3. San Onofre Surfing Club

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

(art by Jim Krogle)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(SOSC decals were a prized possession back then!)

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

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

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

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

The Infamous USMC Salute to Secure Passage to San Onofre

However, getting to San Onofre was another matter. What should have been a 45-minute drive took forever! We left CdM onto PCH in mid-morning with our two Dave Sweet boards bungee corded on top of our ’64 Chevy Nova Wagon. Our first stop was the Laguna Beach Arts Festival, where Dad would play a couple sets of tennis with his good friend Jack Upton. I would try and pass the time digging holes, killing bugs, and throwing rocks, constantly hoping it was match point, no matter who was winning. After what seemed like half the day, I knew they were finally done when the Tab came out over ice in the metal tennis cans. I sprinted to the car.

“Aahhhh!” Dad would belt out with each sip while working the three-speed column shift through the maze of Laguna Beach traffic and hills while juggling the tennis can of Tab.

We were on our way! My first marker was the “Laguna Beach Greeter” (Eiler Larsen) in his bright red coat, who always recognized me, I was sure, giving me that wink and pointing right at me. Next, I watched for a wrecked car that was overturned up a cliff by Poche Beach along PCH. Getting close.

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

The Basilone Road offramp was where we got our first view of the waves overlooking the renowned surf break—Trestles. Regardless of the conditions, my pulse spiked at just the sight of the waves; I could not wait to get in. The fancy hand wave by the USMC guard at Camp Pendleton was our final green light. We bounced down the rutted dirt road and parked at “Old Man’s” to set up base camp; a Coast Hardware beach chair, beach towel, and small Styrofoam ice chest to preserve the Mug Root Beer and grapes (no other food). Once the boards were moved off the car to the palm shack, the next hiatus began. In my younger years, Dad would not let me go in the water until he got out. He wanted to keep an eye on me in the water. Although, every time I looked to see if he saw my ride, he was immersed in the LA Times . . .

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

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

Jeez . . .

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

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

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

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

The magic of the SOCS soon got out among the surfing crowd, and membership soared to 1,000 members by 1971 with a waiting list of 2,000. It was almost too good to be true, and many of my friends were begging me to take them. Having exclusive access to one of southern California’s most consistent surfing breaks with a built-in social community lifestyle was hard to beat. The SOSC had become a mini-civilization built around surfing with luaus, horseshoes, surfing and volleyball contests, fishing, Bocce ball, and even a Sunday school for kids! The SOSC was even mentioned in an October 18, 1965 issue of Sports Illustrated about surfing. [3]

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

OK.

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

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

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

Whew!

As has been the history with the SOSC, a few heroes again emerged to keep the club alive and thriving into a new era. One was SOSC President Doug Craig, who provided the dedicated leadership and guidance for the club to stay together and work with the state of California to preserve the beach and surfing culture for future generations. The story of President Nixon meeting with the SOSC to gain his personal SOSC membership is documented in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album and is good for a chuckle. [4]

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

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

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

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

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

The Prized SanO Trophy with My Dave Sweet in Front of 507 Marguerite (1966)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________

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

THE FORTIES – A Changed World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 I 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 leaving this letter for your widowed mother about leaving 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 a plane. Ever.

Here is an excerpt from a handwritten note [2] Dad sent me on part of this:

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 [note: also from shooting the machine gun on the aircraft]. 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 be going 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 the turning of 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.

There are many names that dad mentioned over the years that were part of his Malibu experience—several he went to Santa Monica High School with [3]:

  • Bob Simmons – a Cal Tech graduate who worked as a mathematician at Douglas Aircraft; he was the “mad scientist” who pioneered lightweight surfboard design at that time.
  • Buzzy Trent – one of the early big wave riders in Hawaii in the 1950s.
  • Charley French – Dad’s best friend for surfing and skiing, he became a legend in triathlon circles, setting the age group record at the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon at 60 years old.
  • Dave Sweet – made my first surfboard, which I received on Christmas day at eight years old. It was a beauty, and I remember the resin still being sticky that morning when I found it.
  • Joe Quigg – one of the more prominent surfers to graduate from Santa Monica High School; he became a well-known manufacturer of surfboards in the 60s and 70s.
  • Kathy Kohner – her father, Frederick Kohner, wrote the 1957 novel Gidget about his daughter’s real-life adventures on the beach at Malibu.
  • Matt Kivlin – Dad was very fond of Matt, who many viewed as the best wave rider of his day at Malibu. It is said that Micky Dora fashioned his style after Matt.
  • Peter and Corney Cole -– Peter was a swimming star at Stanford who got into big wave surfing. Brother Corney studied at Chouinard Art Institute and made a career in film animation.
  • Peter Lawford – of Hollywood actor fame; he would periodically show up in the lineup.
  • Pete Peterson and Lorrin Harrison – who were both featured in the film Riding Giants and were some of the first regulars surfing at San Onofre in the 1940s. I got to surf with both!
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, 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, which was 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 damn 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 joined the migration south and 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. For all of us, 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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow down, you move too fast …

