11. Lessons for The Grandchildren

“Mike, it all boils down to preparation, details and work, work, work . . . Everything the man says makes so much sense that I can’t believe so few coaches have followed his philosophy. I suspect because it involves too much work.”

–Kona Jack, reflecting on Coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success”

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 passed 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. It was monumental. Life would never be the same. 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 things 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 realized what I had learned from him. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. He taught me how to truly relax and enjoy life. That was my most valuable lesson from him.

I am looking forward to heaven. That is also a nice way of saying that I look forward to dying; that’s OK with me. My faith is firm in the truth of a glorious life in heaven awaiting us for eternity. Keep reading; we will soon be surfing in heaven!

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. I communicated to him how simple it would be to accept Jesus into his heart. On my last visit with him in Kona I was able to share my Christian faith. 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 wonderous 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 severe spill walking down the 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. Here’s one he wrote on 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:

“ 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.

Huh?

“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!

2. Crown of the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CdM Community Youth Center All Star Baseball Team – circa 1964

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh Oh . . . ”

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

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

KABOOM!

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

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

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

_________________

Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

1. Malibu and “The Greatest Generation”

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

Drew Kampion, Stoked! A History of Surf Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mom:

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

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

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

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

Navy Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malibu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________

Footnotes:

  1. “Dear Mom” letter:

2. This handwritten note was unedited.

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

JackMulkey_malibu1948_600x288

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

Mark Brown Digital Arts did the wonderful recoloring work.

Prologue: Waxing Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the proverbial waves kept coming toward me with increasingly shortened intervals, I was able to gain a radically new perspective on how I invested my time and energy. The chaos of the storm settled. It was like going back to the 1960s and surfing without a leash. My life became untethered from earthly expectations as I focused on this beautiful eternal future and what I had to learn along the way. Laying the groundwork each day for my life to come in Heaven provided peace of mind. I was stoked!

To be clear, when this life on earth ends, I believe that I will go surfing, in Heaven. Surely the God who created the Heavens and the earth (2) could arrange for a bit of recreation up there. What awaits us in Heaven will be far greater than what our imagination can explore (3)—more on that coming.

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

Waxing Up
Waxing up a surfboard is an often-overlooked component of surfing that helps to chronicle this time of preparation for the life to come. When I am going out at Steamer Lane in a large northwest winter swell on a cold January day (a birthday tradition), waxing up is a strategic time to get ready before paddling out. This process starts by closely reviewing the elements (surf, tide, wind, crowd, and currents) to determine my tactic for paddling out. Next, I thoroughly wax the top of my board with the amazing variety of surf wax available today (by water temperature), taking just a minute or two. Finally, I firmly attach my leash and launch.

In the 1960s, waxing up was much more involved. For one, longboards required a lot more wax. Without surf leashes, waxing up was critical to hanging on to your surfboard. Parowax (called “paraffin”) was the only choice for wax and was a far cry from today’s sticky surf wax. Paraffin was hard as a rock, so you first had to soften it up in the sun to avoid shaving off the wax that was already there. Then you would dip your board into the ocean to harden the surface wax while roughing it up with wet sand. Applying the paraffin required serious elbow grease, being careful to cover the nose (for hanging five), the tail (for cranking bottom turns), and the rails by the nose (for turtle diving big waves as you paddled out). Extra wax was needed there.

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

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

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

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


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.”

HODADS (the movie)

This movie was all about being stoked with good friends, sharing some of our most precious times together, and enjoying God’s creation.

There are two parts to HODADS (the movie):

  • Part I – HODADS (surfing)10:40

  • Part II – HODADS (surf stories)12:50

Enjoy!

Note: The full-length DVD that Gary Irving produced is available for special order through surfingforbalance.com (Contact Mike).  This movie is an abbreviated form of the DVD.

Corona del Mar and Growing Up

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

Prologue (Part 2 of 4)

Crown of the Sea
My “San Onofre experience” and growing up in Corona del Mar plays a big part fitting this work/life balance puzzle together. This time period is a very unique chapter in Southern California surfing history. My Father, Jack Mulkey, is my Editor in Chief to hold me accountable for accuracy.

Crown of the Sea

Corona del Mar (CdM), which is Spanish for “Crown of the Sea”, was pretty much the quintessential beach community, with a small town atmosphere (population in 1964 of ~8,000), plenty of beautiful sandy beaches and rocky coves to explore, and balmy weather that was comfortable all year round. It was a very tightly knit crowd, most of who stayed together from kindergarten through graduation from Corona del Mar High School (GO Sea Kings!). Several of them I am still in close contact with today.

