaos and disorder, which will be absent in the New Jerusalem. Many Bible scholars believe this is the meaning of Revelation 21:1; the turbulence of our present age on earth will no longer be present in the New Jerusalem. We will be at peace in heaven.

Even if we assume this statement means that all saltwater seas are removed from the earth in New Jerusalem, it does not necessarily mean that all large bodies of water and beaches are gone. For example, the book of Revelation speaks of a great river flowing right through the New Jerusalem:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.” – Revelation 22:1-2a (NIV)

Surely that river has a source and a destination which ends in a large body of water. Perhaps there will be lakes like we have on earth today. Larger lakes act as freshwater oceans on the New Earth. The Great Lakes region of North America is an example. As we have today, the opportunity for waves to ride on a surfboard seems feasible.

In his book Heaven, Randy Alcorn makes an additional argument for having large bodies of water in heaven:

“Another reason I believe the New Earth will have large bodies of water is that, as I argue in chapter 39, the same animals that inhabit our current planet will inhabit the New Earth. Most animal species live underwater, not on land, and most of those live in the ocean. (It would certainly be no problem for God to refashion such creatures to live in freshwater.).”

11. Lessons for The Grandchildren

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
-John Lennon

Surfing Malibu circa 1949 on a Simmons Foam Sandwich
(photo by Doc Ball)

If there ever were a perfect sunset, Dad (A.K.A. “Kona Jack”) surely would have seen it over his 27 years at the Keauhou Kona Surf and Racquet Club on the big island of Hawaii. It was a nightly ritual for him to collect with neighbors on the shore’s edge to stare down the sun as it dipped into the royal blue Pacific Ocean. As the glazed orange ball reached its final glimmer, all eyes were peeled for a “green flash” at the horizon’s edge as a final tribute to the day. With the curtain closing and the skies darkening above, Dad would always have a conclusive comment to abruptly move everyone out of their reverie so he could go about his evening:

“Ah, another day in paradise!”

Dad slipped gracefully from this life on the night of a full “Strawberry moon” in 2016 on Father’s Day (1). I was on my bicycle en route to work at Oracle when the call from my sister Terry came in. In a flash, the world stopped turning. My life had taken a monumental turn. I had known it was coming, but could not fathom the feelings that surfaced.

Dad was a man’s man, and I lucked out by being his boy. Life with Dad just happened. We didn’t talk things out. We mostly just hung out doing what guys do together, primarily around sports and exercise. He taught me most of what I know about surfing, skiing, and tennis. I don’t mean that he instructed me; that definitely was not Dad. He was about being together and doing whatever it was we were doing; not much needed to be said. Later in life I came to appreciate the deep wisdom Dad had imparted to me over the years. I wouldn’t trade that time with him for anything. He took me to school on how to truly relax and enjoy life. That was my lesson from him that I treasured most.

The Bible is crystal clear on the joy and peace that await those who place their faith in Jesus. I don’t know if that includes Dad. On my last visit with him in Kona I was able to share my Christian faith and communicate to him how simple it would be to accept Jesus into his heart. That was not easy for me to do. We watched a video together to get him thinking about heaven. He did not say much, but appeared receptive to what I was saying. It rests in God’s hands.

I often dream about being reunited with Dad in the prime of his life in heaven. It would be a wondrous homecoming. I imagine, of course, he is going to say,

“Michael, let’s go surfing!”.

Until then, I hope that I can have as much of an influence on people as Dad did on his friends and family. Somehow, Dad seemed to rub off on everyone, including people he would seemingly completely ignore. Everyone who knew Dad would agree that he left a mark that won’t soon be forgotten.

Following are a few of the areas from Dad’s legacy that his grandchildren should take note of. I like to think of it as passing the baton to Marisa, Matthew, Brennan, and Hayley. These are all quite simple—not anything that would surprise those who knew Dad. But the combination of them together is what sets Dad apart. He lived each one of them to the fullest.

“Six lessons for the grandchildren,” from Kona Jack

1 – Keep your sense of humor.

This may be the single most important of all!

Dad was hysterical with his many dry and humorous comments that always seemed to come when you least expected it. He had a fantastic wit and was not afraid to use it on anyone. Most importantly, it didn’t wane at all as he launched into some challenging times in his eighties. Dad was a walking comedy act that I appreciate now more than ever.

On my last trip to Kona before he passed, I had come to assist him after he took a serious spill walking down a steep hill from the KTA market with a full bag of groceries (in his flip-flops!). He was quite bandaged up head to toe and not moving too well when I arrived. His first comment to me was:

“I’ve lost my swagger, Michael.”

I couldn’t have said it any better.

His first request was to drive into town for a haircut at his regular barber. I had been there many times. As we approached the barbershop, Dad shuffled slowly in as a customer held the door open and patiently waited for him to get by. The guy was looking at him and his bandages with obvious curiosity and sympathy (along with everyone else) when suddenly, out of nowhere, Dad looked up at him and blurted out,

“You should see the OTHER guy!”

The man holding the door was pausing to process what the heck Dad was talking about when it hit me as I was taking a seat. I was laughing so hard that I almost started to cry. Dad just shuffled up to the barber chair and sat down as if nothing had happened. The barber knew him well and took it in stride as he began dressing him for his haircut.

Dad was not a letter writer, but he was famous for his sticky notes on stuff he would send you in the mail. Often, they were written on a card or piece of paper that he would reuse. He wasn’t one to waste paper. Here’s one he wrote across an article he sent me:

“Hey, it’s not all wine and roses over here! This can be a very tough life, especially if you’re in your late, late eighties. I messed up cutting these articles out of the paper, but I’m sure you’ll get the drift.
Dad”


Another sticky note on a rather lengthy New Yorker article he sent me about Apple and the upcoming iWatch launch:

“ Mike – I don’t want to over burden you with too much shop talk, but thought this might be of interest. It’s a little long and drawn, but does have its highlights, and it’s a good inside look into Apple’s modus operandi. In any event, you’re stuck with it!
P.S. For your appreciation of my sending it, you can give me an Apple watch for Father’s Day.”

This one was written on a copy of the Santa Monica High School alumni newsletter, which included some photographs of his classmates:

“Mike: I have enclosed 2 Xerox’s from the recent Viking news, which is a quarterly published for SMHS alumni. One is a recent picture of Charlie French, which I thought you would like to see. The other caught my eye because I knew everyone involved from my Malibu days. Dave Rochlen is the founder of Jams, and Peter Cole and Buzzy Trent were famous big wave riders (Buzzy looks like he had a couple of 20 footers break on him).”

And looking at the picture of Buzzy, I had to agree!

2 — Sleep trumps diet.

Sneaking in a nap just hours before the wedding bells ring!

A key to Dad’s long and physically active life was his ability to sleep anywhere at any time. He regularly took two naps a day and never (that I remember) had a hard time getting a full night’s sleep. I will never forget one incident on the day Marla and I got married. I came into the bedroom to get the tuxedo on and found him flat on his back, taking a nap. I thought he was kidding at first, but with his hearing aids out, I could hardly wake him up!

Dad’s sleep habits also seemed to counterbalance his daily nutritional habits, which were not healthy by any standard. He should have written a book on how to live a long and healthy life while eating and drinking anything you want.

My favorite story was the trip we took back to Kona from Queens Medical Center in Honolulu after surgery to install a stent in one artery. The surgeon had ordered him on a low-fat, low-sodium diet and told him not to lift anything over ten pounds for two weeks. He repeated the last one three times! We were driving back to Dad’s place from the Kona airport when he had me stop at one of his favorite restaurants along the way (“Michael, pull over here!”). I was not surprised when he ordered a giant schooner of draft beer and a large plate of french fries. Of course, he salted the fries heavily and covered them with ketchup.

Picking my words carefully, when I mentioned that the schooner probably weighed over ten pounds (deciding to ignore the rest), he looked at me like I had gone mad. I will never forget that gaze as he held the giant glass mug with both hands visibly shaking as he lifted it to his lips. It was as if I had threatened to turn off his air!

And, of course, there was Dad’s infamous grocery list. Here’s one he gave Marisa for her trip to KTA one day:

– Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, Ranch-style Doritos, Eye of the Hawk beer, Laughing Cow cheese, Frosted Flakes, Half n Half, Snickers bar.

On a thank you note he sent Terry, he outlined what would likely happen to him if money were no object in Kona:

“Terry, I want you to know that I had a big time blowing away your gift certificate at Drysdale’s: 1 beer, 3 Rob Roy’s, 1 Stinger on the rocks, and the Shrimp basket.
So thanks a lot. I hope I can repay you if you make it over in December.”


Surely, he slept better than ever that night!

3 — Keep life simple.

Dad’s bathroom towel rack was draped with one pair of swim trunks for each day of the week

Everyone who knew Dad was envious of how he had simplified his life. He had boiled his world down to the bare essentials. He should have won an environmental achievement award for having the lowest carbon footprint in the state of Hawaii. We all have a lot to learn from him in this area.

On the day I took dad to Los Angeles airport for his move to Kona from Newport Beach (Park Newport apartments), I came to the shocking realization that he was serious about simplifying. He told me he had sold everything for the move, including his car. When he got into my car with a single (small!) suitcase for his flight and nothing else, it hit me.

“Dad, where’s your stuff? Did you ship it?”

His quick reply:

“This is it, Michael. I got rid of everything.”

And he stayed that way. Dad never succumbed to a life of possessions and complexity. Including never again owning a car. His unit #29 at the Keauhou Surf & Racquet Club was a perfect example of that. A couple of $3.99 plastic Wal-Mart chairs around a $4.99 plastic Wal-Mart table was the only furniture he needed. He didn’t seem to mind that we all had to stand around to talk with him when we visited. I think he liked that you would never stay long if you didn’t have somewhere to sit. I tried to buy him a Lazy Boy chair several times to help him get his feet up.

“If I want to lay down, I’ll just go out to the pool!” he quickly shot back.

Good point.

