11. Lessons for The Grandchildren

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

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

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

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

“Ah, another day in paradise!”

Dad passed on the night of a full “Strawberry moon” in 2016 on Father’s Day (1). I was on my bicycle en route to work at Oracle when the call from my sister Terry came in. In a flash, the world stopped turning. It was monumental. Life would never be the same. I had known it was coming, but could not fathom the feelings that surfaced.

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

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

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

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

“Michael, let’s go surfing!”.

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

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

“Six lessons for the grandchildren,” from Kona Jack:

1 – Keep your sense of humor.

This may be the single most important of all!

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

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

“I’ve lost my swagger, Michael.”

I couldn’t have said it any better.

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

“You should see the OTHER guy!”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

2 — Sleep trumps diet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Surely, he slept better than ever that night!

3 — Keep life simple.

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

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

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

Huh?

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

His quick reply:

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

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

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

Good point.

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

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

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

4 – Exercise for life!

Still playing solid tennis well into his eighties!

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

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

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

5 — Enjoy life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one, Michael.”

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

6 — It’s OK to be sentimental.

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Footnotes:

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

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

10. HODADS

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

When my wife Marla asked me what I wanted for my 50th birthday (many moons ago), my immediate thought was not to give up on my lifelong dream of filming a surfing movie. Ever since the evaporation of our “Mexican Miracle” video in Mazatlán (in 1972), I had continued to envision starring with my best surfing buddies in a surfing movie.

I immediately moved into action. My birthday is in January, so Steamer Lane was a logical spot to film it. The lane is the place to be when the rain-soaked Pacific storms bring thick and powerfully consistent surf into Monterey Bay that time of year. It is also an ideal venue for filming from the cliffs above, where you can easily perch and capture the surfers as they go by.

On my last three birthdays at Steamer Lane, I rode big waves that never seemed to end. I was like a kid coming into a candy shop—giddy with anticipation of what was to come! The call went out to a few close friends I knew would be stoked to join in. We booked a cottage at Seascape Resort in Aptos (jacuzzi required!) for the birthday weekend and began searching for a cinematographer. I asked each of the megastar surfers to bring their big wave quiver, a CD of their favorite surf tunes from the 60s, and photographs to document their surfing history. I took the project a bit more seriously, anthologizing a 25-page term paper with photos and footnotes galore. That document turned out to be the genesis of my blog on surfingforbalance.com (in 2014). And that led to this book!

Hodads (L to R): Jack Schott, John Park, John Davis, Mike Mulkey

The surfing celebrities to join in were:

  • John Davis[i] – John was my one and only Silicon Valley high-tech surfing bro at Sun Microsystems. Ten years my senior, John and his wife Deb built their dream surf chalet on 38th Street in Santa Cruz with a quiver room for surfboards and a hot outdoor shower with a bench seat to help extract the wetsuit. I am eternally indebted to them for that shower; it is the only way I can get out of my wetsuit on a cold winter day at Pleasure Point.  
  • Mark Magiera – I grew up with Mark in CdM (since 3rd grade), crossed ski tracks in Utah, and then lived together after college in CdM. We shared many surfing safaris over the years, including a trip to Hollister Ranch that Mark invited me on in the late 1960s. We camped in Brian Blumer’s VW bus on the bluff at “Lefts and Rights,” which was about as good as it got!  Unfortunately, Mark had a conflict and missed our weekend of filming.
  • John Park – As the founder of Clear Spirit Surfboards, John frequented San Onofre with my dad and me back in the late 1960s when surfing was all we thought about (well, almost).  Johnny led me on surfing adventures in Baja back in the seventies and eighties and was a member of the infamous “Mexican Miracle” trip to Mazatlán in 1972.
  • Jack Schott – Jack was another former roommate who shared many epic days with me surfing, 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 did, despite having ten years on me.  He came down with a horrible cold on HODADS weekend, sitting out one day, and then borrowing a 7mm deep-dive wetsuit to get in for some action the second day. He still out-surfed us! Jack continues to surf today (at 77).
  • Gary Irving[ii] – Gary was a rare find as a local Santa Cruz artist/photographer who joined in as a cinematographer and producer. He was an answer to my prayers. Gary immediately understood what we were trying to accomplish and proceeded to invest untold hours into the final production, giving it the vital spark it needed.  Considering the lack of surf that weekend, Gary did a spectacular job producing what will be remembered as the surf movie to end all surf movies (pun intended).