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

Life moves quickly today. We can do so much in little time. It is exciting for a Type-A person like myself who loves to be efficient and blast through the to-do list. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic on Highway 17, and view a live camera of Steamers Lane — all with a finger tap or two on my iPhone; while I am shopping for my grocery list at Trader Joe’s!

It’s fantastic. But like the groceries, it comes at a cost.

Dr. Richard Swenson 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.“

(Let’s add “stress” to that list …)

Slow down, emphasis on “now!”

The most important thing I have learned in my coaching profession is the need to slow down.

It is difficult to coach a client who is traveling through life at today’s pace. It’s similar to diagnosing car trouble with no dashboard to tell you what is happening under the hood. The speed and intensity of life seem to require that we lose touch with our inner being (we are too busy for that). I often prescribe meditation to help my clients Stop and Smell The Roses. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we take the time to listen.

A close friend told me a story underscoring how the speed of life today is impacting our youth. His son hit a rough patch in life after high school 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 great. With a dozen or so other young adults, the leader asked what they thought led to their addiction. It was their deep internal need to slow down. Each one of them agreed, life was moving too fast and they could no longer cope, so they began to deal with it by taking alcohol or drugs. I can sure relate to that. My coping mechanism just happens to be exercise.

For me, slowing down was what put me on the path to become a New Ventures West certified coach. After twenty-five years in Silicon Valley riding the Express train, I had been laid off from my job at the age of sixty-two. The train had stopped, so I got off and explored my options. It was like Surfing Without a Leash. Suddenly I was empowered to experience the freedom of who I was deep inside without being tied down to a career. Although painful at first, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years. It is now my passion to coach others who struggle to slow down, and discover what is going on “under their hood”.

Surfing for Balance

Growing up at the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960s was an ideal environment for a young 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 from Malibu in the 1940s, and it was my time surfing with him on the weekends at San Onofre that most influenced my views on keeping work and life balance. As I grew into adulthood I began to realize that I felt at my very best when I was in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity.

Our surfing adventures to Baja in the early 1980s provided plenty of time to slow down

When I first transferred to Silicon Valley in 1990 I wondered what everyone did when they weren’t working. It soon became apparent that when you were working for a computer company in the innovation capital of the world there was not a lot of time to hang out at the beach. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself continuously fighting a battle to stay healthy and balanced.

Although it took a couple years to get used to the cold water (thank you, O’Neill wetsuits!), surfing soon became my relief valve from the hectic pace. I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to begin blogging about my struggle to stay afloat as a way to apply my voice to the work-life integration challenge in Silicon Valley.

Writing about the nonstop juggling act between work, family and self began to parallel my training for a triathlon. I was constantly balancing my time to make sure each event got its allotted time. I soon created the Circle of Life as a tool to provide my own emergency warning system when one area got out of whack (work, family, or self). A story from my early career with ROLM is an example when my work was taking over.

I Have Become That Man!

ROLM was a dream company to start a career, and they were led by one of Silicon Valley’s great pioneers, Ken Oshman, who established “Great Place To Work” (GPW) as a corporate goal at ROLM in the early 1970s. I was later managing a global product development team with Siemens ROLM in 1990 when this story takes place.

ROLM set the stage in Silicon Valley as a center of innovation years before others came along

Our product teams were split between the U.S. and Germany, requiring me to fly to Munich quarterly to help coordinate development activities. Waiting at San Francisco International Airport to board my flight to Munich, I was strategically positioned next to the only power outlet in sight for my laptop. Typing out urgent last-minute emails to my team, I likely had veins popping out of my forehead as I raced against to call to begin boarding.