Dad’s fantastic ability to keep life simple and avoid the stress attached to the things we accumulate was genuinely something to be admired. Here’s another note he wrote us on the back of his race number for the Keahou 5K run, effectively reusing the race number as a notecard:

“Hi Gang: I picked up my race booty, which consisted of two T-shirts in addition to the race shirt (I may not leave much money, but I’ll leave a lot of T-shirts,) a twelve dollar gift certificate at Drysdales (that’s 3 Rob Roy’s), and a medallion on a blue ribbon…. The weather has been great. Highs in lo 80’s; lo’s in high 60’s with afternoon clouds and no vog. The snow bunnies are real happy!”

And yes, he did leave us lots of T-shirts.

4 – Exercise for life!

Still playing solid tennis well into his eighties!

One quality that most influenced me was Dad’s example with consistent exercise throughout his entire life. This was one of the few areas where he did offer advice as we were growing up. Dad believed exercise was a true fountain of youth, whether it was his tennis, surfing, skiing, or even jumping rope in the living room. And he was living proof that it worked!

This note on the back of a reused Christmas card says it all:

Life here goes on! Following is my current schedule:
– Monday: work 9-12:30. Tennis 3-5.
– Tuesday: Bike to the village. Coffee at the Pub. Work out at the club and a run. Bike back to the pool.
– Wednesday: Tennis 2-4.
– Thursday: same as Tuesday
– Friday: same as Monday
– Saturday: same as Tuesday and Thursday
– Sunday: rest it up at pool. Tennis 3-5.
Of course there are variations, but not many. I’m sure you get the idea!
Love, Jack”

5 — Enjoy life.

Never one to miss an ice cold beer after a round of tennis.

Everyone who knew Dad agreed that he set the stage for enjoying life. Whether it was a brilliant Kona sunset, cold beer, or a well-played football game on TV, he enjoyed it to the fullest and let everyone around him know. It was a fun quality of his that I miss a great deal. Dad never let work distract him from taking pleasure in life and kept a keen eye on those who did the same. No question that a part of this has propelled me into the work/life balance coaching arena.

Here’s an insightful comment he made about Bob Simmons, a fellow Malibu surfing pioneer, in a note to me about a recent surf auction of a Simmons surfboard for $40,000:

“This is the same board I’m riding in the Malibu photo. I’m not sure how many of these Simmons made, but don’t think it could be more than 5 or so. I can only remember seeing one other that was owned by Jim Arness. Bob was anything but a grinder when it came to making boards and never let work interfere with his surfing. There seems to be a lot of money out there for old surf collectibles. I may be sitting on a fortune!”

Dad was not a complainer. Later in life, when the speed bumps (as he called them) started showing up, he would still find pleasure in the midst of it. Don’t get me wrong; he let you know if he didn’t like something or if something had not gone well. He never dwelled on it and soon was making light of it after.

When we made a trip back to Queens Medical Center in Honolulu for his bladder cancer surgery, he had to carry a catheter bag with him along the way. I could not believe how he kept his spirits up and maintained a sense of humor about it all. I was cringing at the sight of him carrying the catheter bag when we came to airport security and he (of course) got pulled aside for the complete shakedown treatment by the TSA agents. He kept looking at me with an “are you kidding me” look on his face as they patted him down.

“I need a beer Michael,” was his first comment as he rejoined me. I’ll never forget that beer. He took a long draw from the cold, wet mug, and belted out:

“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one, Michael.”

I was looking at him and wondering how he possibly could be enjoying a beer right now? Yet he savored it as if it was going to be his last!

6 — It’s OK to be sentimental.

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

The family all knew about Dad’s goodbyes. They were painful for those of us who were trying to leave from a visit with him. I dreaded it every trip, as he always fell apart and started to cry when it was time to say goodbye. My last trip over was the worst of all. It was as if he knew he would not see me again, finally just telling me to leave.

The point I think he would make for the grandkids is not to hold your emotions in, but to let them out. I wish I could be more like that. Here are a couple more of his sticky notes as evidence.

This one is regarding a blog I had written about my San Onofre experience with him growing up:

“Mike, this is pretty good. I must confess your re-capitulation of a trip to SanO brought tears to my eyes. I’ve out-grown my motion sickness, but it doesn’t look like I’ll ever outgrow my sentimentality, which I for sure inherited from my father.”

In the mid-80s, Dad had taken a three-week solo trip to Australia in which the airline (Quantis) lost his luggage on the flight over. We were surprised to find a detailed daily journal he kept from that trip where he periodically lamented over the loss and its impact on his emotions. His final entry in the journal:

“Checked with Qantas about my suitcase and no luck. Someone else is wearing my snappy clothes and it pisses me off to no end!

And finally, a birthday card (not reused) he sent me shortly after college (early ‘80s):

“Hi Mike – They do roll around awfully fast don’t they. I hope you have or had a real good one! This is one birthday that always sneaks up on me. I am watching the U of U – San Jose St. basketball game from Utah and couldn’t help but have a flash-back to your graduation. You can be real proud of what you accomplished then, and what you have accomplished since. To put it mildly, you have done quite well; and I’m a very proud father.

Utah seems to have one of their better teams and I cant look at Tarkanian without thinking of Woody [our tax accountant – who did in fact look like him!].
“Fresno State has a 26 to 11 lead and the Utah coach is having kittens!
Love, Grandpa Jack”


Footnotes:

  1. All told, dad’s life was a bit of a fairy tale. The “strawberry moon” on the day of his passing is the nickname for June’s full moon, which coincides with the summer solstice. According to AccuWeather.com, the last time these two phenomena coincided was back in 1967, and it won’t happen again until 2062. I would venture to guess that it has been even longer since it fell on Father’s Day.

    Dad passed away just four months shy of his 90th birthday. He had just spent Father’s Day with his daughter Terry, and her husband, Bob Hankenson. They went out for his favorite meal of fish and chips and his favorite cocktail, a Rob Roy served “up with a twist.” To top it off, sitting on the table in his dining room was the day’s crossword puzzle in the Honolulu Advertiser with every box filled in!

9. Peace of Mind

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”
-John 16:33 (NIV)

Quitting the Corona del Mar High School basketball team my junior year is one regret in life that has lingered. I showed up late for a Saturday practice (the surf had been good), and coach Tandy Gillis made sure that I would not want to do that again. And I didn’t. At the end of practice, I sheepishly told him I was quitting. Enough already. I was seventeen years old and didn’t need a basketball coach dictating my life.

Or so I thought.

Coach Gillis was a bit of an icon in the basketball world. I appreciate that much more now than I did then. He was an All-American at The University of California at Berkeley (Cal), where he had played under coach Pete Newell, who coached Cal to the 1959 NCAA championship. Rumor had it that Tandy held Jerry West to his lowest offensive point total in his college basketball career at West Virginia University. And if you don’t know Jerry West, he was good enough to have the logo of the NBA modeled after him. Tandy’s Cal Bears beat Jerry’s West Virginia team in the finals 71-70 that year!

Coach Gillis was all about defense. He could teach it like Einstein could teach physics. It was quite simple. He taught us to play an extraordinarily tight man-to-man defense by following two principles:

#1: “Crawl inside their jockstrap,” as he used to say, and deny every pass possible.

#2: Protect the baseline as if it were Fort Knox; Don’t let anyone with the ball go by.

Conceding on either point resulted in sprinting the lines up and down the court until you were ready to barf.

Coach John Wooden

Growing up as a basketball fan in SoCal meant you had to be aware of what the Wizard of Westwood (as Coach John Wooden was known) was doing on the basketball court at UCLA. It all started for me when I stayed up late with Dad to watch the KTLA Channel 5 replays of those UCLA games in the mid-1960s. I could not wait for the “Oh MYs” from announcer Dick Enberg as UCLA ran endlessly up and down the court, scoring at will, always ending up on the winning side. Dad would tell you that I usually fell asleep by halftime as the replays started at 11:00p.m.

The Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins won ten NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships (March Madness) over a period of twelve years (1964-1975), including seven in a row (1967-1973), and had four undefeated seasons (1964, 1967,1972, 1973).

However, I will never forget one loss in 1968 when the Houston Cougars and Elvin Hayes ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak in what was billed as “the game of the century” at the Houston Astrodome.[i] I cried like a baby at the end of that game.

What Coach Wooden was doing was unprecedented in the sports world, and I could not help but be caught up in trying to understand it. Something was quite different about how this man approached the game. Amidst the myriad of UCLA victories, he inspired his players to find their very best within themselves while being as cool as a cucumber watching them do it from the bench.

Even during the tensest moments of a game when his team appeared rattled, he would let them play on without calling a time out. After the game, he was always very humble, giving credit to those around him before himself. Most unique of all, Coach Wooden never spoke about “winning.” His focus was on helping each player become the best they possibly could be on the court. He emphasized the importance of practice, telling his players that the games would go well if they practiced well. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Wooden’s unrivaled success was a puzzle I felt compelled to piece together to see if I could apply it to my life. Fast forward 20 years to Silicon Valley in 1992, and I was starting to see the picture. As soon as our two children, Marisa and Matthew, were old enough to play organized basketball, I entered the coaching ranks, determined to make amends for quitting Coach Gillis’ team in high school. I modeled my coaching around Coach Wooden’s now-famous “Pyramid of Success,”[ii] which summarized the building blocks required for success, both on the court and off.

Hard work was at its core, no getting around that with Coach Wooden. Once you had done the hard work, Wooden emphasized patience (“good things take time”), along with faith (“through prayer”) to be at your best when your best is needed. All this resulted in peace of mind that you could rest in the knowledge that you gave it your best effort. Coach Wooden would add, “You are the only one who truly can judge that!” Soon, I had every player on the team memorizing these pyramid blocks and reciting Wooden quotes during critical moments in a game or practice. The kids were terrific in embracing it, and of course, the parents loved taking the emphasis off winning.

Seek First The Kingdom of God

When I read Coach Wooden’s first book, They Call Me Coach; I discovered a crown jewel that had been missing in my puzzle. In discussing his beliefs on success, Coach Wooden quoted straight from the Bible:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33, NIV).