Despite many objections from the peanut gallery, I held firm on naming our movie “HODADS,” a term to describe a surfer without much skill. When you bring together five surfers whose combined ages cover some 270 years, it would be serious HODAD surfing, whether we wanted to admit it or not. The title stuck.

Gary filmed HODADS[iii] on the weekend of January 14th, 2005.  As luck would have it, we had a freak lull in the surf in Santa Cruz for that entire weekend. Steamer Lane was so flat that there was not a single surfer in the water on Saturday. I could not believe it! We decided to invite Gary and his camera into our Seascape cottage with unlimited pizza and beer to spend the day recording each of us recalling our glory days surfing. We had many laughs jabbing at each other as we took our turn on camera. On Sunday, Gary let us in on a secret spot in Monterey Bay that “always had surf.”  He was right!  We ended up filming a couple of decent surf sessions at that secret spot.

HODADS was a dream come true for me. It turned out better than I could have wished, largely because of the extra time we had to film each of our personal histories with surfing. Those scenes Gary filmed in our hotel room are a treasure to pass on to the next generation. It was all about being stoked with good friends, sharing precious memories, and enjoying God’s magnificent creation in the process.

In 2015 we held an informal 10-year reunion of HODADS to rekindle some of that good karma. Somehow, we ended up having lunch at the Spanish Bay Inn at Pebble Beach instead of surfing, although our boards were strapped on the roof for action. The two 70-year-olds assured me that had nothing to do with our age.

Ha.

In the end, I’ll rest peacefully in heaven knowing I finally got my surf movie.

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

Footnotes

[i] On our second day of filming, John Davis was not feeling well and not catching waves. He left suddenly and drove home shivering and feeling some chest pain. He soon was in the Emergency room at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, diagnosed with a heart attack.  He had an angiogram that day to install a stent in the blocked artery! Thankfully, he was fine and in good spirits and continues to surf today at Pleasure Point (at 77).

[ii] I lost touch with Gary Irving shortly after our movie was produced. Unbeknownst to us, later that year in 2005, Gary married actor Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman. He never mentioned that one!

[iii] The full-length DVD that Gary Irving produced is available for special order through “surfingforbalance.com” (click “Contact Mike”). There is an abbreviated version of the full-length DVD available for viewing online at:

HODADS (the movie)

Part I – HODADS (the “surfing”): 10:40

Part II – HODADS (the “surf stories”): 12:50


8. Spirit of Char

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

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

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

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

“Your dad has asked for a divorce.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

507 Marguerite Avenue became party central in our high school days

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

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

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

————-

The Spirit of Char

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye mom

ENDNOTES

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

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

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

4. Mexican Miracle

Heaven is full of answers to prayer for which no one ever bothered to ask.”
-Billy Graham

Bruce Brown’s “The Endless Summer” set my surfing dreams on fire in 1966.

To an aspiring grom (young surfer) who was growing up at the beach in the 1960s, Bruce Brown’s epic movie The Endless Summer had a deep-rooted effect on me. Brown poetically documented every surfer’s ultimate dream on film in an around-the-world quest to find the perfect wave. And find it, they did!