The more memorable times were pretty much spent at the beach, surfing (body or board), and just hanging out with friends. I remember just lying in the warm sand to heat you back up after a long stint in the water, and then going back in to the water once you got too hot.  Repeat.  Until it was time to go home.

Mostly we hung between the two main beaches in town, Big Corona and Little Corona. They were two very different beaches. Sometimes we’d talk one of our mom’s into dropping us off with our surfboards off at a local surf spot a little further up or down the coast. This was regardless of the surf conditions, as we had no way of knowing ahead of time what it was like. One time I recall Matt Cox had his mom drop us off at Huntington Beach cliffs on a day when there was not much surf. Apparently, she forgot to come to get us!? Of course, without cell phones or money, we were really stuck. We were beginning to plot a robbery on a nearby convenience store to stave off starvation when she suddenly showed up at the end of the day. We never let Matt hear the end of that one.

Woodie_in_Garage

Dad in front of our 1948 Plymouth Woodie at 507 Marguerite Ave.

Corona del Mar has an interesting history with surfing as one of the premier surfing spots on the west coast in the late 1920s and early 1930s and even hosted the Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships during that period. However, in 1936 a large extension to the jetty at the entrance of Newport Harbor was built, and surfing popularity pretty much died due to the change in surf conditions on the CdM side of the harbor (south side). These jetties are huge barriers to block the entrance to Newport Harbor and clearly were a tremendous undertaking to build, requiring railroad tracks to transport the giant granite rocks into position.

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

Although the surf on the CdM side was partially blocked by the large jetty, the jetties did lead to the creation of the now famous “Wedge” on the north side of the harbor in Newport Beach. Waves at the Wedge can top over 20 feet when conditions are right. I remember a few times growing up when we dodged the Harbor Patrol as we swam across the harbor from CdM to watch the body surfers at the Wedge when it so big that we could see the waves from the CdM side of the harbor. Swimming in the harbor was strictly prohibited, but to see people body surf a 20-foot wave just a few feet off the shore was worth risking getting caught.

On the CdM side, the jetty extension pretty much destroyed the excellent surfing waves for which CdM had been so well known for. Once the jetties were completed in 1936, most of the serious surfing crowd began venturing further south to San Onofre and beyond in search of consistently good waves to ride.

Big Corona State Beach (bottom half) and the Wedge (top half)

For our local surf community, Corona del Mar State Beach (Big Corona) still had plenty of good waves when a south/southwest swell would come in. There was also a very short tubular left, which seemed to magically appear during the BIG south swells at low tide that we reckoned to our own homegrown Pipeline in Hawaii. It came out of nowhere and was hard to believe when it happened.

Further south down the beach was called Banzai – ironically, which had no shape for surfing at all – but lots of open sand to hang out when the tourists from inland were crowding the beach near the jetty and snack bars. We’d often go out to body surf on a big day after the “blackball” flag came out (meaning, no surfing). You would catch a wave and take the drop like you were diving off a cliff, and then pretty much get bombed when the entire length of Banzai seemed to break all at once.

It wasn’t too often that we brought a Kodak Brownie camera down to the beach to take pictures back then, and those we did take were of pretty poor quality. Below is a shot of Scott Sutton taken by his dad circa 1966 from the jetty while he was riding one of those classic jetty rights. Scott is manhandling a 9’3” Hobie “Phil Edwards Model” which had three 2×4-sized redwood stringers in it. And that’s John Park off to the side paddling his Surfboards Hawaii looking like he was trying to shoulder-hop Scott (and lost out). Scott later became a publisher and illustrator of children’s books, including the wildly popular “Family of Ree” series of books.

sutton in 67 at cdm jetty

Scott Sutton on a 9’3” Hobie “Phil Edwards Model” at CdM Jetty circa 1966

Our small community of surfers lived for those big south swells generated by hurricanes off Baja California when the CdM jetty would be breaking “off the end” on large sets. No webcams, cell phones or the Internet back then to check surf conditions; it was all pretty much word of mouth. The first one to see good surf got on the phone or their Schwinn Sting-Ray bike and let out the word that the surf was up! And if “foamers” (as we called them) were breaking off the end of the jetty, it was an all-out assault on Big Corona, regardless of what you had planned for the day.

Woody_Foamers

FOAMERS!!

This shot was taken in the early 1990s of that very scene (by Woody Woodworth). It provides a picture of the power and force of those big south swells as they would hit the jetty.