Right there, in Chapter 13, Wooden spilled the story of his Christian faith and how basketball was of minor importance in comparison to belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. Coach Wooden carried a metal cross of Jesus in his pocket through all those many games at UCLA so he could hold on to it and be comforted by his Savior when things got difficult. He said he would rub the cross for comfort to the point that it had been worn down on the corners over the years.

Oh MY!

This was the missing piece I had been looking for; it fit perfectly. It was so simple, yet so true. The mere idea of attaining peace of mind through faith in the cross in pursuit of success would be a theme that rang true for me in my career for the next two decades in Silicon Valley. I bought several metal crosses as reminders. Most remarkable of all was that Coach Wooden practiced what he preached. His players all looked up to him for his principles and commitment to his faith. He lived it! That set John Wooden apart and helped him see the level of success he achieved at UCLA.

Meeting Dick Enberg and exchanging stories of those late-night KTLA broadcasts of UCLA basketball games.

The most challenging job of my career was as a field sales manager at Siemens (1993-94), with a $6 million annual sales quota of telecommunications systems. I managed ten sales representatives who fought daily battles for sales territories, new accounts, quota alignment, customer satisfaction, and that very elusive Purchase Order to win a deal against the competition. My Circle of Life centered on work and not much else. I was struggling to find peace of mind at the end of the day, whether I was achieving my sales quota or not. Each day I went home to my family battle-weary, struggling to find success in the midst of it all.

In a panic to find help, I decided to type a letter to Coach Wooden and ask for resources to apply his principles around the Pyramid of Success. It was a long shot; I was hoping someone in his office might respond. Within one week, I had a hand-written letter in a hand-written envelope to me from Coach Wooden himself.

Huh?

He opened by thanking me for taking the time to write:

“Your words of commendation were very kind and deeply appreciated. Many thanks for taking the time to express yourself.”

Coach Wooden was truly demonstrating the principles he was teaching! I soon created a leadership model for my sales team around the Pyramid of Success. We overachieved our sales quota two years in a row while improving customer satisfaction ratings. The puzzle was complete.

“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” -Coach Wooden

As a coach, father, and follower of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I have found Coach Wooden’s philosophy to be an excellent way to model the values our holy Bible teaches, both to children on the basketball court, as well as to adults in the business world. It enabled me to go home at the end of the day with a sense of contentment that regardless of how the day had gone, I gave it my best and had peace of mind in knowing that it now rested in God’s hands.[I]


“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
-Coach John Wooden

Footnotes:

[i] Wooden authored and co-authored seventeen books before his death in 2010 at the age of 99. I have listed a couple of my favorites below. A google search on “John Wooden” will bring up many more. They all model the values and beliefs of this remarkable man.

  • “Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization” (2005) by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. Wooden’s strategies for competitive greatness translated into a leadership principles book for business or sports. A Wall Street Journal and L.A. Times bestseller.
  • “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life” (2005) by John Wooden and Jay Carty. A translation of Wooden’s philosophy with the Pyramid of Success into a self-help handbook based upon each of the pyramid blocks.
  • “They Call Me Coach” (1988) by John Wooden
    This was his first book and a personal favorite. It describes his humble upbringing on a small farm in Indiana and how his relationship with his father impacted him. It also is the only one of his books that covers the UCLA basketball teams in quite a bit of detail, which I appreciated, having watched so many of those games.

[i] The UCLA Bruins were #1 rated in the country and had won 47 games in a row, including the NCAA Division I championships in 1964, 1965, and 1967. Houston was #2 in the country and led by Elvin Hayes, who scored 39 points (he could not miss!). A footnote is that UCLA’s star, Lew Alcindor (Kareen Abdul-Jabbar), had the worst game of his college career (making 4 of 18 shots), suffering from a severe eye injury the previous week (he sat out the two previous games). Two months later, UCLA destroyed Houston 101-69 on route to their fourth NCAA Championship.

[ii] Coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” can be found at: https://www.thewoodeneffect.com/pyramid-of-success/

8. Spirit of Char

“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.”
-Frank Sinatra

Christmas breakfast at Char’s was an experience never to forget!

The first thirteen years of my life were a fairytale. My mother Charlene (everyone called her “Char”) was, for me, the perfect mom. Char was a living example of the power of the soul. Her spirit carries me forward each day. Anyone who knew Char would tell you what a tremendous life force she was.

Then one day, out of the blue, I heard these words from mom:

“Your dad has asked for a divorce.”

I will never forget that day. She had been asking me to sit down for a talk for several days, but I kept avoiding it. I was in the living room with my good friend Kevin Leitch when she came in and let it out. I didn’t react. I don’t remember thinking anything. The first words out of my mouth were,

“Will I still be able to go to San Onofre with him?”

I’m not sure when I comprehended the scope of what was happening. San Onofre was all I had to hang on to at that point, so it became my focus, and I stuffed the rest deep inside. Their divorce continued to reign down repercussions on my world for years. Life would never be the same.

While Dad greatly influenced my surfing and athletic side, Mom was the essence of who I am. Even her twin brother (Charles Lloyd) was a bit like looking in the mirror for me. Their mother (Oa Cannon) had as significant an influence on my life as anyone. I got their DNA.

When I look back at Mom’s life, I am amazed at what she accomplished. She always kept her perk and cheer, despite many challenges. Everyone admired Char’s grit and determination. She was a very hard worker, determined not to depend on anyone.

Mom was ill-prepared for life without Jack following the divorce. She didn’t drive, for starters, and had never balanced a checkbook. I will never forget that first driving lesson when she asked me which pedal was the “gas” and which was the “brake” (not kidding!). Her plunge into independent living was akin to planning an ascent atop Mount Everest without a guidebook. Her achievements were herculean.

Despite many nights crying herself to sleep after the divorce (I would hear from my bedroom), she rose above the calamity and created a loving home base for my sister Terry and me. Our home was full of her upbeat attitude, delicious cooking, and an open door to all of our friends; Everyone loved Char. She always looked at the glass as half full. I have warm memories of our high school parties on Marguerite Avenue with mom in the center of the action booming Frank Sinatra songs on her concert-sized speakers. Char loved Sinatra.

507 Marguerite Avenue became party central in our high school days

On January 3, 2007, Mom passed into heaven in bed at her home in Santa Barbara, California. We had a memorial service and spread her ashes into the Pacific Ocean on January 12th. Pallbearers Greg Ross, John Park, Mark Magiera, Skip Lauderbaugh, Jack Schott, our son Matthew (age 11), and I paddled her ashes out for spreading. It was a remarkable event, capped by a school of dolphins who joined in for the paddle back to shore.

I had no idea of the void I would feel once mom was gone. She was always accepting and supportive of who I was. I can hardly remember her ever criticizing me or telling me not to do something. She provided the loving support a boy can only dream of.

I read the following poem at her memorial service. It was written at her bedside in 1997 at Hoag Hospital (where she worked for years as a breakfast chef) while she was on a respirator for seven days after suffering a pulmonary stroke. Doctors had given her little chance of surviving and told us that she would not live on her own again if she did survive. As Char’s story goes, she lived another ten years, fully independent, continuing to balance her checkbook, doing her cooking and cleaning, and enjoying her four grandchildren right up to the day she passed.

————-

The Spirit of Char

A gift from the heavens, you and Charles were.
Born to a widowed mother with young Norma, it was tough on her.
The Lord blessed you with a spirit, flourishing with love.
A spirit cheerful and happy, embracing hope from above.

Your young life took a turn, with an accident to the head.
Everyone had an opinion, but your spirit was not dead.
You carried on with great passion, determination, and will.
Your spirit was alive! You would not stand still.

School was more difficult; language came back slow.
You were self-conscious about your bandage and what you didn’t know.
Your spirit carried you forward, that was for sure.
No fear of the hurdles; that spirit led the cure.

School continued to be a challenge, but your progress was clear,
You stepped way beyond your boundaries, year after year.
Your parents had you tutored and watched very close.
What you wanted was freedom, to make of life the most.

Going off to Sun Valley, the Grand Canyon, and more.
It was time to experience a life different from before.
Then off to California at Malibu on the beach.
Your spirit caught fire, and surfing Jack would teach.
You fell in love and married in Las Vegas; it all happened so quick!
But it was right, your spirit told you; he was the perfect pick.

Two kids, Terry and Mike; dreams realized and more.
The move to Corona del Mar, and a house you adore.

Cycling to work at our school cafeteria was the best.
This life in California, you had been blessed.

Your Christmas show was magnificent! Spending days to prepare.
We were so anxious to get presents; the credit was not there.
That Christmas tree was outrageous, year after year.
You decorated it to perfection and filled it with cheer.

Only now do I realize all the work you went through.
Your Christmas event was an amazing to-do.
Your spirit was Christmas; that goes without saying.
Giving us special traditions that will always keep playing.

Life took a twist when you and dad fell apart.
The challenges were many, but your spirit got a fresh start.

You learned to drive a car; “which pedal is the gas”?
To balance the checkbook, and make sure that in school we did pass.

Your spirit was strong, your will even stronger.
Staying cheerful and happy, though your days were much longer.
Enjoying my friends and our parties, which never seemed to end.
Everyone loved seeing Char; she was their best friend.

Selling our house by the beach was hard to bear.
You had your job at Hoag Hospital and now some money to spare.
You bought a mobile home, at Seacliff by the Sea.
With orange carpet and green siding; it was now the place to be.
It had more oriental decorations than the restaurants down the street.
And a stereo with huge speakers, playing to Sinatra’s beat.

I can taste your lamb dinners; it was my favorite I thought.
Roasted veggies cooked to perfection, though you’d argue they’re not.
A special spinach salad with those home-baked buttermilk rolls.
All on orange oriental china, down to the saucers and bowls.

Then came your German chocolate cake, weighing in at ten pounds.
My friends said it was the best, even better than it sounds.

My memories of you are endless; your spirit still stands out.
God has richly blessed me; there is no doubt.
Your life was tough, and tests were more than seemed fair.

But your attitude was positive; always a smile to share.