I was eleven years old in 1966 when the movie played at the Newport Harbor High School auditorium. I sat in stunned silence as those around me howled and whistled at the seemingly endless rides at Cape St. Francis in South Africa. Those waves were beyond my wildest dreams. By the time I entered high school in 1969, we were developing our own obsession with finding perfect waves in Baja, California. Our many trips south of the border provided wonderful surfing on a wholesome diet of Mexican Panderia pastries ($1 a bag!), free camping, and 35-cents-a-gallon gasoline. Our mastery of Spanish boiled down to three simple phrases:

  • Dónde está la playa? (“Where is the beach?”)
  • Dónde está el baño? (“Where is the bathroom?”)
  • Uno más, por favor. (“One more, please.”)

It didn’t get much better than that.

In 1970 I was fifteen years old and heading into summer vacation when surfing bros John Park, Craig Barrett, and Danny Moore came up with a new proposal that was a bit of a twist to our Baja adventures.

“Let’s go to Mazatlan!”

The hypothesis was that the further we drive, the more likely we were to find those perfect waves we’d been searching for. Our Baja trips were full of adventure and good surfing, taking us 200 or so miles south. Driving 1,300 miles to Mazatlán surely would up our odds, right?

As far as our parents knew, it was “just another trip to Mexico”. Baja and Mazatlán are both in Mexico, so we didn’t see a need for further clarification.  We were just going to stay a little longer . . .

“Packing for the journey was important. Six pairs of trunks, two boxes of wax, some modern sounds, and in case of injury, one band aid.”
-The Endless Summer [1]

Soon we were stuffing Craig’s 1964 orange Chevy van with supplies fit for a wagon train. We had enough canned food for a month, 8-track tapes for music, two beach chairs (doubling as back seats in the van), tool chest, duct tape (most valuable asset!), water, Paraffin wax, camp stove, and a first aid kit (Band-Aids and Tincture Benzoin, in case it was serious). To top it off, Johnny was able to sneak two large wooden speakers (for the van) and an 8mm movie camera from his house. Four surfboards on top completed the puzzle. This expedition could be summed up in two words: totally bitchen.

Next stop, Mazatlán!
Or, so we thought.

I was a bit over my head on this one. Comparisons to my dad joining the U.S. Navy at fifteen were surely in order. Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer had somehow become my Pearl Harbor. It was like blasting off for a moon launch as I nestled tightly into the beach chair in the back of the van as Craig drove us south from CdM. Whatever we lacked in experience, we surely made up in our zeal to find those waves in Mazatlán. Without cell phones, the internet, or any other means of staying in touch, we were on a real surfing safari!

“Each wave was perfect.”
The Endless Summer

We had not even reached the border before Craig’s van started hitting rough water. What!? We pulled over to a gas station and waited for a diagnosis.

“You’re two and a half quarts low on oil,” a fellow Petroleum Exchange Engineer informed us, as if we should have known.

Minor details.

Back on the road with fresh oil and our home speakers booming “Almost Cut My Hair” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Déjà vu album), a second hazard awaited us at the border crossing in Tecate. As we approached the armed guard at the gate, there was a sign we could not miss: “No Long Hairs Allowed”

I will never forget that sign.

“Welcome to Mexico,” we groaned to each other.

“Vete a casa, mi amigo!” (Go home, my friend!) the guard called out to us as he surveyed our shaggy heads. Our dreams sunk; we turned around and parked to brainstorm ideas. We considered various options, including me (with no driver’s license) driving us through the gate since I had the shortest hair. Fortunately, we came up with the ingenious option of trying a different border crossing in Mexicali, a 2-hour drive away.

Taking a more strategic approach in Mexicali, we parked the van at a gas station just short of the gate to doctor up our hair with bobby pins, water, and a lot of finesse. Paranoia was pervasive as we approached the guard this time, trying to look confident that we could get by. Amazingly, we sailed right through with our clean-cut all-American look.

“Dónde está la playa!?” we called out as we barreled into the Mexican desert with the sun setting and Carlos Santana singing “Black Magic Woman” (Santana album). It was as if we had just won a date with Rachel Welch on The Dating Game. We were giddy in anticipation of the road ahead.

