18. Tides of Evidence

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the Earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”
-Abraham Lincoln

One of my favorite parts of our many trips to Baja over the years was spending an entire day on the beach watching the ebb and flow of the tide. There is nothing like it for absolute rest and relaxation. San Felipe, Mexico is one of the more glorious spots for this leisurely activity. It has one of the most significant tidal flows in the world, which can expose up to a kilometer of bare sand at low tide due in part to the Colorado River delta to the north.

We would take our beach chairs out to the water’s edge at the bottom of the low tide and then sit and soak in the warm Baja sun as the ripples of the incoming tide slowly crept back in. The goal was to test the elements of nature to see how long we could stay seated in our beach chairs until the incoming waves finally pushed us over. Of course, the cold beer helped us stay hydrated amid this taxing ordeal.

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The tidal chart for surfers

For most of my life, I have studied the tides at my favorite surf spots in search of good waves to ride. Aside from the size of the incoming swell, nothing impacts the quality of the surf as much as the tide.  The tidal charts (or tide tables) act as a surfer’s compass for locating good surf.

To briefly explain, there are four tidal flows every twenty-four hours (two “high” tides and two “low” tides) due to the rotation of the Earth. These four tidal conditions can have a startling impact on the quality of the waves. For example, Steamer Lane (Santa Cruz) in winter is often best when the tide is coming back in following a “low” tide. Even better if that incoming tide follows a “minus” low tide, which is when the low tide dips below 0.0 feet (like the example above at 8:27 am, -0.4 ft.).

However, at San Onofre (San Clemente), it is all about the south swells that sweep up the coast in the summer at a high tide. Classic San Onofre peaks roll in at Old Man’s that allow you to go left or right on either the incoming or outgoing side of that high tide (from 2 pm to 6 pm above).

The Miracle of the Tides

One of the innumerable examples God has given us to authenticate the wonder of his creation is the daily rhythm of our tides. It is astonishing to contemplate how it all works. Our tides are a demonstration of the miracle of God’s intelligent creation.

With 71% of planet Earth covered in water, we know that high and low tides are caused by the gravitational pull between the Earth and the moon. Yet, this becomes insanely complex when you consider the impact of a rotating planet, gravity, the pull of the sun, the effect of weather, and the orchestration of tidal flows around our seven continents.

Considering our moon alone makes it hard to argue against a miracle. Earth is the only planet in our solar system that has a single moon that happens to be the largest moon by far (relative to Earth’s size). Our moon is the perfect size and distance from Earth (and the sun) to enable the tidal flow to work.

Eric Metaxes sums it up well in his book Miracles:

“The moon’s considerable gravity gives our oceans their ebbing and flowing tides. If the moon were slightly bigger, it would cause our tides to be much more extreme since a larger moon would exert that much more gravitational pull. With one-hundred-foot tides, there could be no coastal cities or towns or villages. If the moon were slightly smaller and had less gravitational pull, the tides would be insufficient to cleanse coastal seawater and replenish its nutrients. If the moon were any size other than its size, life as we know it wouldn’t exist.”(1)

As Abraham Lincoln acknowledged, it all points a finger to God.

Experiencing Heaven.

If you ask a Christian to provide evidence beyond the tides that there is a God (and, thereby, heaven), they will likely point you to Jesus and the miraculous powers he demonstrated in his brief life on Earth. That could include the substantiation of his resurrection from the dead. They might also argue that the Old Testament prophets told of his coming hundreds of years before his birth. They could even point to the proof of lives that have been dramatically changed by Jesus. To me, that is the most powerful of all—to see how Jesus can change a human heart. I’ve got a friend whose life has been changed enormously by getting to know who Jesus is. He went from jail to Jesus and has never looked back!

I want to address a different kind of evidence that does not get attention. There is an abundance of published books available today about people who claim to have experienced a journey to heaven and back, possibly offering a glimpse of what God has in store for us. 

Clearly, we are stepping outside the Bible by looking at these stories. I have read most books published on this subject.(2) Some of my favorites I have read multiple times. A few popular books have been released as major motion pictures. There are several of these books that I don’t recommend. Only God can truly judge the authenticity of what these people have written about heaven.

I view these stories as fiction, like reading a novel where you can let your mind go about what might be possible. In each one, the author is adamant they did catch a glimpse of heaven. There is no way to authenticate these experiences, although many of them do not stray far from what Scripture says about heaven. They all speak to a world beyond our most incredulous thoughts of what heaven might be like. In almost every story, the author felt such an overwhelming sense of love and peace and joy (and more!) in heaven, that they did not want to return to their Earthly home. What they experienced was far more significant. They were home, and they wanted to stay there.