An older businessman suddenly approached me, clearly wanting to chat. Probably in his 60s with grey hair, he wore a smart suit and tie and patiently waited for me to pause from my furious pace. When I finally looked up he blurted out that I reminded him of whom he had been twenty years before. Then he paused, as if that needed to sink in.

He said he was stopping by to tell me to relax, to slow down; “Stop and smell the roses,” he said. He then assured me it all would be waiting for me when I landed in Munich. He said all this in a very relaxed and purposeful manner, looking me straight in the eye. He finished with,

You’ll see when you’re my age, that it really doesn’t matter.”

I was aghast he had the audacity to tell me this when he had no idea who I was, who I worked for, or where I was going and why. Yet I had an immediate sense that he was absolutely right. I remember his words playing back to me over that long flight. I never saw him again. I believe he was an angel sent to help me slow down. Many years after that incident, I have become that man!

Heaven Can’t Wait

Thirty-five years into my life and launching my career in high technology, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Since then I have been on a walk of continual growth in understanding the plan God has for my life, realizing I am not actually the one in control.

Maybe I am losing some who do not believe the Bible, and I fully understand. Many in the surfing community are not followers of Jesus. Stick with me, as we all wonder at times about the truth of scripture.

As a life-long surfer who grew up without a church background, I became a student of Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) to better understand God’s word. BSF soon led me on a path to knowing God through my eternal destiny: heaven. Belief in the glorious wonder of what God has waiting for us has been a lightning bolt of change for me in my faith. In anticipation of heaven, I have found the perseverance to handle today’s challenges, and hope for what tomorrow brings. As crazy as it sounds, I believe we could be Surfing in Heaven when we get there!

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

** Resources **

The Boy Who Runs by John Brant

What a story!
Julius Achon is my hero.
This book is an inspirational true story of how Julius went from being a 14-year old Ugandan boy soldier during the terrible Idi Amin era to an Olympic runner and then found his calling with an African children’s charity. I could not put it down!

The author of this book (John Brant) wrote my other favorite running book, Duel in the Sun. Brant is a longtime writer-at-large for Runner’s World and knows how to write about running. 

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

A unique recommend on my part, but this book ties into my piece on Steve Jobs (Heaven Can’t Wait). It is the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who was Steve Jobs’ first child, although he was not always willing to admit that. This was a well written and candid insight into the anxieties of a child who comes into the world as an inconvenience to her success-focused father.

 

 

Surfing in Heaven (Part II)

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

“Cowabunga dudes, let’s go surfing!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The offshore breeze created a rainbow of new colors

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

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

A dozen dolphins surfing together (on earth)

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

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

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

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

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

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

** Authors Note **

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

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

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

** Resources **

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

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

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)

(left to right) Jack Schott, John Park, John Davis, Mike Mulkey – January 14, 2005

“Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you.”
John Wooden

For all surfers, the thought of riding the perfect wave and capturing it on film is something we dream about.  So when my wife Marla asked me what I wanted for my 50th birthday (many moons ago), my immediate thought was to film a surfing movie with my “old” surfing buddies to recapture some of those glorious feelings about surfing!

I had been major stoked my previous three birthdays in early January surfing large Pacific storm swells at Steamers Lane on waves that never seemed to end.  Steamers Lane at low tide on a strong January northwest swell is something you have to experience to understand how good it can be.  It is a thick and powerful wave, which can go on longer than any ever ridden in my years of surfing.  To ride a wave at Steamers all the way from outside around the point at Indicators and into Cowell’s Beach is a big-time thrill.  With a minus low tide, you can walk most of the way back out on the sand to the point for a short paddle out.  Since the rain-soaked storms in January were almost as guaranteed as the frigid water, this seemed to be a plan without fail for a real surfing movie.