‘It’s the kind of wave that makes you talk to yourself.”
-The Endless Summer

Just as we were starting to mellow out from our great escape at the border, a third stop was forced upon us. A Mexican Federale suddenly appeared out of nowhere, as if beaming down from the Starship Enterprise. Feeling as though we might be snake bit, Craig heeded his orders to pull over, taking note of the gun hanging on his waist.

Checkpoints were something we were used to in Baja; they often stopped you with some kind of machine gun in hand to ask a couple of questions and check your glove compartment for marijuana. This guy was different.

“Vete a casa.” He left off the “friend” part, as he was not kidding! We needed a Turista sticker on our car to travel into mainland Mexico from the U.S.  News to us! In an instant, our Mexican endless summer was coming to an abrupt and painful end. This guy was pulling the plug on the wave machine. We were going home.

The Turista sticker was required on your car to travel into mainland Mexico.

The Mexican Miracle
Regrouping in Craig’s van, I can remember a few tears being shed over this indignant Federale who was enjoying sending four long-haired gringos back to mamá. Johnny suddenly blurted out that we should say a prayer. I remember thinking that was the craziest idea ever. I didn’t go to church, so I couldn’t understand how that would help. Our trip was over. There was no way this guy was going to back down. I was already starting to think about what we could do with all the canned food and whether we could stop at a Panderia before crossing back over the border.

We were desperate and willing to try anything, so the next thing I knew, the four of us were bowing our heads and praying to God for a miracle to happen. I don’t think we prayed that the Federale would die or anything. I believe it was something respectable and short, like:

“God, please help us, we want to surf the perfect waves in Mazatlán.”

I do remember the outcome quite clearly. Out of the blue, an idea suddenly spawned: “Maybe we can bribe this guy!?” 

We seemed to overlook the fact that he was the one wearing the badge and gun. After quite a debate on how much it would take, we decided to go for the jackpot and use a twenty-dollar bill. Craig was elected to carry out the assignment, since he was the elder statesman (by a month or two). I was exceedingly uneasy as we all walked back to his office for our attempt at buying him off. Craig started nervously scratching his face with the twenty-dollar bill showing in his hand as he began talking. My first thought was how utterly stupid this idea this was. What were we thinking!?

Suddenly the Federale lit up with a smile like a Times Square Christmas tree. Immediately we knew it had worked; it was a Mexican miracle!  

Twenty dollars bought a lot of pesos back then. This guy snapped up the bait in a New York second and slapped the Turista decal on our car, waving us on our way like we were family.

“Adios, amigos!”

The drums from “Soul Sacrifice” (Santana Album) started rolling as we plunged into the darkening desert sky on bumpy Mexican asphalt. I leaned back in my beach chair, marveling at what a trip this was going to be.

“Bitchen.”

We camped in the desert that night and filmed the opening scene of our Mexican endless summer movie by holding wrestling matches in a cactus patch after our pork and beans dinner.

That prayer had a lasting effect on me. Whether or not God had anything to do with answering it (I think He did), it stuck that in a moment of complete despair we could call on God for help. Even when impossible odds weighed against us. It was unforgettable.

“The waves look like they had been made by some kind of machine.”
-The Endless Summer

The Power of Prayer
Prayer has played a pivotal role in my Christian walk. The answered prayers, of course, are wonderful! Mostly though, it’s been my daily dialog with God, helping me steer through the many challenges life throws at me. Becoming a Christian did not so much change who I am as it changed who I wanted to be. Prayer has become the avenue for having that daily conversation with God as to how I get there.

My challenge has been seeing God at work through my prayers. I started writing them in my Bible years ago to try and keep track of what God was doing. It has been amazing to see! One example of this involves a group of twelve men I was meeting with weekly to study the Bible over two years. Each week we devoted time to praying for each other. With all of us having new families and challenging careers, there was not a shortage of things to pray for.