I want to review a couple of these stories to open our eyes to what might be possible. Let your imagination run with this. The point is to envision what eternity might be like.

Each story, for me, has been a page-burner to find out what kind of experience the author had and how it impacted the life they were now living on Earth. All of them were dramatically changed as a result of their experience. It was as if they were allowed to see “the end” and start over with a renewed perspective. The experience turned their bucket list upside down. Reading each personal account has changed me. It is God’s mystery that these experiences happen to a select few.

90 Minutes in Heaven(3) was the first book (also a movie) that I stumbled across during a family vacation at the beach. It is the story of Don Piper, a Texas pastor, who died in a horrific car crash on January 18, 1989. Paramedics immediately arrived on the scene, found no pulse, and declared him dead. Piper wrote a powerful account of the next 90 minutes he spent in heaven before returning to Earth.  

His description of heaven impacted me so profoundly that I immediately had Marla and our two kids read it while we were all together on vacation. It was the first time I had read anything with such incredible detail about the experience in heaven. It gave me goosebumps as the author described a “welcoming party” of people he had known and loved on Earth, including his grandfather, great-grandmother, and high school classmates.

Piper admitted that words could not do justice to the experience. It took him years before he spoke in public about the experience.  In his words, “I considered it a sacred secret.”

That story started a passion in me to find more. I found it fascinating and encouraging to read stories of people who had these experiences that changed them forever. All of them spoke about experiencing a love far exceeding anything they had ever known. It was as if they had tasted the truth of their real purpose in life.

A personal favorite is Intra Muros,(3) written by Rebecca Springer in 1898. Rebecca captured a unique atmosphere of life in heaven like no other book I have come across. Published 120 years ago, Springer writes of an experience she had of going to heaven while seriously ill in a care home in Kentville, Illinois.

The author describes in detail the experiences she was given over an extensive period before her return. She never quantifies how long she was there, but I would liken it to 90 days in heaven rather than 90 minutes. In her book, she describes her inability to chronicle the depth and wonder of the experience (unedited):

“I am painfully aware of the fact that I can never paint for others the scenes as they appeared to me during those wonderful days. If I can only dimly show the close linking of the two lives – the mortal with the divine – as they then appeared to me, I may be able to partly tear the veil from the death we so dread and show it to be only an open door into a new and beautiful phase of the life we now live.”

Especially captivating to me was her description later in the book of immersing her body into the water in heaven. Finally, I had an account of people getting wet in heaven! Rebecca constructed an inconceivable image of what it would be like to experience heavenly water and waves. Here is one excerpt where she describes the movement of the waves:

“… as they came and went in ceaseless motion, caught up this sparkling sand and carried it on their crests, like the phosphorescence we sometimes see in the wake of a vessel in mid-ocean.”

This boggled my mind as I imagined how surfing in heaven could go well beyond what reverie my imagination could fabricate. She described the water “in both temperature and density, [as] almost identical with the air.” When going under the water, she quickly realized with a laugh that nothing had changed,

“I could not only breathe, but laugh and talk, see and hear, as naturally under the water as above it.”

And best of all, no toweling off after exiting the water:

“… the moment the air struck my face and hair I realized that I would need no towel or brush. My flesh, my hair, and even my beautiful garments, were soft and dry before as before the water touched them.”

This book sits on my bedstand, and I often read a page at night to let the words sink into my soul before falling asleep. It is a treasure.

Not all of these books are written by Christian authors. I find it even more interesting to hear people voice their experiences without including their knowledge of the Bible. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife(4) is one example. Eben Alexander, a Jewish faculty member at Harvard Medical School, writes about his near-death experience in a meningitis-induced coma for seven days in 2008.  He was so enthralled by the incident that he used his vast experience as a neurosurgeon to scientifically prove he could not have dreamed of the experience he had going to heaven.

He set out to validate that what happened to him over those seven days was not merely a fabrication of the brain. He concluded that, “… the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness; the human experience continues beyond the grave.” Alexander claimed that the place he went to was so real that it made the life we are living here on Earth like a dream in comparison.

One last book I’ll mention I found when our family was on vacation in Portland, Oregon, spending most of the day at Powell’s bookstore (the largest independent bookstore in the world). At Powell’s you can pick your favorite subject and lose an entire day going through the selection, including many books not available online. After doing my due diligence in the “surfing” section, I wandered over to a section on “heaven” and was overwhelmed by the books to choose from.

“When Will The Heaven Begin?”