Now you are in heaven, rejoicing with Oa and Paul.
I really do miss you and want to give you a call.
So I bid you farewell, your spirit remains with me.
On to the New Jerusalem, where you are set free.

Well done, good and faithful servant.
(Matthew 25:23 NIV)

Goodbye mom

ENDNOTES

Mom suffered a brain injury at age ten in 1936 that greatly impacted her childhood. As a means of documenting this for her grandchildren (Hayley, Brennan, Marisa and Matthew), this excerpt below is from a letter written by her mother (Oa Cannon) to describe mom’s injury (unedited):

“It was here that Charlene fell from the top of the shoot-the-slide in the City Park and received a bad concussion. The doctor thought she was not badly injured, but her teachers (who were my friends) said her attention span was very short and quite a problem. When we moved to Salt Lake the Principal called us and said there was something decidedly wrong. She would know something one day and the next day it would be gone. We had her tutored and she seemed to learn quickly, but again, it would leave her. I spent hours in the evenings trying to teach her to read.
In Salt Lake we followed the suggestion of the Principal and took her to Dr. Harrow, it didn’t take long to point out her trouble. The injury was on her main retention nerve. He said she should be operated on or she would become worse. Already her little finger on the right hand was growing crooked, also her right foot had slowed its growth. He told us it wouldn’t be a complete recovery because it had been there so long.

Paul had his appendix out, Lynne (at seven months) had to have her tonsils out, she had been ill with asthma from diseased tonsils, then this operation was about more than we could handle financially. Three days after Charlene’s surgery she had a hemorrhage, her face was so swollen you could hardly tell where her nose was, she couldn’t talk. It took a year before she could walk and talk – still there were words she wanted to say, she tried, but it just wouldn’t come out right. It was a hard experience for her and us all. She was so bad that we all agreed it was only prayer that saved her.”

3. San Onofre Surfing Club

“I’ve learned that simple walks with my father around the block on summer nights when I was a child did wonders for me as an adult.”
Andy Rooney

-Art by Jim Krogle

While Corona del Mar provided an ideal beach community for growing up, it was my time with Dad at San Onofre that most influenced my views on balancing work and life later in my career. Just mention the words “San Onofre Surfing Club” (SOSC) and it brings on a rush of heart-felt memories of living an unencumbered life on the beach doing what I enjoyed most, surfing. San Onofre (“SanO” or “Nofre” as the locals called it) was a slice of heaven to an aspiring surfer like me.

The story of how the San Onofre Surfing Club was formed and later impacted by the 37th President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, is one of the more colorful stories of surfing history. Looking back on it today, it seems inconceivable that a group of surfers could arrange to lease a pristine and secluded surfing beach in Southern California from the U.S. Marine Corps for $1 a year! But that is in fact what happened, and it took an act by President Nixon in the 1970s to change it.

San Onofre History
As the crowds converged on Malibu, a unique surfing beach emerged 90 miles south near the San Onofre railroad station. Originally known as a fishing camp, it was soon discovered that this beach had a unique environment for surfing. The collection of bottom rocks mixed with sand on the seabed produced strikingly consistent waves with a long peeling and gently sloping nature, reminiscent of the waves at the renowned Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. Word quickly spread among the surfing crowd of this gem of a surfing beach called San Onofre.

Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison and Pete Peterson were two of the first regulars at San Onofre in the mid-1930s, after the new jetties in CdM had destroyed the surf there. Both had traveled to Hawaii and brought back the aloha spirit to San Onofre. It was a perfect fit for this secluded stretch of beach, over a half-mile long and backed by dirt cliffs to maintain a sense of exclusivity. There was even a palm thatch shack on the sand left behind by a film shoot from a Hollywood movie company.

By the late 1930s, San Onofre had become the place to go to enjoy the surfer’s lifestyle with an unbeatable combination of good fishing, excellent surfing, and a community atmosphere. World War II was soon to disrupt all that, changing everyone’s lives.

In 1942 the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced that San Onofre beach would become part of Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine Corps base in the country. It was officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt later that year to train U.S. Marines for service in World War II.

During those years Dad described how they would tape paper over their headlights when driving Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) between San Clemente and Oceanside for fear the Japanese were going to attack. For those lucky enough to return home from the war in late 1945, the USMC began to allow access to the beach again for surfing. The Marines in charge of Camp Pendleton were willing to work out an agreement with these surfers, understanding the sacrifices they had made for our country. [1]

SOSC decals were a prized possession back then!

In a startling story of cooperation between civilians and the U.S. military, the SOSC was loosely formed in 1951 to provide a group of surfers exclusive access to the beach. The SOSC gained responsibility to maintain membership, keep the beach clean and orderly, and pay a $1-a-year annual lease. Dr. A.H. “Barney” Wilkes (a San Clemente dentist), and Andre “Frenchy” Jahan (SOSC’s first president) are two heroes who finessed the USMC into the agreement. The impact of WW II along with the sacrifices everyone had made for their country clearly played into it.

In the end, it was brilliant, but it did not come without some turbulent times between the two. [2] Club bylaws, membership cards, auto decals, and rules of conduct were established at the first formal SOSC meeting on the beach on April 24, 1952. Dad was fortunate enough to be a part of that early membership crowd.

This was the beginning of an era at SanO that had roots firmly planted in a simple lifestyle of a surfing society which soon became a way of life for raising your kids at the beach in SoCal. There were no lifeguards, no running water, no paved roads, and no way to take a phone call; just an idyllic world of sun and surf in a serene setting, free of life’s challenges with plenty of time for rest. These traditions would be passed on for generations to come.

Waiting
I waited all week with great anticipation for the trip to SanO with Dad on weekends. Getting that official military salute at the gate to Camp Pendleton was like gaining entrance to Main Street at Disneyland. Those windshield decals that got us by the USMC guard became a source of great pride to signify our status as a member of the San Onofre Surfing Club.

The infamous U.S.M.C. salute to secure passage to San Onofre

As good as it was for a kid who lived to surf, getting to San Onofre was another matter. Especially because I couldn’t get there without Dad. What should have been a 45-minute drive took forever! We left CdM onto PCH in mid-morning with our two Dave Sweet boards bungee corded on top of our 1964 Chevy Nova Wagon. The first interlude took place at the Laguna Beach Arts Festival, where Dad would play a couple sets of tennis with his good friend Jack Upton. I would try and pass the time digging holes, killing bugs, and throwing rocks; constantly hoping it was match point, no matter who was winning. After what seemed like half the day, I knew they were finally done when the ice cold TaB came out in the metal tennis cans (over more ice). That was my queue to sprint to the car. We were finally on our way!

“Aahhhh!” Dad belted out with each thirst-quenching gulp of TaB. It was somewhat of a circus act as he juggled the tennis can in one hand, the three-speed column shift in the other, and still managed the steering wheel between them as he pumped the clutch in and out through the maze of Laguna Beach summer traffic and hills. My eyes were glued to the blue ocean and waves we saw between the buildings as we crawled down PCH, seeming to hit every signal along the way. The first marker I looked for was the “Laguna Beach Greeter” (Eiler Larsen) in his bright red coat, who always recognized me, I was sure. He gave me that wink and pointed right at me. Next, I watched for a wrecked car that was overturned up a cliff by Poche Beach along PCH. That was getting close.

We made a final stop off the 5 freeway (Avenida Calafia) at the El Camino Market to buy some Mug Root Beer, Paraffin wax, the LA Times, and a small cluster of grapes for nutrition. The owner of the El Camino Market, Tony Duynstee, was always there to cheerfully greet us at the cash register and update us on the surf report.

Somehow, we never seemed to have much more than the grapes and root beer for the day. Looking back, I now see that as a reflection on the hard times Dad lived through with the depression and WW II. Maybe he was also trying to lose weight. All I know is that being at SanO as a young boy reminds me a lot of all the mouth-watering food people were eating around me on the beach.

I got my first glimpse of what the waves would be like as we got a good view of the renowned surf break Trestles as we exited the 5 freeway at Basilone Road. My pulse immediately spiked at just the sight of the waves; I could not wait to get in. The fancy hand wave by the U.S.M.C. guard at Camp Pendleton was our final green light. We bounced down the rutted dirt road and parked at “Old Man’s” to set up base camp; one Coast Hardware beach chair (for Dad), two beach towels, The L.A. Times, and a small Styrofoam ice chest to preserve the Mug Root Beer and grapes. Anything coming out of that ice chest needed Dad’s approval.

Once the boards were moved off the car to the palm shack, the next hiatus began. In my younger years, Dad would not let me go in the water until he got out. For safety reasons, he wanted to keep an eye on me in the water. Although, every time I looked to see if he saw my ride, he was immersed in the LA Times . . .

The SanO Scene at Old Man’s in the 1960s

After chatting it up with friends about the wind, tide, water temp, and Dodgers, Dad would finally wax up and paddle out. Thankfully, I knew he would not stay in the water long (he never wore a wetsuit), so at least the clock had started.

Jeez . . .

Dad was easy to pick out riding waves as he would drag a foot on his turns, which I now understand was from his days riding the heavy balsa wood boards at Malibu where you used your foot as a rudder to turn. My only distraction beyond watching his every move was keeping an eye out for Candy McCue to walk by. Anyone on the beach in those days would surely confirm that.

After what seemed like a 16-inning scoreless Dodger game, I raced to get my board and wax up as soon as I saw Dad coming in. The water at SanO was always like dipping into a familiar bath—I never wanted to get out. Old Man’s is one of the more consistent breaks in Southern California, so there were always waves to ride, regardless of the conditions. Once I hit double digits in age, we could finally paddle out together. Surfing with Dad was about as good as it got.

SanO was a unique environment in the water. People looked out after each other, brought loose boards back out (before the leash), and took care of anyone in need. When I was ten years old, I wiped out and got hit hard in the head by my board. It opened a good slice next to my left eye, so there was lots of blood. Amazingly, Dad was right there and able to carry me to shore over the rocks on a low tide day (cutting up his feet badly in the process).