This Woody Woodworth poster hung in my office at Oracle for many years

With Marla’s support, I immediately contacted four close friends from my past whom I knew would be excited about the idea:

  • Mark Magiera – I grew up with Mark in CdM (since 3rd grade), roomed together on Goldenrod Avenue, and shared many experiences surfing together and hanging out at 507 Marguerite Avenue (see Corona del Mar and Growing Up). Mark led me to Hollister Ranch, back when you could have your VW bus parked on the bluff at Rights and Lefts, which is exactly what we did!  Mark, unfortunately, had a conflict and had to bow out of the HODADS filming.
  • John Park – Founder of Clear Spirit Surfboards, John frequented San Onofre with my dad and I back in the late 1960’s when surfing really was about all we talked about (well, almost).  Johnny led me to surfing adventures in our many trips to Baja back in the seventies and eighties and was a member of the infamous Mexican Miracle (see The Power of Prayer).
  • Jack Schott – Jack was another former roommate who shared many a good day with me in the water, as well as being my loyal tennis partner. Jack was the best surfer I knew, and always seemed to stay out longer and catch more waves than I, in spite of having ten years on me!  Jack came down with a horrible cold that weekend, sitting out one day, and then borrowing Gary Irving’s 10mm dive suit to finally get in for some action.  And he still out-surfed us!
  • John Davis – John was my one and only Silicon Valley high tech surfing bro at Sun Microsystems.  Also 10 years my senior (are you kidding me!?), John and his wife Deb built the dream surf cottage on 38th Street in Santa Cruz with its own quiver room and a hot outdoor shower (with a bench seat to help extract the wetsuit). I am eternally indebted to them for that shower, as it is the only way I can get out of my wetsuit on a cold winter day.  On our second day of filming John was not feeling well, and not catching waves. He left suddenly, drove home shivering and feeling chest pain.  Long story short, he soon was in the Emergency room diagnosed with a heart attack.  He had an angiogram that day to install a stint in the blocked artery! Not kidding.
  • Gary Irving – was our key to this entire project as cinematographer and producer. I believe God sent Gary to us to do HODADS. He immediately understood what we were trying to accomplish and proceeded to invest untold hours into the final production of our movie, giving it the vital spark we were looking for.  Considering the wave situation (see below), Gary did an unbelievable job producing what will someday be remembered as the surf movie to end all surf movies (pun intended). Unbeknownst to us, later that year in 2005 Gary married Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman. 
    Huh?  He never mentioned that one…

Despite some objections from the peanut gallery, I decided to title the movie “HODADS”, which in surfer terminology is a surfer without much skill (aka “kook!”).  When you bring together five surfers whose combined ages cover some 270 years, I realized it would be serious HODAD surfing whether we wanted to admit it or not.

Gary filmed HODADS on the weekend of January 14th, 2005.  As luck would have it, we had a freak lull for the entire weekend. Steamer’s Lane was so flat there was not a single surfer in the water on Saturday. So we pinned Gary and his camera equipment into a hotel room with unlimited pizza and beer to spend the entire day recording each of us recalling our early surfing days. On the second day, Gary let us in on a secret spot in Monterey Bay that “always had surf”.  In fact, he was right!  So we did get a couple decent surf sessions for Gary to film.

HODADS 10-year reunion in 2015 to sign autographs and count chest hairs. (left to right: Mark Magiera, Mike Mulkey, Jack Schott, John Davis)

As John Wooden liked to say “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Malibu and “The Greatest Generation”

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Prologue (Part 1 of 4)

“… 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 in Stoked – A History of Surf Culture”

It seems appropriate that I start this off with a brief review of how I got to Silicon Valley, and how surfing became a metaphor for work/life balance for me.  So here is a 4-part Prologue to get us started:

Part 1: Malibu and The Greatest Generation

Part 2: Corona del Mar and Growing Up

Part 3: San Onofre Surfing Club

Part 4: 25 years in the saddle in Silicon Valley

My very 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 from the California Incline on 22nd Street until I was almost five years old. I don’t remember a whole lot around those early years, but the picture below of my sister Terry and I in the back of our 1947 Plymouth Woody enjoying a break for lunch captures a glimpse of those years hanging out at the beach. I remember looking forward to our trips at a very early age, and especially after I started surfing with my dad.

Lunch time at Santa Monica's Incline Beach circa 1958

Lunch time at Santa Monica’s Incline Beach circa 1958

For a boy growing up in Southern California during that time the beach was a place of complete freedom, open space, 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. It seemed to break life down into a very simple event, focused on either playing in the ocean, warming up and drying off in the sand, or eating and drinking whatever your parents happened to throw into the car before you left (which was not much if you were just traveling with dad!).

So here is a bit of background and history on how dad ended up on the beach himself.