Fast forward eight years and we had all reunited in the home of one of our leaders to pray for a serious injury he had incurred. We went around the group to catch up on the eight years since we had been together. As each one provided an update, it became clear that God had been at work. Many of our prayers had been answered! I had the prayers written in my Bible to prove it. It was an emotional moment as we realized how faithful God had been. It had happened so gradually, and often in ways we had not expected, that we hadn’t connected the dots to all that time in prayer together. We finished that night with praise for God’s amazing faithfulness.

Prayer has also frustrated me at certain times of my life. The inability to see how God is working in difficult situations that I am praying for has been quite perplexing. Sometimes we don’t see how God is hearing our prayers over many (many!) years. Perhaps He does and it takes our whole life to understand. I feel certain that when I get to heaven, it will all make sense. Yet, I am still challenged to keep my focus on God as I pray, and not on the mountain I am asking Him to move. I’d be lying to say that’s been easy.

I am working on making my prayers a two-way conversation. Often, I am just pouring out my needs to God and forgetting to stop and listen to what He might be trying to tell me through the Holy Spirit. This time of listening to God has been very precious, and is key to seeing how God might be working in my life, especially when I don’t see a direct response to my earnest prayers.

A surfing analogy to this could be how I learned over the years to listen to the elements of tide, wind, water, and currents to gain a sense of when the surf might be at its best. Paying close attention to subtle changes in each can tell you a lot!

Epilogue to the Mazatlán trip:
At my 40th Corona del Mar High School reunion a few years back, a woman (Paula Schneider) approached me who claimed to remember our trip to Mazatlán in 1970. I was astonished! Her family had been in Mazatlán on vacation at the time our orange van rolled into town with surfboards on top. Incredibly, she bumped into John Park to hear the story of our long trek. After talking to John, her dad pulled her aside to say: “I can’t believe their parents allowed them to drive down here!?”

And of course, she replied: “Dad, their parents didn’t know.”

With enough time and enough money, you could spend the rest of your life following the summer around the world.”
-The Endless Summer

We didn’t find the perfect wave, but we had loads of fun and created many good stories searching. The drive included a few wrong turns, even bumping into the Sea of Cortez at one point and thinking we were at the Pacific Ocean. We thought the trip really was over when we had a complete mechanical breakdown of the van deep in the Mexican jungle. A Mexican mechanic was working on it when Danny Moore (the tow truck driver at Ken’s Mobile) put water in the battery and got it to go. Ha! Another Mexican miracle.

We encountered carpets of remarkably dense locust swarms covering the highway and innumerable “Desviación” (detour) signs that sent us onto never-ending dirt roads better suited for motocross than an automobile. It was so bumpy that at one point the entire tool chest came crashing down on us in the back of the van. It took us three days to finally arrive at the main beach in Mazatlán for our first surf session. The water was so warm (over 80 degrees!) that the Paraffin wax for our surfboards melted, making foot traction on the board a challenge.

These signs became our nightmare as they sent us blindly into the jungle on dirt roads.

We found a campground in town that accommodated us as we explored around Mazatlán and the surrounding area for waves, to no avail. I think we shot more video of a girl (Betty) riding her horse on the beach than of the four of us surfing. At one point we found a secluded beach with wave potential and decided to paddle out and set up for filming. It was a bit eerie paddling out at a spot you knew nothing about. I was far offshore by myself scanning the horizon for a wave when without warning a giant bat ray launched into the air and landed with a loud splash just a few feet away. It scared the crap out of me! I paddled into shore as if I were the anchor leg in the SanO paddling race. That kind of stuff did not happen back home. I told the guys I’d be glad to film the rest of the day (keeping an eye out for Betty).

Being the seasoned travelers that we were, we knew to avoid the local drinking water for fear of the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge. We had heard plenty from our friends about the disaster that could spell on a surf trip. However, after a couple of tasty popsicles from the street vendors in town, I soon was clobbered by it. As perfect storms go, a hurricane was making its way up the coast of Mexico just as I was discovering I could not stray far from the nearest toilet, which was not easy to find! “Dónde está el baño?”