The next thing I knew, I was lying in a van chewing on European black licorice while getting eight stitches to close the gash (“that licorice is your Novocain,” the doc told me). I will always remember our doctor back home telling us what a good job he had done stitching it up. Only years later did I find out it was Dr. Dorian Paskowitz [3] who had done the good deed. I remember Dad carrying a bottle of champagne in the car on the next trip down for the doc. That was how things worked at San Onofre—life in harmony.

The magic of the SOCS soon got out among the surfing crowd, and membership soared to 1,000 members by 1971 with a waiting list of 2,000. Many of my friends were begging me to take them. The SOSC had become a mini-civilization built around surfing with luaus, horseshoes, surfing and volleyball contests, fishing, Bocce ball, and even a Sunday school for kids. The SOSC was even written about in an October 18, 1965 issue of Sports Illustrated. [4]

President Nixon
As progress would have it, change was imminent. Just a half-mile south of Old Man’s beach, construction of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station began in 1968. This plant employed over 2,200 people and became a prominent landmark with its twin spherical buildings designed to contain any unexpected releases of radiation.

OK.

In 1969 Richard Nixon became the 37th U.S. president, setting up his summer White House residence near Trestles (1.5 miles north of San Onofre), at the La Casa Pacifica. When President Nixon was in town, Trestles was off-limits to everyone, especially to surfers! Armed military police would be patrolling the beach in jeeps, helicopters flew overhead, and an 85-foot Coast Guard ship sat just outside the surf line. Thankfully, the SOSC was just far enough south to be unaffected.

Having President Nixon flying by in his helicopter was a sure sign the tide was about to turn. I will never forget the day in 1971 when I heard the devastating news that the entire SOSC beach had been leased to the state of California for use as a state park. It appeared to be the end of the SOSC and my dream of passing that baton on to my kids.

The story we heard was that President Nixon looked down from his presidential helicopter at the SOSC members and asked how they had arranged to gain exclusive access to that beach on a U.S. military base. I can imagine how that conversation went! Soon, talks were in process around the creation of a new California state park, and it was believed that President Nixon wanted it to be named after him. In the end, it was deemed a presidential gift from Richard M. Nixon—but at least “San Onofre” took the name slot.

Whew!

As has been the history with the SOSC, a few heroes again emerged to keep the club alive and thriving into a new era. One was SOSC President Doug Craig, who provided the dedicated leadership and guidance for the club to stay together and work with the state of California to preserve the beach and surfing culture for future generations. The story of President Nixon meeting with the SOSC to gain his personal SOSC membership is documented in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album and is good for a chuckle. [5]

San Onofre Surfing Contest
Next to Christmas and my birthday, the most coveted time of the year for me was the annual SOSC surfing contest at the end of summer. I thought about it every day I was in the water at SanO, replaying in my mind what the announcer would say after a good ride. It was a family fun event with something for everyone, no matter what your age or skill level. The club members who orchestrated it were the early pioneers of the sport and knew how to run a first-class surfing contest. The trophies were right up there with the Heisman in terms of star power among our surfing community.

For me, it was all about my desire to surf like Erik Hops, who was in my age group. Erik surfed at a level I could only dream about.  He won 1st place every year (in my memory) and was the best surfer I knew. I never saw anyone at SanO who had total board control and walked the nose as smoothly as Erik. He was even famous—the very first surfing book I was given (Modern Surfing by John Severson – 1964) had a picture of Erik surfing in it. When I ordered my first custom Doug Haut surfboard in Santa Cruz many years later, I fulfilled my dream of having a solid red pigment board, just like the one Erik rode at SanO.

The highlight of the contest each year was announcer Jim Irwin, who was appropriately labeled “the Vin Scully of surfing contests”. Jim’s booming voice made you feel like you were a world champion, even if you were just barely navigating a shore break ankle biter. His enthusiasm was extreme, and his joy of the sport leaped out as he described each ride with fantastic detail and emotion. When announcing the “8-year-old and under” kids, who were barely 25 yards offshore, he made it sound like they were dropping into 25-footers at Waimea Bay:

“The white water is thundering down as he streaks across the massive face of a turbulent curl and cranks a bottom turn just in time!” 

Hearing Jim describe each contestant was like reading a character description in a Steinbeck novel. He was an artist in motion. God bless that man; I am praying that he will be announcing my rides in Heaven.

The prized SanO trophy with my Dave Sweet in front of 507 Marguerite Avenue (1966)

SanO Today
It has been a great joy to live out my dream of taking my family down to SanO to experience much of what I had growing up. The SOSC leadership has done an amazing job keeping the original structure of the beach intact and maintaining the culture I became so fond of as a kid. We now arrive at 6 a.m. to get in (Dad would not have approved!), but once I park the car and collapse into my beach chair, the familiarness of it all comes right back like a favorite song from that era.

I always wanted to experience SanO like the many families who camped there all summer in vans with lots of food and drink. We started making an annual trek from northern California to SanO in a fully equipped RV, which allowed us to spend entire days into darkness soaking in the San Onofre aroma of a healthy simplicity of life. The kids loved it and I was thrilled to finally barbecue that meat I always smelled as a child among the many camper vans. We even catch the SOSC surfing contest when we can, which has maintained the same all-inclusive aloha spirit. Jim Irwin has passed on, but his legacy continues from the announcer’s booth; those “8-year-old and under” kids are still a personal highlight for me.

On one trip down I took our kids on a sightseeing tour to see the tennis court at the Arts Festival (still there), the Laguna Beach Greeter (a new one!), and we even pulled off at Avenida Calafia to find El Camino Market for some last-minute wax and ice. Incredibly, I found Tony Duynstee still at the counter almost 50 years later! Tony finally sold the store to a developer after 75 years at that location.

Fab Four Under the Grass Shack at Old Man’s in 2012

Today, as I reflect on growing up at SanO and watch my kids in the water at Old Man’s, I dig my toes into the sand and think how fortunate I am to have had such a wonderful place to grow up. It is a joy to share with my wife and children. I always believed life at SanO was the way things were supposed to be. It made an indelible impression on me.

This quote from the San Onofre 1973 Cookbook for Surfers, captures the essence of SanO (unedited):

“Say San Onofre and you hear the sound of surf rolling in a long way, and smooth stones chuckling together in the shore break. As a place name, San Onofre has come to have deep meaning for a large group of men and their families who have surfed together for as long as thirty years at the same lovely, wild stretch of beach. The constancy of both surf and friendship has distilled a camaraderie that is as strong as the surfers are different… All this time, the beach has remained unspoiled, as delightful on a wind-swept winter’s day, as it is on July 4th, awash with dogs, kids, and cold drinks. Improvements in the name of comfort were avoided; no showers, no blacktop, no running water, no lifeguard stands. Out on the water, the surfers took care of each other. All problems could be brought to an open forum, a circle of beach chairs. Access to San Onofre depended on the good spirit of cooperation with the Marine Corps, and two more unlikely groups never lived side by side.”

Marion Haines, Polly Buckingham, Claire Shaver
San Onofre Cookbook, 1973

_________________

Footnotes:
[1] The San Onofre Surfing Club, 1952 – 2002: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album, this book is a treasure of pictures and stories of the 50-year history of the club. Page 36 describes the new world order at San Onofre following WW II (unedited):

THE FORTIES – A Changed World

“World War II changed America in profound ways. It ended the Depression, unified and equalized the country, restarted the economic engine and opened doors to new lifestyles. Those who had never seen the beach till they shipped out of California [from Camp Pendleton] knew they wanted to go back there. Those who had grown up with the beach knew just how good they had it.

In 1946 a bunch of us lived down there at ‘Nofre: Glen Fisher, Wild Ass Wiley, [James] Arness, Bob Card Hammerhead – we’d go to the dump and get old furniture and set it up and live like a hobo camp. We called ourselves the “52-twenty club,” cause for the first 52 weeks after the war they paid us $20 a week as veterans. You could live like kings at ‘Nofre for that. We all enrolled in college to get better jobs and surfed every day.”
Jim ‘Burrhead’ Drever

[2] The San Onofre Surfing Club, 1952 – 2002: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album, A summary of the struggles between SOSC members and the USMC in the 1950s are neatly summarized on page 41 of this book: “The Fifties – Birth Of The Cool”. The net of the story is that the USMC notified the SOSC in 1955 that they would no longer have exclusive access to the beach. Total chaos followed (unedited):

Things went downhill almost immediately. Irresponsible surfers set fire to the brush in the San Mateo Creek estuary and nearly burned down the railroad trestle. Burning wood thrown at the commuter train and piled debris on the tracks once caused a passenger train to grind to an emergency stop. Parking and other regulatory signs were used as firewood. The grass shack was torched. A cave on the cliffs was filled with old tires and gasoline. The fire was so intense the Marines couldn’t reach it with the fire truck. Occasionally the M.P.s were so provoked that they fired rifles and pistols at the trestle surfers. Some surfers set up camp overnight on the beach in defiance of patrolling M.P.s. The Marine Corps demanded the Club maintain order or all civilians would be restricted from the beach. The Club, of course, disclaimed responsibility, since the Marines had allowed free and uncontrolled public use of the area.

[3] Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz and his family of nine children all living together in a single RV were just part of the scenery that all blended together at San Onofre. Paskowitz was a graduate of Stanford Medical school who decided to give it all up to live a Bohemian lifestyle dedicated to the sport of surfing. His chronicles were documented in a movie: Surfwise.

[4] San Onofre – Memories of a Legendary Surfing Beach by David Matuszak, is the encyclopedia on San Onofre, weighing in at an astounding 1,561 pages (not kidding).  One must see this book to believe it. Page 702 has an excerpt from the Sports Illustrated article in 1965 which included the following (unedited):

“At the opposite pole is the San Onofre Surfing Club, which is at the same time one of the most exclusive and one of the tackiest clubs in the world. Founded in 1951 and located at Camp Pendleton, its facilities seem to consist of little more than a few shacks badly in need of repair, which serve as dressing rooms and toilets, and its existence seems to depend on the whim of the Marine commandant. The SOSC has 800 members, each paying $20 annual dues… Elderly men wearing straw hats, smoking cigars and drinking cans of beer sit on the swells astride their boards, occasionally riding a wave in, still seated. One old gentleman says he only surfs on his birthday, of which he has several every summer.”