I soon was tearing through a book that I could not put down, When Will the Heaven Begin?: This Is Ben Breedlove’s Story by Ally Breedlove.(5)  Ally wrote this book about her older brother, Ben Breedlove, who had lived his entire life on the precipice of death due to a heart condition he was born with.  Ben died at eighteen on Christmas evening after enjoying a remarkable day with his entire family. He knew exactly where he was going.

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In this book, Ally speaks to a video Ben had posted on Youtube to chronicle his attraction to heaven.  I gathered my family to watch the video in stunned amazement on the cold cement floor in Powell’s.  Ben tells his story with flip cards, of how he had been waiting for heaven to begin.  On four separate occasions, Ben experienced a cardiac arrest and sampled heaven’s perfect peace.

Ally discovered the video while rummaging through his stuff on Christmas night after his passing.  Watch that video now, and you will see what I mean (~7 minutes).  Ben’s story is one to behold no matter what your beliefs on heaven.  As a vibrant eighteen-year-old boy with a full life, including a girlfriend and loving family, Ben realized what was awaiting him in heaven was even better than the life he had here on Earth. He left the video to comfort his family in case he departed.

These stories paint a striking and consistent picture of heaven as a physical place of indescribable beauty where our bodies are transformed into perfect selves. Any suffering we experience here, no matter how intense, is completely canceled out by the love that awaits us. Those who have tasted it say they no longer fear death—they would rather be there than anywhere else.

Interestingly, each person’s experience of heaven seems to be different, as if God had individually prepared a place for each of them (6).  They all pondered why God had chosen them to have the experience and what to do with it after returning to life on planet Earth.  Most who have written books believe that God gave them these experiences to spread the joy and hope for what awaits us in heaven.

For those who have placed their trust in God, an amazing new place awaits us. As I continue along my path in Silicon Valley, Roger Williams’ words of wisdom at Mount Hermon Family Camp on Lake Tahoe have echoed in my heart about changing the way I live today—for heaven:

“It’s not the end— it’s … the beginning.”

I have lived long enough to realize that suffering in this life is inevitable. There is no avoiding it. Yet, despite our troubles, the Bible teaches that all of it will be forgotten in heaven.

“There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” –Revelation 21:3-5 (NIV)

Having this great certainty gives me the courage to face the valleys ahead. Ben Breedlove had his share of valleys with his heart condition. Seeing a glimpse of what awaited him gave him the courage to tell the world that he was ready to go.

We must think about heaven now; it will dramatically impact our lives here on Earth. Heaven should be our first and most important priority. It is urgent! We are built for it—it is God’s plan for our life. Staying focused on heaven can transform our life here on Earth. To think otherwise is to take a very short-term view of our existence.

“The heavens declare the glory of God.” -Psalm 19:1 (NIV)

Two men in the water

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Monitoring the incoming tide in San Felipe, Mexico (circa 1988)

————-Footnotes——–

  1. Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, And How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Mataxas
  2. “Contact Mike” at surfingforbalance.com if you would like me to send you a list of books I recommend on heaven.
  3. 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life by Don Piper
  4. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander
  5. When Will the Heaven Begin?: This Is Ben Breedlove’s Story by Ally Breedlove
  6. John 14:2-3 (TLB):
    “There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. “

Author’s Note:

There will be a brief pause before chapter 18 as my son Matthew and I will be on a bicycle tour along the continental divide for the next month or so.

14. Slow Down

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
-Lily Tomlin

Slowing down in Baja California at Punta Pequeña.

When I think of slowing down, I am reminded of surfing trips in the 80s to Punta Pequeña in Baja California with good friends John Chick, Eddie Means, John Park, and Peter Vanderburg. As my career was ramping up, those trips taught me to take my foot off the gas pedal and listen within.

Punta Pequeña is a dream of a surfing destination—especially if you catch a solid south swell. It is the kind of surfing spot I imagine in heaven, composed of a near-perfectly sculpted series of right points that corral south swells as good as anywhere on the California coast.

It was as if Michelangelo himself had carved out the shallow volcanic rock shelf for a regular foot surfer riding a yellow Hanifin Bananafin longboard. I could not wipe the smile off my face the entire time we were there. The quality of the wave and the length of the ride was unequaled in my book. It is rumored that you can ride over one kilometer on a really big day. Best of all, we were removed entirely from the SoCal mainstream surfing scene. A crowd of surfers in the water was not something we had concern over.

However, we did have concerns about getting there, which made it all the more appealing. Punta Pequeña was a thousand miles from nowhere, in one of the more remote and inaccessible regions of Baja California. The real McCoy started after a two-day adventure on the rugged-but-paved Baja Mexico Highway 1, which for safety reasons, we never drove at night.