The Greatest Generation

The Greatest Generation” is the title of a book written by Tom Brokaw about those who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II.  In the opening chapter, Brokaw exclaimed:
I think this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced,”

Both my father and father-in-law were a part of this generation – born into the false sense of prosperity of the 1920’s, raised during the depression of the 1930’s, and sent off to fight for global freedom in World War II in the early 1940’s. These were humble men, seriously proud of the country they were fighting for, and the last ones to ask for a pat on the back for what they had accomplished for us all.

A couple of years ago when my son Matthew turned 16, I looked long and hard at him to try and imagine the decisions and experiences my father, Jack B Mulkey, had at that age.

Imagine this –

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Dad’s letter to his mother telling her he was joining the U.S. Navy – just short of 16 yrs old (“I am in the best hands in the world”)

Growing up during the Great Depression of the 1930s was challenging for all, and dad’s household in Santa Monica was no different to the hardships it created.  Then at age 13, he lost his father to ALS (then known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”), which left him to grow up fast as the only man in the house.

So on September 7, 1942,  just two months shy of his 16th birthday, and following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, dad and his good friend Todd Bernarding went down to the Santa Monica recruitment office to enlist in the U.S. Navy. Both of them lied about their age by two years (they had to be 17 to enlist, but no ID was required), signed each other’s enlistment forms, and next thing dad knew, he was headed to the U.S. Naval Training Station in San Diego for two weeks of basic training.

From San Diego he was shipped to Naval Air Radio School in Alameda, California for one month to learn Morse code.  Then back again to San Diego (Naval Air Station North Island) for a week of skeet shooting under the command of  Lieutenant Robert Stack  (who later starred in the TV television series The Untouchables).   Once he had mastered the art of leading a target on the skeet range, he went back to San Francisco and left for war on the 488′ Dutch Freighter Bloemfontein (with over 2,000 others) to Noumea, New Caledonia, an island 900 miles off the east coast of Australia (and below deck seasick for the entire 2-week journey!). Somewhere along there he celebrated his 16th birthday.

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

Dad was soon to be deployed on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, which just happened to be entering San Diego harbor at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Before long, he was flying off the deck of the USS Saratoga in the South Pacific on submarine patrol missions over their fleet in a Douglas SBD Dauntless aircraft behind the trigger of a twin 30-caliber machine gun. If that was not enough, his initial flight at sea was the first time he had flown in a plane – EVER.

Are you kidding me!!?

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3 generations in front of the plane dad flew (gunner position) in WWII

Luckily, before dad’s passing I was able to get him to write down some of what happened while he was on the USS Saratoga, as his Navy discharge papers don’t provide any of the detail on what exactly he did.  So here is a part of that, which he hand-wrote to me in a letter:

Mike — 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 [he became totally deaf, partly also from the machine gun on the SBD — wearing no ear covers].  When I finally got on the [USS] 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 [USS] 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 take off, hoping they would think we had more than one carrier available.  That was ok with me.

Before we were to return to S.F. we got orders to attack a build-up of enemy ships @ Rabaul Harbor [battle of Rabaul] on the Isle of Truk in the Caroline Islands.  They were planning on attacking our invasion forces on Tarawa.  It was risky business and our planes would just have enough gas left to get back to the fleet.  It was a raid made two days in a row.  Several ships were sunk and some planes were lost.  It was written up by Time & Newsweek [magazines].  I understand it is now a major tourist attraction for underwater skin divers who dive among the ships we sunk!

Following 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 the turning of the tide against Japan in the Pacific, by providing a mobile organization to keep our Navy planes in the air.  As part of a CASU organization, dad was stationed at various locations on the west coast of the U.S., including Twentynine Palms naval auxiliary air station (San Bernadino County); Naval Air Station Seattle at Sand Point (Washington); Air base in Forks, Washington (Clallam County); Point Mugu Naval Air Station (Ventura county); and San Nicolas Island (75 miles off the coast of Los Angeles).

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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 at the time was preparation for an invasion of Japan should the war continue along its current path.  They spent about a month in Adak before returning to San Francisco to celebrate the end of the war.

His discharge papers state that he came home on November 18, 1945, just over two weeks after his 19th birthday, and three years and two months after his enlistment with Todd Bernarding at the ripe age of 15. I imagine he was a new man and felt he had the world at his fingertips to survive all that. Like so many who came out the other end of World War II, 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 the $20 per week compensation from the US 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 time in Los Angeles.