[5] The San Onofre Surfing Club, 1952 – 2002: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album, A fitting close to this era is summarized on page 64 (unedited): 

Tricky Dick Goes Surfing
“When Richard Nixon moved the “Western White House” to Cotton’s Point (north of The Trestle) in ’69, ‘Nofre was put in the spotlight more than ever. As a result, the Club was now on the verge of being stripped of its beach due to the all out political battle waged against it. Members had no choice but to play their hand. Bob Mardian (Nixon’s Attorney General at that time), was an enthusiastic and active member of the Club, and was considered an ace in the hole. Members increased the clean-up detail and suspended members who trespassed on Marine property at Trestles, trying to put on the very best face to the outside world. The SOSC even went so far as to make Nixon an “honorary member” with hopes of wooing his support for a status quo approach to ‘Nofre. Tricky Dick was scheduled to meet with them down at the SOSC beach, but, for unknown reasons, he never showed. In 1970, then Club president Doug Craig was permitted a 15-minute meeting with Nixon at the Western White House after Bob Mardian had pulled some strings. Craig believed he had Nixon’s backing after their talk. But a year later, Nixon did an about-face and handed San Onofre over to the state as a “Presidential Gift”. The San Onofre Surfing Club’s little-known book for members only, published in ’74, has a special tribute to Nixon in its closing pages: a picture of Craig standing next to an upright, driftwood log, with a giant middle finger carved into it. “He betrayed us,” says Craig.”

This picture was taken the day Nixon was given his honorary membership to the SOSC in 1970. Left to right:
Robert Mardian (Nixon’s Attorney General), Mike Hops (Erik’s older brother), President Richard M. Nixon, Dick Hoover, Julie Brown, Tony Mardian, Denise Tkach, Tom Turner, Billy Mardian, Rolf Arness (son of James Arness of Gunsmoke fame), Tom Craig, and Doug Craig (SOSC President).

1. Malibu and “The Greatest Generation”

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

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 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 world 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.

Navy Days
Dad’s childhood had its hardships beyond the Great Depression of the 1930’s. At age 13 (1939), his father died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), leaving him to grow up fast as the only man in the house. Three years later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (on December 7, 1941). Like so many American’s at that time, dad and his good friend Todd Bernarding enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942 (a month shy of his sixteenth birthday!) to fight for global freedom.

Both lied about their age (you had to be seventeen to join) and signed each other’s enlistment forms. 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.”

The next thing Dad knew his life was dramatically altered in a mind-boggling series of adventures he never could have foreseen. He was first shipped to the U.S. Naval Training Station in San Diego for two weeks of basic training (aka boot camp). After surviving that, he was shipped north to the Naval Air Radio School in Alameda, California for a month of intensive Morse code training. After passing Morse Code, he traveled back to San Diego (Naval Air Station North Island) for a week of skeet shooting under the command of Lieutenant Robert Stack, who later starred in the television series The Untouchables. He told me his shoulder was sore for weeks! Somewhere in there his sixteenth birthday came and went.

Once he had mastered the art of hitting a moving clay target, the Navy sent him back to San Francisco for his official ship assignment as an Aviation Radioman Petty Officer 3rd Class sailor. Suddenly, he was ship bound with 2,000 others on the 488 foot Dutch Freighter Bloemfontein, cruising out of San Francisco Bay to Noumea, New Caledonia, an island 900 miles off the east coast of Australia. He told me he was below deck seasick for the entire two-week journey!

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 (2) 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.

As the world recovered from the ravages of WW II, 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 loaded up the Plymouth Woodie and moved 55 miles south to a sleepy beach-side community, Corona del Mar (CdM). Mom and Dad found a modest and quaint beach cottage 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 Douglas SBD Dauntless aircraft which dad flew off the deck of the USS Saratoga (at Pearl Harbor Museum in 2014).

_________________

Footnotes:

  1. Unedited letter written by dad to his mom in 1942 following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor:

2. Dad spoke very highly of Bob Simmons and his influence on the sport at that time. The picture on the cover of this book is the only picture I have of dad surfing. He is riding a Simmons 10’9″ Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”). This surfboard was a major breakthrough from the Redwood Planks they had been riding, which could weigh 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!”.. 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

Surfing in Heaven (Part II)

“I submit this imperfect sketch of a most perfect vision.”
Rebecca Ruter Springer (from Intra Muros, “My Dream of Heaven”)

“Cowabunga dudes, let’s go surfing!”

I see a long strand of glittering white sand several hundred feet wide extending into the horizon. Perfect waves are rolling in like clock-work on both sides; right-facing waves on the left side of the strand and left-facing waves on the right. A perfect point break wave without a rock in sight. I am stupefied as I watch unbelievably clean barrels peel off in succession for as far as I can see! There is no lull. I cannot imagine a more ideal surfing spot.

Point breaks like Skeleton Bay in Nambia can provide the longest rides on earth today

 As Uncle Charles, dad, and I step into the water on the left side of the strand I immediately notice its crystal-clear clarity. Lying on our boards ready to paddle out, the three of us are a picture of God’s joy. Beaming smiles in anticipation of what is to come. As the first wave rolls softly over me, the water has a sweet smell and flavor so appealing that I open my mouth to drink it in and am refreshed by its taste. The water is warm on my body and invigorating to my senses. The air feels the same. A gentle offshore breeze warms me from within. It feels right to be here; this is where I belong. It comforts me deep in my soul. I look down and notice I’m wearing my yellow “Hang Ten” surf trunks from my grammar school days. I chuckle to myself, thinking how much I love them.

We easily paddle around the breaking sections of each wave with Uncle Charles leading the way, even though there is a constant outpouring of flawless tubes going by. The interval between each wave seems to vary as if the ocean knows we are trying to get out, giving us a break when we need it. I gasp at the scene of all before me and give all the glory to God; only He could have orchestrated this.

As I paddle over a feathering lip I notice that the white water of the breaking wave is whiter than I have ever seen. Light of day is radiating from the water when a wave breaks, as if light-emitting plankton are on steroids! The contrast with the perfectly clear water is out of this world, like painting daylight onto the night sky.

Paddling is effortless, an underwater current is pulling me out. There is no drop-off in the ocean floor and no end to the strand of pure white sand; waves are breaking on the horizon as far out as I can see. The offshore breeze is blowing the breaking lip of the wave into a stunning rainbow of colors I have never seen. I pause to take it in and notice the symphony of music synchronizing to the pattern of the waves. It is all connected!

Below the surface are an extraordinary variety of plants, fish and glowing rock formations emitting more light. Watching a bright kaleidoscope of life in a fantasy of color as I paddle by. It reminds me of a coral reef in Hawaii, but so much more intense and vivid, as if I am seeing HDTV for the first time. I can’t take my eyes off of it. Dad and Charles are laughing as they see me try to take it all in. Dad calls out,

“It’s as if the earth was a black and white movie, Michael.”

The ocean life in heaven will make a scene like this look pale in comparison

I can’t resist diving off my board into the depth of the thirst-quenching water. Astonished, I can see perfectly and continue to breathe and laugh out loud underwater. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?” Fish of unimaginable varieties and sizes and colors swim up to me as if they are a part of the homecoming party. Its like LED lights within them are illuminating their brilliance. It is sensational to see and quite difficult to comprehend. Excitedly, I swim to the surface to tell Charles and dad; they look at me and laugh as they continue their paddle out. “Welcome to heaven!” Charles calls back.

I am well over a mile out from the surf shack, yet the sparkling sand of the strand is just a short distance from my position in the water. I feel no tiredness from the paddling, just invigorated and excited. I sit up on my board. There is a deep inner sense of peace and tranquility within me. There is no sun, but the air is warm on my skin and the golden glory of the sky is more powerful than a noonday summer sun in Hawaii. Clouds of unimaginable variety streak through the sky like a Matisse painting with a pallet of unlimited color. I could spend my life right here. I begin praising God for such a day:

I Love You, Lord and I lift my voice to worship You
O my soul, rejoice!
Take joy, My King, in what You hear
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away …” (Revelation 21:1)

Time is lost. I have no idea how long I am sitting on my surfboard and singing to God. It doesn’t matter. The ocean and I are one. I have no questions. Everything is good.

I look up to catch a view of dad crossing a beautiful peeling wave that is well overhead and feathering a rainbow of dazzling colors behind him. He drags his foot off the tail of his Simmons Foam Sandwich to make a sweeping bottom turn and lets out a hoot to me as he sails by. A sight to behold.

Dad learned to drag his right foot off the side like a rudder from his days on the Simmons Foam Sandwich

A large formation of white birds with golden streaked wings appears on top of the next wave coming. I know this is my wave, as I swivel my board around in anticipation. With a paddle I am all at once lifted up and rushing with the swell, sensing the tremendous speed and power as I drop in over the feathering lip. The offshore breeze fans a rainbow around me as the spray pelts my face with the sweet taste of the crystal water. The birds sweep into the sky in perfect unison, as if they are kicking out, giving me my first wave in heaven. I stand up and realize my balance is perfect and feet are firmly planted. There is no fear of falling. Exhilarating beyond my wildest dreams. I howl out my praises to God,

Ahhhooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!! How great thou art Lord!!!!

The offshore breeze created a rainbow of new colors

Howling without losing breath as I fly down the face of the wave and plot my first bottom turn, I look through the wave at a complex pattern of colors and lights below. It is as if I am gliding down a large glass mountain with the brilliance of the sea life below me lit up like a French cathedral at night. I carve a long effortless turn off the tail of my Hobie Super Mini and immediately am propelled forward even faster as I sense the wind in my face and see schools of fish lighting up the face of the wave ahead. In awe of the oneness I feel with my wave, I stare down the steep shoulder ahead with a sense of readiness for what is coming. Slicing a second turn off the lip of the wave I notice it is well overhead as the spray from my board blows off the lip in brilliant color.