After 900 or so miles of slugging it out on the pot-hole-ridden asphalt segment, a clandestine Baja-dusty dirt road appeared out of nowhere to lead us onto the final exam for our driving odyssey. Sixty miles of ungraded rocky, dusty, and at times, washboard dirt and sand led directly west to the sleepy fishing village of San Juanico on the Pacific Ocean.

Unless you were driving an army tank, this part was never a given, even if you had made it before. It was a full-on assault that included removing parts of your car if they got in the way. To this day, I lay claim to one of the greatest driving achievements in modern surfing history with my 1983 VW Diesel Rabbit. John Park and I almost lost our silver fillings on the washboard and ended up passing out mucho dinero to the local ranchers to tow us through the quicksand section. When we pulled onto the bluff at Punta Pequeña in the Rabbit with a mere twelve inches of ground clearance, the other surfers looked at us like we had just landed Apollo 13. It had been a new car when we left, but it aged 20 years on that trip!

Eddie and John christening the 60 miles ahead to San Juanico (“dónde está la playa?”)

Once camp was established, life at Punta Pequeña settled into a singular focus on surfing. Everything we did was in preparation for that next session in the water. If the surf dropped, we had plenty to keep us busy; but hardly ten minutes went by without a glance at the waves to see if conditions were changing.

If you weren’t out surfing, you were sitting in a beach chair drinking beer, scientifically analyzing the tide and wind conditions as the sun lazed across the powder blue Baja sky. The only responsible duty was rotating the twenty cases of beer into the four ice chests to ensure we had cold brew for the entire trip. It was not as easy as it sounds! Extended games of Bocci ball down the vast, endless beach were the usual diversion in the afternoon if the surf had blown out. But we could only wander a mile or so away for fear the beer would run out, and we suffer dehydration before making it back to base camp. That could impact the next surfing session.

Looking back on those trips today, I realize that my ability to slow down was about the absolute freedom I experienced from being so wholly removed from civilized interruptions in my life. There were zero connections to the outside world. My physical body was at peace. It was similar to what backpackers experience on an extended trip into the wilderness. We were unencumbered and free, which bonded us with our surroundings. The vast nothingness of the environment soothed my soul in a way I can only dream about today. I could sit in my beach chair and gaze down upon the endless spit of land as far as the eye could see. It was beautiful beyond words. Those trips fed my soul in ways only God can explain.

I thirst for that same level of contentedness today.

Going Too Fast
Fast forward to Silicon Valley forty years later: The world is moving too fast. Our vision of the “leisure society” has been reduced to rubble by the explosive growth of computers. The chasm from the slow pace of Punta Pequeña life in the 80s is looking like the grand canyon. We are losing our ability to set aside time to be in peace and rest our souls. Busyness has consumed our lives, and information technology is bombarding us with an incessant need to be distracted by our devices instead of focusing in the present moment. Deep down, we know it is too much for our human psyche to make sense of.

There is a dichotomy here. I love doing so much in so little time with the technology we have today; I’d be lying to tell you otherwise. I have an iPhone and I use it constantly. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic conditions, and view a live camera of Steamer Lane, all with a finger tap on my phone while I’m shopping from my electronic grocery list at Trader Joe’s.

That’s fantastic!

Like the groceries, it comes at a cost; but unlike the groceries, it’s costing us our lives.

Dr. Richard Swenson, the author of best-selling book Margin, puts it this way:

“The world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness.“[i]

Let’s add “stress” to that list.

Unfortunately, our children are the innocent victims of this onslaught. We have all heard the stories because it is happening to our kids. Understandably, they are having issues coping with the complexity and speed of life today. The statistics are staggering. They headline the news every day. Stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, ADHD, obesity, learning disabilities, social skills, and even death from suicide have been linked to the overload our children face today.

Here’s a simple example. I received an email last week from a security service I subscribe to called LifeLock. The subject was “Data Breach Notification,” urging me to change my passwords as a preventative measure.  OK.  I went into my password manager program (on my iPhone) to find out that I had entered 263 passwords! That stressed me out (and still does). I don’t think we can begin to understand the toll that stress takes.

My parents both smoked cigarettes as they came into adulthood. It was cool to have a cigarette back then, and they had no good reason not to smoke. Then they got addicted. Nobody had studied the link between smoking tobacco and deaths from things like lung cancer or emphysema. My mom died of emphysema at age 76. Those studies are out now. But for mom, it was too late.