My final but vivid memory of Mazatlán was getting up at night in the campground in complete darkness to pay my respects to Montezuma in a torrential downpour with the wind howling at gale speed. I stepped on some kind of giant prehistoric spider with my bare foot and heard it crack like a twig, and then crawl off into the black night in the direction of our camp.

Adios mi amigo, I am out of here!
We left for home the next day.

I only have two memories of the trip from that point on. First was the absolute bliss of finding a McDonald’s immediately after crossing the border into the U.S. A Big Mac and fries have never tasted better and at no other time made me feel more at home. The second was when Johnny told me that the film in the 8mm video camera got ruined when we opened the camera. We didn’t read the instructions about that part… Our Mexican endless summer movie was gone, and none of us had a single photograph from the experience to remember it by. But the adventure left an indelible impression on me. It was a trip for the ages.

It taught me that miracles are possible through the power of prayer.

Special thanks to King Neptune for providing the waves in this film.”
-The Endless Summer

Team “Endless Summer” reunion at SanO 2016

Footnotes:

  1. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060371/

 

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.

Prologue: Waxing Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kicking Out

“I don’t know what the future holds — but I do know who holds the future.“
― John Wooden (quoting his father)

Today, kicking out is somewhat of a lost art in surfing.
It’s not often I see a surfer cleanly exit the wave they are riding while going over the backside to get a glimpse of any waves coming; positioning for a quick paddle back out. A good kick out leaves you in control of your destiny, but it is not a simple maneuver.

Kicking out at Playa Linda, Costa Rica (2019)

Prior to the advent of the surf leash and subsequent shortboard revolution in the late 1960s (see: Surfing Without A Leash), knowing how to kick out was a fundamental requirement for serious surfing. One had to master it to get back out into the lineup after a ride without losing your board. Diving off your board into the white water (something I see all too often today) was absolutely not an option in those days.

‘Senior Boys’ getting briefed before a heat in the 1964 San Onofre Surfing Club contest

While competing in the San Onofre Surfing Contest in the 1960s I learned the judges rewarded a surfer who could properly execute a clean and controlled kick out. This indicated good judgment to ride the wave to its proper ending while demonstrating control of your board and vision for your next ride. In those days, that was styling and the judges liked it.

Today professional surfers competing in the World Surf League are awarded points for a kick out based upon the degree of difficulty as well as how innovative and progressive it is. The following are some fun (insane!) shots from the 2015 Billabong Pro Tahiti (52-second video).

2015 Billabong Pro Tahiti — Air is IN!

Kicking out too early

Sometimes I kick out of a wave too early, anticipating a better wave behind. It is a gamble as I ride over the crest of the wave scanning the horizon for a bigger set coming. I realize that I should have enjoyed the wave I was on, and feel a sense of a wasted opportunity to think something better was coming.

On May 9th of this year a 26-year-old Santa Cruz surfer kicked out too early in life. Ben Kelly was fatally attacked by a shark while surfing at Sand Dollar, just south of Manresa State Beach. I was at work when I got word that a surfer had died from a shark attack at Sand Dollar. Since my son Matthew and I surf there (he had been there the day before), I immediately called his cell phone. It went to voicemail. I then called his work and after what felt like an eternity on hold, he picked up the phone and greeted me.
So grateful.

Thinking it was my son, even if just for a minute, gave me insight into the unimaginable pain of Ben’s family and friends.

Ben Kelly

I was touched by Ben’s story as more came out about his life. Ben was a seasoned surfer and board shaper who started his own surfboard company in Santa Cruz (Ben Kelly Surfboards). He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Vanguard University in Southern California where he was awarded the McNaughton Award, its highest honor for business and management students. He had recently celebrated his third wedding anniversary with his wife Katie, whom he met at Vanguard. Together they had founded a social media marketing company (Authentic Approach, Inc).