When the call came out for “foamers”, I would grab my Duck Feet fins with Converse Hodgman raft and literally sprint to Big Corona to get in on the fun. There was a small community of us who had learned the routine of the long paddle out and carefully watching the bell buoy (top center of the picture above) for how far it would drop to indicate how large of a set of waves was on its way.

And if the bell buoy dipped to the crown, it was a guaranteed BIG set. My adrenaline immediately skyrocketed as we would all jockey for position as we called out to lay claim to the wave of our choice in the set:
“1st END!”
“2nd END!”
“3rd END!”…

And once you caught one, the experience to follow was unforgettable. It was an amazingly long, extremely bumpy and exhilarating ride to navigate your raft all the way to the shore break inside – an E-ticket ride, to put it in Disneyland terminology of that day. I remember some of those rides vividly just like they happened yesterday. Riding that Hodgman raft off the end of the jetty all the way in rival anything I have done on a surfboard since for pure fun and adventure. Adding to the effect was the always present danger of getting sucked into giant barnacle covered rocks on the jetty by the tremendous force of the wave you were riding if you wiped out or side-slipped on the raft.

Mulkey Woodworth Foamers

Woody Woodworth and I on a CdM jetty foamer circa 1971

Of course, I’m the wimp wearing the long john wetsuit, but I argue that was mostly about preventing the rash on your chest, which got pretty nasty from the canvas raft. Woody later became a professional surf photographer (Creation Captured).

Another member of this tight community, Mark Magiera, became an instant rock star (pun intended) when he was sucked into the rocks on a wipeout while riding a surfboard off the jetty inside the channel (where the boats were!) — and he actually survived to tell about it. Mark apparently set a record at Hoag Memorial Hospital for visitors during his stay. He had been sucked into the jetty and lived to tell about it, something right up there with being awarded the armed forces Purple Heart. We were all incredibly envious of his bravery and survival. I imagine our parents were all aghast at the sudden fame Mark achieved for such an act.

As a result of this ever-present danger, Woody Woodworth and John Park pioneered a technique of fiberglassing two fins onto the Hodgman raft bottom to help hold you into the wave. This dramatically changed the scene at Big Corona when the foamers were hitting, enabling you to hold a line across the wave without side slipping into the jetty rocks. A new era had been born!

When the surf wasn’t up, we did have a few organized activities we attended to. Below is a rare picture of our CdM Community Youth Center “All Star” baseball team circa 1964. The “Total” score sets the tone for just how serious we were about our baseball back then (the negative for this pic got flipped over).

Youth_Center_All_Stars (1)

CdM Community Youth Center “All Star” baseball team circa 1964

There is a LOT to say about almost everyone in that picture, some of whom I’ve already mentioned. But I’ll hold it to one, John “Go-Go” Bandel, top left (standing). Go-Go was a very talented athlete in all sports (including rock throwing), and just plain had a way about him that you could not help but like. When we were picking sides, I always wanted to be on Go-Go’s team.  Amazingly, he was one of “17” children, raised in a good Catholic CdM family, in one of the original (and small!) CdM homes built in the 1940s. Needless to say, everyone in CdM seemed to know a Bandel at that time. I only went inside that house once or twice, and I remember wondering how the heck it all worked, as it did not seem possible that 17 children were all living there at the same time!?

A funny story snuck out at a recent wedding reception which a couple of the Bandel’s attended. Apparently, during those early days in CdM, one of the Bandel kids was caught in a backyard picking fruit off a tree of another family in the neighborhood.  As the story went, when they got caught, they had a piece of paper which turned out to be a map, which neatly mapped out many of the fruit trees in CdM. I believe we confirmed at the reception that night that each Bandel kid had an assigned fruit tree in CdM to be picked on a specific day of the week. Mr. Bandel was one smart man!

**Resources**

Surfing San Onofre To Point Dume 1936-1942 by Don James

This book is a slice of surfing history that you have to see to believe.  I ran across it on the shelf at Powell’s book store in Portland, Oregon before it had been published on Amazon. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the photographs from the 1930’s and 1940’s are an artistic delight of surfing at that time.  At the end of the book is a “notes” section with amazingly detailed descriptions of each photograph and who was in them.  Don James and some friends had salvaged these photographs from old scrapbooks and decided to publish a book of them. As it turned out, the book arrived just a few days before Christmas 1996, and Don passed on two days later on Christmas Eve after signing 500 copies of the first edition.

Don_James