Forty years later, I am sure that similar studies are forthcoming on the deadly effects of the technology overload we are being subjected to today. Our brains are not equipped to handle the barrage of information and radio frequency (FR) exposure coming at them. It’s too much. The negative impact on our health is clear!

This story is just one example from a close friend of mine:

After high school, his son hit a rough patch in life and developed a serious alcohol/drug habit. It was not pretty, but he got himself into a long-term rehab center and is now doing fantastic. While in the rehab center, he told a story about a small group discussion he had with a dozen or so other young adults in the same situation. The leader asked each of them in the group what they thought had led to their addiction. Each one of them agreed that it was their deep internal need to slow down. Life was moving too fast, and they could no longer cope, so they began to take alcohol or drugs to help them deal with it.

If I were to boil down my twelve months of New Ventures West coaching training to the most important thing I learned, it would be the need for us all to slow down. If one genuinely wants to have freedom in their being to discover and pursue who they are in the world, slowing down is a mandatory first step.

I had the opportunity to slow down when I was laid off from my job. It was a bit like Punta Pequeña; suddenly, I had time just “to be”. That experience led me to step off the Silicon Valley express train to make a significant transition in my career. I began to feel the freedom one experiences when listening to your heart. It was like going surfing without a leash. I felt empowered to experience the freedom of whom I was deep inside without being tethered to earthly expectations. Although I was quite scared that I would quickly fall and lose my way, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years.

As I began to coach clients, I quickly learned that a key to my success was getting them to slow down. Coaching a client traveling through life at today’s “normal” speed is like trying to diagnose car trouble with no dashboard to display the metrics. You might as well be throwing darts at an invisible target—you have no idea what the underlying issues are. The speed and intensity of life today seem to require that we lose touch with our inner-self. We are too busy to look at our dashboard.

Being Present
Meditation is an excellent first step for starting to slow down. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we can slow down enough to listen. We tend to see the world in a physical sense. If I look OK, I must be OK. Coaching brought me to realize that there is an equally-important spiritual side to our being. The soul requires every bit as much attention and care as our physical bodies do. Meditation tends to our needs in our spiritual bodies. Even the Bible contains over sixty references that tell us to meditate. [iiii]

A valuable tool for dealing with stress is learning to pay attention to this very moment. “Being present” is a phrase for nonjudgmentally allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, or bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment can be life-altering. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, it can make a world of difference. There is plenty to read from a wealth of books on this subject. Two of my favorites are mentioned below.[ii]

Looking to Heaven
Steven Curtis Chapman was on to something when he released the hit song “Next 5 Minutes” in 1999. The song talks about living the next five minutes as if they were your last five minutes; truly living in the moment.

What if the next five minutes are all you have?

I did a great deal of contemplation about my life following the layoff from Oracle and subsequent one-year sabbatical to become a life coach. There was no question about the 2×4 hitting me square on the head; I could feel God at work. Yet, I found my mind often drifting to my mortality. Mom and dad were now gone, so I was next, right? It was kind of difficult to avoid that one. In one sense, that motivated me to get my act together for that “second mountain” I had to climb (in the words of David Brooks’ from his book, The Second Mountain). But in another sense, it made me wonder about what was next. I was closer to that part of my life than I wanted to admit.

Since I am a Christian, did I really believe that paradise awaited me?[iii] What did the Bible have to say about heaven? And what about all those near-death experience (NDE) trips to heaven that people have written so many books about—Are those valid? I even wondered if I would be able to go surfing in heaven!?

It struck in me an insatiable desire to learn more.

Punta Pequeña Nothingness

[i] https://www.amazon.com/Margin-Restoring-Emotional-Financial-Overloaded/dp/1576836827

[ii] Books on meditation:
Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body
by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
There are more books than I can count, extolling the many wonders of meditation. I liked this book because Daniel and Richard sifted through the morass of clinical research to boil out the truth about what meditation can do for us and how to get the most out of it. I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Goleman at a promotion event for this book and can assure you he is legit.

Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore
This is a beautifully written account of how to care for our innermost being. Having a firm belief that our soul is what we take with us to heaven in the life hereafter, I found this to be a refreshing view on making the most of my life here on earth in preparation for our eternal home in heaven. I completely agree with Mr. Moore’s assertion that our “loss of soul” is a significant problem facing us today, resulting in many societal ills. The primary takeaway underscored the profound value of quiet time and meditating on a daily basis. According to Mr. Moore, we care for the soul by living life in a way that our inner sense of who we are flourishes.

[iii] “Jesus answered him [on the cross], “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:43

[iii] https://biblereasons.com/meditation/

6. Riding the Wave in Silicon Valley

“If we are enjoying so much progress, why is everyone so worn out? “
-Dr. Richard A. Swenson, M.D.