Looks like a scene right out of a Humphrey Bogart movie!

Looks like a scene right out of a Humphrey Bogart movie!

With that experience now behind him, dad moved back to Santa Monica, California following the war.  And from there, he became part of a select few individuals in the late 1940’s who pioneered the sport of surfing at Malibu beach in Southern California.

Malibu

Malibu was the place to be for surfers in the post-WWII era of Southern California, especially when summertime south swells swept up the coast and warmth of the So Cal sun was ample for a long day in the water.  It had to seem like paradise after all they had been through.

PV_Tire_Fire

Charley French and dad staying warm around a winter tire fire at Palos Verdes

There are many names that dad mentioned over the years that were part of that Malibu experience, many of whom he went to Santa Monica High School with.    To name just a few:

* Bob Simmons – who pioneered lightweight surfboard design, was a Cal Tech graduate who worked as a mathematician at Douglas Aircraft. Ironically, he passed away in September of 1954 while surfing a good-sized swell at Windnsea in San Diego. Here’s a picture of Bob Simmons which was framed in our house for many years:

Bob Simmons headed toward the pier on a BIG day at Malibu in 1948

Bob Simmons headed toward the pier on a BIG day at Malibu circa 1948

* Joe Quigg – one of the more prominent surfers to graduate from Santa Monica High School who became a well-known manufacturer of surfboards in the 60’s and 70’s.
* Matt Kivlin – who many viewed as the best wave rider of the late 1940’s and early ‘50s and who dad spoke very highly of.
* Peter Lawford – of Hollywood actor fame, was a Malibu regular.
* Dave Sweet – who made my first surfboard, which I received on Christmas day sometime around 1963. It was a beauty, and I remember the resin was still a little sticky on Christmas morning.
* Charley French — who settled in Sun Valley, Idaho working for Scott USA, was one of dad’s best buddies for surfing and skiing.  Charley became quite the legend in triathlon circles when he set the age group record at the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii at age 60 (his 1st Ironman distance race), and continued to race consistently well into his 80’s.  I am still in touch with Charley and he has provided me some valuable information for this blog.
* Gidget – not Sandra Dee who played Gidget in the 1959 Columbia Pictures movie “Gidget”, but Kathy Kohner, who’s father Frederick Kohner wrote the 1957 novel about his daughter’s real-life adventures on the beach at Malibu.
* Pete Peterson and Lorrin Harrison, who were both featured in the film “Riding Giants”, and who were some of the first to become regulars surfing at San Onofre in the 1940s.
* Buzzy Trent, was one of the early big wave riders in Hawaii in the early 1950s.
* Peter Cole (and brother Corney).  Peter became a swimming star at Stanford and got into big wave surfing after his experiences at Steamers Lane.

Simmons_concave

Charley French and dad logging two Simmons concave’s up from the beach at Palos Verdes

As Charley French told me the story of this photo above (after dad’s passing), they went to General Veneer Manufacturing in L.A. and bought the balsa wood for these two boards, then glued them into planks and took them over to Simmons’ house and watched him shape them into concave surfboards. Charley and dad then took the finished boards home and glassed them in the back yard. I saw an article awhile back about a Simmons concave that sold at an auction for $40,000.

These early pioneers of surfing at Malibu had an ideal setting for the birth of a craze that would eventually sweep across the country. Malibu had the ideal weather, a near-perfect beach, and waves as clean and consistently breaking as one could find along the Southern California coast. A spirit and camaraderie developed amongst these early surfers, which boiled life down to its most simple elements. Some call this the birth of the surf culture; a new way of life, which was outside the usual societal boundaries in Southern California at that time.

As progress would have it, this unique subculture at Malibu 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 south on Pacific Coast Highway to a sleepy beach-side community called Corona del Mar (CdM). We moved into a small but very quaint beach house just four blocks from Big Corona State Beach. It even had a shower in the garage to wash the sand off when you came home from the beach.

The beach soon became my place of solace. 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 for the next fourteen years until graduating from High School.

**Resources**

A favorite book of mine covering the early days of surfing is The History of Surfing by Matt Warshaw.  Matt is a former professional surfer who later became the editor of Surfer Magazine.  This book is the most comprehensive, well written journal on surfing history I have seen, and includes a remarkable collection of photographs.  This picture on the cover pretty much captures it all in one shot.  Well done Matt!

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