I turn several more times, propelling up and down the wave when seven white dolphins with royal blue fins suddenly swim into the wave from behind. Like the Blue Angels, they are gliding effortlessly in perfect formation, as if they are leading the way for me. I seem to know they are angels from heaven; white as satin and magnificent in their size and beauty. They come in and out of the wave together, looking at me like they know my every move. It is magnificent to see their beautiful symmetry and the elegance at which they are surfing the wave. I follow their lead, turning with them as we zig-zag back and forth on the wave. They are laughing. I am laughing too! We make more turns than I can count, enjoying the perfect harmony of God’s creation. God’s animals are part of His plan for eternity. It is heavenly! The music praises God and we savor His creation.

A dozen dolphins surfing together (on earth)

The wave transforms into a soft shoulder and I jet out ahead of the break to carve a cutback that makes a complete half circle around the dolphins. They jump into the air in perfect formation. I have never seen anything like it; I howl as I crank a floater off the brilliant white water and turn back into the face of the wave building up again along the strand. The sand is glimmering in the shore break like diamonds as I fly by faster than I have ever gone on a surfboard.

The dolphins take another jump in unison before making their exit. I crank another bottom turn as I go deeper into the curl and in an instant everything around me turns bright florescent green. I am getting barreled as I maintain just enough speed to stay ahead of the peeling lip. I sense no danger of wiping out. I just go, firmly planted on my board as the surge of the wave propels me forward into a dense cloud of green spray, enveloping me. I am able to sense every cell in my body. Suddenly I am flying out of the tube onto a soft shoulder like a fireball shot out of a cannon. My face is frozen with an ear-to-ear smile. I want to tell the Hodads about the green room in heaven!

Shooting across the shoulder onto open water like a water skier I leave the breaking section of the wave behind. I do not slow down as I crank another bottom turn on the open sea, looking ahead to see the surf shack in front of me. Mom is watching from the shore with her patented Charlene smile looking as though she is at Malibu in 1953. I make my final cut back on flat water toward shore to carry me onto the soft white sand as the cool crystal water rushes up the beach.

I feel more alive than ever. All my worries, anxieties, and concerns are gone. Finally, I am home. This is where I belong. Halleluiah Lord Jesus!

I ponder at how this changes everything. This is indeed the life that God intended. Oh, how my life on earth would have changed if I had truly believed the glorious wonder of what God had waiting for me in heaven. I am overwhelmed with such joy and gratitude and love for a God who could provide such perfection. I want to go back and shout the truth of it all.

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…
Matthew 5:12 (NIV)

** Authors Note **

In my earlier blog “Begin with the end in mind”, I discussed a life better than we can ever imagine awaiting us in Heaven.  The very best we may have experienced here on Earth will pale in comparison to what God has planned for us in eternity. Most of us really do want to go to Heaven, and I believe God desires for us to use our imagination to anticipate the beauty and wonder and joy of what awaits us there.   

In Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV), Jesus commands us to set our hearts and minds on heaven above:

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

** Resources **

Intra Muros, “My Dream of Heaven” by Rebecca Ruter Springer

Of all the books on heaven v5.5 that I have referenced, this one was the most captivating to me. Published in 1898, Springer writes of an experience or dream she had while seriously ill in a care facility. It is a short read and quite beautifully written telling how she was able to experience the renewed earth. For me, it reads like poetry of the life that awaits us in heaven.

Surfing in Heaven (Part I)

Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here.”    Colossians 3:2 (TLB)

Surfing in Heaven. Outrageous thought!
Or not…?

Call it Marathon Faith, but I believe my place in heaven will include surfing. Jesus says that He is preparing a place for me in heaven (John 14:2), and that I have great rewards waiting for me there (Matthew 5:12). Surely the God who created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) could arrange for a little surfing when heaven comes down to earth (Revelation 21:1-4). I believe what awaits us in heaven is far greater than we are willing to let our imaginations explore. In his book “Heaven”, Randy Alcorn points out, “We cannot anticipate or desire what we cannot imagine.” Our experience in heaven could be personalized to each one of us. Me? I’m looking forward to getting wet!

For years I’ve contemplated what my own experience in Heaven will be like (see: Opening Day in Paradise). God somehow placed it on my heart to describe my vision of surfing in heaven. I dream my children will read it at my funeral so everyone can feel good about where I am and what I’m doing. This image will fall far short of the reality of spending eternity with God. Nothing in our human world on earth can describe the divine joy and beauty that awaits us. Jesus’ dying words on the cross (to the thief) give us a glimpse:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 23:43)

My “Opening Day in Paradise” Vision

Floating over my life; I see my home, family, friends, relatives … I look down on it all like a giant board puzzle that is finally complete. Great peace envelops me as each piece fits perfectly into place. As if I am watching a movie of my life, I smile. Passing so quickly, my time has come and it is right with my soul. My whole being is filled with thanksgiving for the life I have lived and the love of God that has guided me. I comprehend the perfect completeness of it all when my dear Grandma Oa appears. Oh MY! She is so beautiful – so very young and vibrant.

“I have come to get you, Mike. Everyone is so excited to see you!”

I know why. She so faithfully prayed for me all those years. Tears of joy come to my eyes as I give her a big hug and tell her how truly miraculous it is to see her again. A wondrous moment that goes beyond words as we tightly embrace.

In an instant, she is leading me down a long path of the most beautiful grass I have ever seen. It is velvet under my feet. Surrounded by an amazing variety of plants and flowers so brilliant and bright, I want to stop and inspect each one. They are perfect as if freshly bloomed just moments before our arrival. All appears pure and clean like an afternoon shower. Each leaf is rich in color and glossy in texture. Each flower perfectly formed, radiating color from each blossom. Some familiar to me, but most my eyes have never seen. Above us are tall majestic trees with drooping branches laden with exquisite white flowers of every variety imaginable. I hear majestic waterfalls in the distance and hundreds of birds in the trees singing joyous songs of heavens praise. It is breathtaking! My soul is held in awe as I soak it all in.

The most beautiful path in the forest on earth will not touch the magnificence of heaven

The scene unfolds before me like a flower opening in slow motion on film. I want to stop and ponder the depth of what I am experiencing; but we continue walking, almost floating down this narrow grass path that exceeds even the best fairway grass at Pebble Beach. I find myself wondering how it could be so perfect, as if a master gardener is tending to it all. We come to a rushing creek fed by a waterfall I can now see in the distance. The water is clear as crystal running over brilliant stones of gold, silver, jasper, emeralds, and pearls – more stones than I can possibly identify; a pirate’s chest of treasures poured out into the bed of the stream. I hear musical sounds beyond the trees as the water flows by. They are beautiful soft melodies that are soothing to my spirit as we walk. It is the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

I look up to see a sky abounding with brilliant new colors. There is no sun, and yet there is a golden glow all around me, like the afterglow of a beautiful Hawaiian sunset, except much brighter and more striking than I have ever witnessed on earth. Grandma and I are not talking, and yet there is communication between us that is perfect. She tells me she knows what I am feeling. “It is well”, she says.

The sky was like a watching a northern lights show with brilliant new colors I had never seen

We come upon a large beach with sand as white as freshly laid snow. It has a softness and warmth that soothes my bare feet and sneaks between my toes to nuzzle and comfort me. I could walk forever! The air is soft and balmy, yet not warm or humid. It is invigorating, giving me energy and vitality. There is a light breeze against my face, comforting on my skin. I want to lie down on the sand and just soak all this in like I would in my youth on a hot day at Big Corona.

As we cross the satin white sand with freshly laid tracks I look up and see a surf shack, similar to the one I’ve known so well at San Onofre. Its architecture is strangely different with surfboards lined across the side and a large white cross on top of what appears to be a humble wooden steeple. I feel myself being drawn to it as we walk. There are people inside.

The surf shack at San Onofre; a haven of memories over the years

Coming closer, the foundation poles to the shack are live palm trees that are growing in the sand with vibrant green palm leaves at the top covering the roof. Brightly colored flowers like Hawaiian leis are growing across the roof of the shack woven into the palm leaves. It stands like a Hawaiian cathedral full of hues and sweet smells engulfing me as I am lured inside.

Happiness overwhelms me as I am suddenly surrounded by a large group of family and friends there to welcome me to heaven. It’s the best homecoming party ever! One by one they come up to greet and embrace me, telling me how wondrous it is to be together. Words cannot describe the joy I feel. I see mom; how glorious she looks! Her smile almost knocks me over. We embrace as never before. Then Grandpa Cannon, Aunt Kathryn. Marla’s mom and dad, John and Mary, come up to greet me! Then Aunt Sallye and Aunt Norma; the delight is breathtaking. Even friends from my past: our pastor Doug Goins, and a classmate who passed away in Junior High School, Scott Lusher, are there. Then I see John Wooden, the coach himself! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! He looks at me with that Coach Wooden sparkle in his eye and says,

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts Mike.”

Oh MY! Everyone is so very happy and content; the feeling of love consumes me. We talk and hug and love upon each other for longer than I know as more people from my past embrace me. They all seem to know each other. Each person tells me they have been waiting and looking forward to our reunion. Even our dog Riley pushes his way through the crowd to nuzzle me with his wet nose, showing that patented smile of his as he looks up with his tail vigorously wagging. I reach down and give him a bear hug.

Time seems to stand still. Nobody is in a hurry to go. There is a sense of this all being right, and I have lived my whole life for it. This is truly heaven on earth!

Beyond it all, I begin to take notice of my surroundings and see what appears to be an ocean off in the distance with indescribably beautiful waves rolling in. What!!? I start moving in that direction, noticing the magical sand again on my feet. I see two people waiting for me with three surfboards on the shores edge. The music becomes more distinct as I approach the surf; it seems to be coming from the waves. It sounds like an exquisite classical orchestra combined with the vocals of 1,000 angels which create a harmony of music and praise that seem perfectly matched for the scene of nature before me. I am in awe of overwhelming glory of it all. The heavens are truly singing!