Age with wisdom can be a wonderful thing. I look back now on some of the hardest experiences in my life and realize how they helped me grow. My leap into tennis club management embodies this dynamic.

I left Utah with degree in hand and landed at the Rusty Pelican Restaurant in Newport Beach to ease my transition into responsible living. Ha! Waiting tables almost became my career. I was stuffing my safe deposit box with gold Krugerrands to manage all the cash from tips, surfing (or playing tennis) all day, and arriving at work just in time to eat. It could easily have become a lifestyle …

Somehow, I got back on plan when I was hired as general manager of the Covina Hills Racquet Club (CH) in southern California. CH was the full package club, with thirteen tennis courts, two racquetball courts, weights/aerobics room, pro shop, snack bar, jacuzzi/sauna, and an outdoor pool. I would be directing the “leisure society” with members who were spending their free time (and disposable income) at our club. Dr. Rockwood would have been proud; it was textbook.

Or so I thought.

I was immediately overwhelmed. Work/life balance went out the window, even though I was wearing tennis clothes and working on my suntan. I had a staff of twenty employees and two tenants (pro shop and snack bar) who needed constant attention. The owners (Granada Royale Hometels) expected a tennis club to be as clean and orderly as a newly arrived hotel room; inspections from the hotel staff were constant.

I soon realized CH was in a negative cash flow position with memberships declining. Then we had a pink eye outbreak in the pool. Upon inspecting the pump room, I found my maintenance man smoking pot (“Are those two connected?”).

This part was not in the textbook!

My workdays were some of the longest I have ever worked; I quickly realized that peak hours at the club were when all my friends were off work (weeknights, weekends, and holidays). I dropped off social calendars and watched my tennis game disappear. It was as if I had been thrown onto the court against Bjorn Borg and wished “good luck,” even though everyone knew it was going to be a massacre. 

Marketing for new members at Covina Hills Racquet Club (1983)

The tide began to turn when I hired our head tennis pro, Barry Friedman. CH immediately took to his style and personality as he rallied (pun intended) members into activities that raised morale and got everyone out to play. A community was awakened.

Looking back, I see two big lessons from CH:

  1. Members (people) are generally happy if they have a tennis pro (leader) who they like and who can improve their game. Barry taught me a lot in that area.
  2. Relationships matter; never overlook any one of them. It took just one letter from a disgruntled member at CH to nearly cost me my job. I survived, but vowed not to ever allow that to happen again.

When Granada Royale Hometels announced their shocking decision to close CH two years later, I took a leap of faith to join a new telecommunications company called ROLM in 1984 (where my sister Terry was working). I was hired as a customer support advisor and was responsible for driving maintenance contract revenue for ROLM’s telecommunications systems. I was like a deer in headlights. Overnight I transitioned from counting tennis balls in the pro shop to counting ports on a printed circuit board (and having to learn what a port was!).

AT&T had a monopoly of analog telephone service in the U.S., over what would soon become the digital transmission network of the internet. As the U.S. government mandated the breakup of this monopoly in 1982, companies like ROLM emerged to computerize the telephone and long-distance service for businesses. ROLM was investing heavily in technical training of their workforce to get a jump on this new opportunity. It was as if I was going back to college, but getting paid to do it!

Best of all, I met the love of my life Marla. She was also in a customer support role when we first met at ROLM’s Irvine, California office. An office friendship immediately developed. Marla was smart as a whip (USC graduate), beautiful, fun, easy to talk to, and liked to laugh. When I first announced my interest in her, my co-worker Al Walker snapped back,
“Mulkey, she’s got legs as long as you are!”

I won the jackpot when Marla agreed to marry me in Newport Beach in 1991. We moved north to ROLM’s headquarters in Santa Clara where we planted our roots, raised two children (Marisa and Matthew), and began to call Mountain View home, leaving behind the warm beaches of southern California.

Selling a ROLM Computerized Branch Exchange (CBX) required technical sales support. I was in the right place at the right time, and after twelve months of training classes, I was a fully seasoned ROLM systems engineer. It was an exciting time to be on the leading edge of a Silicon Valley company like ROLM.

I immediately took to ROLM’s CEO, Ken Oshman, and his philosophy of “GPW” (Great Place To Work). In-between training classes and field sales calls, I was back on the tennis courts or taking time out for a jacuzzi or steam bath at work. The ROLM campus included recreation facilities that rivaled CH; they were even featured on CBS 60 Minutes. It really was a great place to work!