Ben was active in the Capitola Village Business Improvement Association, Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, Calvary Chapel in Capitola, and even selling surfboards at one point to support mission’s work in Africa. Ben was stoked about the life God had given him.

Ben and Katie Kelly

On May 21st a memorial service and paddle out was held in San Clemente to honor Ben on his 27th birthday (amazingly, my daughter Marisa was celebrating her 27th birthday that same day). The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors declared that May 21 would be “Ben Kelly Day”. The proclamation stated:

“Ben practiced his belief that surfing was so much more than just catching waves — it was about the people he met and the continuous grand adventures that made it fun while blessing others along the way.”

Walking the Talk

Ben’s love of Jesus was front and center. He did not just talk about his faith; he exemplified it by his character. In the words of a close friend, “Ben lived the way Christ wanted us to live”. His opening line About himself in LinkedIn boldly calls out his love for his Savior:

“Hello my name is Ben Kelly. Some of my life passions include: a love for my Savior Jesus Christ …”

Ben was not hiding who he believed was going to save him on his day of reckoning. Here’s one tribute from the Ben Kelly Memorial Fund website (fundraiser for his wife Katie):

“The most memorable thing about Ben was his unashamed, unrelenting passion for his faith and his relationship with Jesus. I don’t say this to somehow selfishly reassure myself or others that he’s passed on to Heaven. I don’t have to wonder whether he knew Jesus, or whether his faith was secure. It was. Everybody knew it. He truly lived his faith out. In nearly every conversation I ever had with him, he tied God and the redeeming love of Jesus into it.” 

― Zachary Shull

My son Matthew at Sand Dollar reading the inscriptions on a driftwood memorial to Ben

In the book of Matthew, Jesus spoke about the importance of doing God’s will to reveal His love and presence in the world:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
― Matthew 7:21

Jesus called us to act on the words of the Bible, to embrace them as our own so they are central to our day-to-day living. He said true wisdom is about actions of love, mercy and peace (James 3:17-18). It is not enough to say “Lord, Lord”. Ben Kelly has both inspired and challenged me in this respect. I find myself asking if this is how I am living out my faith. If my eternal day of reckoning came today, how confident am I?

Though he never saw it coming, Ben Kelly kicked out of this life with full control over his destiny. His future was secure. I believe Ben is now surfing in heaven. Jesus says that He is preparing a place for each one of us in heaven (John 14:2), and that great rewards are waiting for us there (Matthew 5:12). Surely the God who created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) could arrange for a little surfing. What awaits us in heaven is far greater than we can let our imaginations explore (1Corinthians 2:9).

Ben loved the ocean and surfing. He had that surfer’s “stoke” about him. Some called it his good vibes. But those close to him knew it was fed by his faith. Ben hoped in a God who created the heavens and the earth. He wanted to live his life honoring God, knowing his rewards would be in heaven.

I praise God for the example Ben Kelly set for us.

“Well done, good and faithful servant!”
(Matthew 25:23)

** Resources **

Ben Kelly Memorial Fund website: please consider honoring Ben’s life by contributing to this memorial fund in support of his wife Katie.

Surfing in Heaven (Part I) – if you are wondering what it would be like, I wrote these two blogs from a vision I had of my entry into eternity. Surely this vision falls far short of the divine joy and beauty that awaits us there, but it felt right to dream about what it might be like.

Surfing in Heaven (Part II)

Ben Kelly Santa Cruz Paddle Out (video)

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 I)

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

Surfing in Heaven. Outrageous thought!
Or not…?

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

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

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

My “Opening Day in Paradise” Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me haere ki te ngaru Mike!”.

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

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

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

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

(Stay tuned for Part II!)

** Authors Note **

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

** Resources **

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

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

The Spirit of Char

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

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

Char marching proudly to Hoag Hospital for a shift on Halloween

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

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

507 Marguerite Avenue became party central in our high school days

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

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

“Goodbye Char”

The Spirit of Char

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** Author’s Note **

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

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

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

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