Then I see dad, next to his Simmons Foam Sandwich! I race up to him to embrace for what seems like forever. We just hold each other as joyful tears are running down my cheeks. Without speaking, he tells me that he is sorry. I seem to know that he accepted Jesus as his savior the night we watched the video together (This is my story). Words cannot express my wonder. The communication between us is perfect. There are no barriers.

Uncle Charles learning the Haka dance on his mission in New Zealand

Next to dad is Uncle Charles. His face is painted like a Maori warrior, and he looks as if he is right off the mission field of New Zealand, young and strong and full of energy. His board must be twelve feet long and is made of the most beautiful redwood I have ever seen. It is polished to a shiny glean and looks like the surfboard Duke Kahanamoku rode. He tells me that dad taught him to surf and then calls out to me in his Maori tongue:

“Me haere ki te ngaru Mike!”.

Without thinking I know he just told me, “let’s go surfing Mike!”.

1968 Hobie Corky Carroll “Super Mini” model surfboard (Ha – mine was 8’4”)

Dad motions for me to grab the surfboard lying on the sand. I am aghast to find my Corky Carroll Hobie Super Mini model that he bought me at the Hobie Surf Shop in San Clemente in 1968. It’s as new as it was the day we picked it up. It even has the exact acid splash design of green and blue and yellow. The white of the foam is the purest of white and the colors are bright and more intense as if there are neon lights in the fiberglass to illuminate. When I pick it up I realize it is light as a feather. There is no wax on it, but I somehow know that it is ready to go!

Surfing in heaven? You must be kidding me!!
It is a dream comes true.

(Stay tuned for Part II!)

** Authors Note **

Revelation 21 (2nd to last chapter in the bible) describes how the Son of God sets up his kingdom of heaven on earth and calls it the New Jerusalem. This New Jerusalem is where we will spend eternity with God.  Chapter 21 contains a surprisingly detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like. Revelation 21:1 states that, “and there was no longer any sea” on the new earth. This does not necessarily mean that all oceans and beaches are gone. Throughout Scripture the “sea” is symbolic of chaos and disorder, which will be missing in the New Jerusalem. Yet even if one interprets this to mean that the oceans are gone, considering that almost three fourths of the earth is covered by water today, I believe there will be large bodies of water (larger perhaps than largest lakes we have on earth today) that we may enjoy in the New Jerusalem. Surely waves to ride on a surfboard are not too far of an exaggeration from that.

** Resources **

Heaven by Randy Alcorn
In the words of Stu Weber (as stated on the front cover):

“Other than the Bible itself, this may well be the single most life-changing book you’ll ever read.”

The Spirit of Char

Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.
Frank Sinatra

I miss my mom! I had no idea of the void I would feel once mom passed. I relish the thought of our reunion in heaven. It will be a wondrous time. There are so many things I want to say that somehow I was too busy to tell her on earth… She was truly the perfect mother for me; always so accepting and supportive of who I was and what I wanted to do in life. I can hardly remember her ever criticizing me or telling me not to do something I wanted to do.

Char marching proudly to Hoag Hospital for a shift on Halloween

While dad greatly influenced my surfing and athletic side, it is mom and her family (grandma Oa especially) who have most influenced who I am today as a person. When I look back at mom’s life I am amazed at what she accomplished while having the odds stacked against her. She always kept her perk and cheer, in spite of the challenges she faced. Everyone admired her grit and determination to be independent and do exactly what she wanted. She was a very hard worker who was determined to pay her way and not rely on anyone. It is her spirit that carries me forward in life today. Anyone who knew Char would tell you what an amazing life force she was.

When I was 13 years old, mom had been tasked with telling me, “Jack has asked for a divorce”. The first words out of my mouth were, “will I still be able to go to San Onofre with him?”… Looking back now I realize that San Onofre was all I had to hang on to at that point. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for her. I remember many nights of her crying herself to sleep after that. She rose above the tragedy in her personal life. She created a loving home base for Terry and I at 507 Marguerite Avenue in Corona del Mar that was full of her great cooking and an open door to whoever came by. My friends all loved Char. She was always one to look at the glass half full. I have wonderful memories of our high school parties at Marguerite Avenue with mom in the center of all my friends booming Frank Sinatra songs on her concert-sized speakers.

507 Marguerite Avenue became party central in our high school days

When mom passed of emphysema on January 3rd of 2007, we laid her ashes to rest in the Pacific Ocean on a cold day in Santa Barbara, California. Pallbearers Greg Ross, John Park, Mark Magiera, Skip Lauderbaugh and Jack Schott helped our son Matthew (age 11) and I paddle her ashes out for spreading in the Pacific Ocean. It was a remarkable event, capped by a school of dolphins who joined in for the paddle back to shore.

I read the following poem at mom’s memorial service that day (January 12, 2007). I had written it at her bedside in 1997 while she was on a respirator for seven days after suffering a pulmonary stroke. Doctors had given her very little chance of making it, and told us that if she did survive, memory impairment would not allow her to live on her own again. As Char’s story goes, she lived another ten strong independent years, continuing to balance her checkbook and do all her own cooking and cleaning right up to the day she passed.

“Goodbye Char”

The Spirit of Char

A gift from the heavens, you and Charles were.
Born to a widowed mother with young Norma; it was tough on her.
The Lord blessed you with a spirit, flourishing with love.
A spirit cheerful and happy, embracing hope from above.

Your young life took a big turn, with an accident to the head.
Everyone had an opinion, but your spirit was not dead.
Carried on with great passion, determination, and will.
Yes, your spirit was alive! You would not stand still.

School was more difficult, language came back slow.
You were self-conscious about your bandage, and what you didn’t know.
Your spirit carried you forward, that was for sure.
No fear of the hurdles; your spirit led the cure.

School continued to be a challenge, but your progress was clear,
You stepped way beyond your boundaries, year after year.
Your parents had you tutored, and watched very close.
But what you wanted was freedom; to make of life the most.

Going off to Sun Valley, the Grand Canyon and more.
Time to experience a life different from before.
Then off to California; Malibu on the beach.
Your spirit caught fire, and surfing he would teach.
You fell in love, married in Las Vegas; it all happened so quick!
But it was right, your spirit told you; he was the perfect pick.

Two kids, Terry and Mike; your dreams realized and more.
The move to Corona del Mar; a perfect beach with a house you adore.
This life in California; tell the family, “Zion has moved West!”
Riding your bike to work at our school cafeteria; this was the best.

Your Christmas show was magnificent! Spending days to prepare.
We were so anxious to get presents; credit was not there.
That Christmas tree was outrageous, year-after-year.
You decorated it to perfection and filled it with cheer.
One year with a hundred red apples on that tree,
Each tied with an ironed red ribbon; what a sight to see.

Only now I realize all the work you went through.
Your Christmas was an incredible to-do.
Your spirit mom was Christmas, that goes without saying.
Giving us special traditions that will always keep playing. 

Life took a twist when you and dad split up.
Your challenges were many, but your spirit was not struck.
You learned to drive a car; “which pedal is the gas”?
To balance the checkbook, and make sure that school we did pass.

Your spirit was strong and your will even stronger.
Staying cheerful and happy, though your days were much longer.
Enjoying my friends and our parties, which probably never seemed to end.
Everyone looked forward to seeing Char; she was their greatest friend.

Selling our house by the beach was hard on you.
But you had your job at Hoag Hospital and some money; that was new!
You bought a mobile home, at Seacliff by the Sea.
With new orange carpet and green siding; it was now the place to be.
It had more oriental decorations than the restaurants down the street.
And a stereo with HUGE speakers, leading the neighborhood to Sinatra’s beat.

I can taste your lamb dinners, with fresh mint sauce on the top.
Roasted veggies with potatoes cooked to perfection; though you’d argue they’re not.
A special spinach salad with those fresh-baked buttermilk rolls.
All on matching orange oriental china, down to the saucers and bowls.
Then came your German chocolate cake; weighing in at ten pounds.
My friends said it was the best, even better than it sounds.

My memories of you are endless; your spirit is what stands out.
God has richly blessed me; there is no doubt.
Your life was tough, and tests were more than seem fair.
But your attitude was positive; always having a smile to share.

Now you are in heaven, rejoicing with Oa and Paul.
I really do miss you mom, and want to give you a call.
But it was time I realize; our Lord God made the call.
His plan is one of perfection; He has a plan for us all.
So I bid you farewell, while your spirit remains with me.
On to the New Jerusalem; where you now are set free.

Well done, good and faithful servant.
(Matthew 25:23 NIV)

Christmas breakfast at Char’s was an experience never to forget!

** Author’s Note **

Mom suffered a brain injury at age ten in 1936 that greatly impacted her childhood. As a means of documenting this for her grandchildren (Hayley & Brennan; Marisa & Matthew), I found this excerpt from a letter written by her mother Oa to describe mom’s injury (verbatim below):

“It was here that Charlene fell from the top of the shoot-the-slide in the City Park and received a bad concussion. The doctor thought she was not badly injured, but her teachers (who were my friends) said her attention span was very short and quite a problem. When we moved to Salt Lake the Principal called us and said there was something decidedly wrong. She would know something one day and the next day it would be gone. We had her tutored and she seemed to learn quickly, but again, it would leave her. I spent hours in the evenings trying to teach her to read.

In Salt Lake we followed the suggestion of the Principal and took her to Dr. Harrow, it didn’t take long to point out her trouble. The injury was on her main retention nerve. He said she should be operated on or she would become worse. Already her little finger on the right hand was growing crooked, also her right foot had slowed its growth. He told us it wouldn’t be a complete recovery because it had been there so long.

Paul had his appendix out, Lynne (at seven months) had to have her tonsils out, she had been ill with asthma from diseased tonsils, then this operation was about more than we could handle financially. Three days after Charlene’s surgery she had a hemorrhage, her face was so swollen you could hardly tell where her nose was, she couldn’t talk. It took a year before she could walk and talk – still there were words she wanted to say, she tried, but it just wouldn’t come out right. It was a hard experience for her and us all. She was so bad that we all agreed it was only prayer that saved her.”