Marla and I were both enjoying the excitement of our jobs at ROLM, but realized there was not much free time to go hang out at the beach. Silicon Valley was emerging as the global center of innovation for computer technology, so it seemed reasonable that work became the priority. The computer was entering our lives in ways we never could have anticipated in the 1970s. Dr. Rockwood’s leisure society was in jeopardy.

The information revolution explosion which soon followed happened so quickly that nobody had time to study the potential dangers that came with it. Alvin Toffler wrote about this in his book Future Shock (1970), arguing that that the information overload to come would overwhelm society and result in a “future shock” because of our inability to handle it all. The more I saw of Silicon Valley, the more I believed he was on to something. There was a wave coming and it was big.

The Wave
In the midst of all this, it took me five years to brave the cold water in Santa Cruz and go surfing. It was a long dry spell! Some blame was due to the work culture in Silicon Valley, but mostly it was my fear of the frigid northern California currents. New wetsuit technology from O’Neill finally got me to break the ice at Steamer Lane (“the lane”) in 1996. I quickly realized I had found an escape valve from the Silicon Valley pace, less than an hour from my doorstep in Mountain View.

This Woody Woodworth poster hung in my office for many years.

The lane on a big winter swell is not for the faint of heart. Both the leash and wetsuit were spawned there for good reason. The rock cliffs are gnarly, and the water is numbing. It is a world-class reef/point break that is thick and powerful and can rip for several hundred yards into Cowell’s beach (on a low tide). It rivals any break I have surfed in California.

Paddling out can challenge even the best surfers, as the currents are strong, the waves often too humongous to duck under, and there are four different breaks to navigate (indicators, middle-peak, the slot, the point). I like to sit at middle-peak on big days when it can top triple overhead further outside at the point; however, waiting for a wave can get spooky. Middle-peak can jack up to double overhead out of nowhere and get you diving for abalone faster than a boat anchor if you can’t get over it. The longer your board, the more difficult that can be. Middle-peak waves often move sideways as fast (or faster) than they are moving in, so positioning for the take-off can be quite tricky and involve a bit of luck.

I caught the biggest wave of my life on a winter storm-swell day at middle-peak. The sensation was completely alien. The wave unexpectedly appeared and came at me like a freight train out of a dark tunnel, whistle howling. As I paddled for it the ocean picked me up like a tsunami and began moving with me. It was as if all of Monterey Bay was caught up in this wave. I was instantly moving with the wave and rapidly dropping in, whether I wanted to or not! The wave had caught me.

I quickly got to my feet in a crouched position as I raced down the face, noticing a couple of surfers diving for the bottom off to my side. The drop was sensational, akin to jumping off a cliff. As I started a sweeping right turn, the enormity of the wave and the amount of water moving with me was exhilarating! I felt like Franz Klammer at the 1976 Olympics, racing with abandon to stay ahead of the crashing lip, ignoring all sense of form. I had never gone so fast.

Over my shoulder, I could see the wave breaking behind me in apparent slow motion. Surfers sneaking over the lip looked back down at me as I excitedly banked off the face with water spraying high into the crisp Santa Cruz air like a snowboarder coming off a half-pipe lip. My Doug Haut surfboard tracked onto the face of the wave as if it were the Santa Cruz boardwalk roller coaster, dropping and climbing as the face continued to build in front of me without any sign of letting up. The force of it allowed me to sweep further out of the section without any danger of losing momentum back into the wave. I was flying!

This went on continuously until I finally kicked out at Cowell’s beach on the inside as the wave broke in front of me. Cresting over the lip I fell off the back of my board and floated on my back to soak in the memory of what had just happened. I released a light laugh and then slowly climbed on my board and paddled back out, reliving every part of that wave. Like one good shot on a round of golf, it carried me for many, many waves after. It had been a gift from God.

5. Leisure Society

“A single rose can be my garden; a single friend, my world.”
― Leo Buscaglia

The only time in my life I lived away from the ocean was my four years in college at the University of Utah (the U) in Salt Lake City. Despite not getting wet, those years proved to be pivotal to my future. It all happened quite unexpectedly when I received a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant from the U.S. government for four years of tuition and expenses at the U. It was a gift from God.

I will admit to having a bit of sand between my ears when I arrived at the U to tackle my freshman classes in 1973. I boldly decided to live alone in an apartment off-campus. It was as if I went scuba diving without a mask. The entire year was a disaster of loneliness and confusion. It was another “Mexican miracle” that I survived and came back.

I learned from that unexpected but necessary time of growth and moved on campus my sophomore year. I was starting to right the ship when a revelation struck me in class that would lead me to my first career as a tennis club manager. Dr. Linn Rockwood of the Recreation and Leisure Studies Department had put up a chart that got my full attention. The projected growth of the computer (which had not yet fully arrived) was shown in parallel with the projected growth of leisure time among the baby boomer generation. They were both pointing sky high!

“Hey, I’m one of those baby boomers,” I voiced to myself.

The computer was going replace hours on the job with an abundance of free time. Dr. Rockwood’s instruction was clear: “Plan a career in the recreation and leisure industry and your future will be bright.”

Check.

Community
Looking back at my time outside of class, those four years at the U can be summarized with one word: community.

Without it, my freshman year was one of the hardest years of my life. I then experienced three years with community as a Resident Advisor (RA) in the dorms on campus (landing the job soon after moving on campus). The fraternity of residence hall life combined with the RA leadership development training I received had an enormous impact on me. Developing community among 50 new freshman students each school year during one of the most tumultuous times in their life was an invaluable learning experience. It shaped me as a person.

With room and board covered as an RA, I had spare funds for my annual ski pass to Snowbird ($5 per day for U students). I could not have written a better script. I would get out of class at noon and be on the GAD 1 chairlift at Snowbird by 1:00 p.m. Without owning a car! My search for the perfect wave was replaced by a search for powder snow. Little Cottonwood Canyon became my San Onofre.

Resident Advisor’s at the University of Utah in 1974 (Reid Miller with the dark hat)
 

My one rose in the community garden at the U was Reid Miller. I met Reid in my first RA staff meeting in Bailiff Hall. We were reviewing new resident policies when a shaggy-bearded short guy (like me!) with Sonny Bono glasses boisterously interrupted to complain about the toilet paper.

Huh?

He proceeded to compare the toilet paper we had in Bailiff Hall to a piece of wax paper.

“It does nothing but smear things around!”

Are you kidding me!?  Who was this guy, bringing up a subject like that in front of the entire RA staff (male and female)?

We were soon fast friends and backcountry ski partners. Reid was a University of Utah “mining engineering student of the year” who instantly won me over with his complete honesty and warm affability. I was soon drinking deeply from his vast wisdom of the great outdoors as we adventured into the Wasatch Mountains together. Whether it was tying a hook onto a fishing line or cranking (and banking) a turn in cross country skis on a deep powder descent, Reid opened new doors that took me far beyond the tides and jetties of Corona del Mar.

The Mormons
I believe in angels. I had Mormon relatives from my Mom’s side living in Salt Lake City who played the part of angels with brilliance over my four years at the U. We were not involved in the Latter-Day Saints (L.D.S.) church growing up. However, I was very much influenced by my time with them during our annual trips to Salt Lake. We always stayed with grandma Oa and grandpa Paul (Mom’s side) on Skyline Drive where our cousins all seemed to magically appear while Mom and Dad skied the powder at Alta and came home to one of Grandma’s glorious dinners.

My sister Terry and I preparing to drive home from another Salt Lake City ski trip (1958).

Going to the U was not exactly the popular pick among my surfing crowd in those days. “The beer tastes like water (3.2% alcohol) and the Mormons are everywhere,” I was told. I would agree on both counts. We used to joke at our kegger parties that you’d get just as drunk if you drank that much water!

While I kidded along with my friends about “the Mormons,” I quickly found them to be my saving grace while at the U, especially that first year. The many invitations I received meant everything to me living alone. The care packages of homemade bread, soup, cookies, and more that Grandma Oa left on my doorstep on Friday nights could bring me to tears. Anyone experiencing an Oa Cannon meal quickly discovered that she could cook like Michelangelo could carve marble. Her meals sent you to heaven and back.

Grandma Oa also prayed incessantly for me; I know that because she told me. She would even send me letters of her prayers. I believe I will see in heaven that it was her prayers that led me to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ later in my life. What a joyous reunion that will be.

Leisure Society
Moving back to the classroom, Dr. Rockwood continued his explanation about the transition to computers creating a leisure society with reduced working hours, extended holidays, and more disposable income to be spent on non-essentials. Dr. Rockwood predicted a four-day workweek would soon result. As leisure time exceeded working time, leisure would become a source of values that infiltrate our lives. A leisure ethic would eventually supersede the work ethic of industrialism.

It was sounding a bit like the Roman Empire, but that was OK with me. I was in the right place at the right time!

My next move was to declare myself a “Commercial Recreation” major as I dreamed of running a tennis club in southern California where I could wear tennis clothes to work, play with the tennis pro on lunch breaks, and hang out at the pool to keep my suntan going.