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.
“… 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!
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!
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.
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.
“Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here.” Colossians 3:2 (TLB)
Surfing in Heaven. Outrageous thought!
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.”
“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.
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.”
While Corona del Mar provided a near ideal beach community for a young grom growing up in the 60’s, it was my time with Dad on the weekends at San Onofre that most influenced my views on work/life balance today in Silicon Valley. Just mention the words San Onofre Surfing Club (SOSC) and it brings on a rush of heart-felt memories of my childhood, living an unencumbered life on the beach in Southern California. San Onofre (“SanO” or “Nofre” as the locals called it) was truly a slice of heaven. The story of how the San Onofre Surfing Club was formed, the growth of membership through the 60’s and 70’s, and how its future was directly impacted by the 37th President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, is in one of the more colorful and engaging stories of surfing history in California. Looking back on it today, it seems completely inconceivable that a group of surfers could arrange to lease a pristine and secluded surfing and fishing beach from the U.S. Marine Corps for exclusive access (surfers only) for an annual lease of $1 a year!
Following is a quick overview on how this came about, along with a perspective on the lifestyle that greatly influenced me.
The sudden attention brought on to Malibu in the post World War II era (see “Malibu and The Greatest Generation” post below) by Columbia Pictures’ blockbuster film “Gidget” was beginning to overrun Surfrider’s Beach with crowds of surfer “wannabes”. The days of sharing Malibu among a small crowd of friends in the water were gone forever. However, 90 miles south of Malibu near the San Onofre railroad station, a unique surfing beach environment was beginning to evolve, which drew the attention of many of Malibu’s original surfing crowd. Dad was fortunate enough to be a part of that crowd, and we started surfing San Onofre in the early 1960’s, after moving south from Santa Monica to Corona del Mar in 1959.
This all started with the San Onofre fishing camp, which had been leased from the Santa Margarita Ranch for day usage in the 1930s. And while the corbina, sea bass and halibut fishing were excellent, it was soon discovered that this beach had a very unique environment for surfing. The seabed is a collection of bottom rocks mixed with sand that produced amazingly consistent waves for surfing. The waves were of a long peeling and gently sloping nature, similar to those at famed Waikiki beach in Hawaii. Word quickly spread among the surfing crowd of this gem of a surfing beach down south.
Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison, a long-time SanO regular, tells the story of how he started surfing San Onofre regularly in the mid-1930’s after the new jetties in CdM had destroyed the surf there. Harrison, along with Pete Peterson, had traveled to Hawaii and brought back a slice of the aloha-spirit to San Onofre. It was a perfect fit for the setting on this secluded stretch of beach, over a half mile long, and backed up by dirt cliffs to maintain a sense of exclusivity. There was even a palm thatch shack right on the sand, which had been left behind by a film shoot from a Hollywood movie company. By the late 1930’s San Onofre had become the place to go to enjoy the surfer’s lifestyle, with an unbeatable combination of good fishing, excellent surfing, and a true community atmosphere.
But the approaching storm of World War II was soon to disrupt this idyllic community on the beach, changing everyone’s life.
In February of 1942, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced that Santa Margarita Ranch would become the largest Marine Corps base in the country. It was named Camp Pendleton, after Major General Joseph Henry Pendleton (1860–1942), and on September 25, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially dedicated the base to train U.S. Marines for service in World War II.
Surfing and fishing at San Onofre was mostly curtailed during the war years. Dad told me how even just driving that part of Coast Highway between Oceanside and San Clemente required one to tape paper over the headlights at night for fear the Japanese were going to attack. Soon after the war in late 1945, the USMC began to allow access to the beach again for surfing. Most of these surfers were the lucky ones who had just returned home from World War II (over 400,000 U.S. soldiers lost their lives in WWII). These guys had just saved the world from Japan and Germany! It seems quite reasonable that the U.S. Marines in charge of Camp Pendleton might have been willing to work with them, understanding the sacrifices they had made to preserve the freedom of our country. There were even a few stories documenting the Commanding Officers (CO’s) on the base having a ‘look the other way’ approach to it. It’s like the dog that fought off the fox to save the hen house – surely you are going to let the dog in now and then to have a free egg or two.
Yet, that is also when things got interesting, as even surfers back then were prone to stretching the rules a bit. There are some very funny stories of the shenanigans that took place in those early years between the surfers and the CO’s of Camp Pendleton as they worked out their differences over access and care of the beach. The San Onofre Surfing Club published a 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album in 2002 that has the best accounting of what went on during those early years leading up to 1951 when the club was first formed, including some amazing photos of the lifestyle that was forming on the beach there. I highly recommend it if you are interested to learn more.
(Following is a quote [p. 36], which sets the tone for life at SanO during that time)
THE FORTIES – A Changed World
“World War II changed America in profound ways. It ended the Depression, unified and equalized the country, restarted the economic engine and opened doors to new lifestyles. Those who had never seen the beach till they shipped out of California [from Camp Pendleton] knew they wanted to go back there. Those who had grown up with the beach knew just how good they had it. In 1946 a bunch of us lived down there at ‘Nofre: Glen Fisher, Wild Ass Wiley, [James] Arness, Bob Card Hammerhead – we’d go to the dump and get old furniture and set it up and live like a hobo camp. We called ourselves the “52-twenty club,” cause for the first 52 weeks after the war they paid us $20 a week as veterans. You could live like kings at ‘Nofre for that. We all enrolled in college to get better jobs and surfed every day.” Jim ‘Burrhead’ Drever
The shack at Old Mans – circa 1949
In one of the more amazing stories of collaboration and cooperation between civilians and the U.S. Military, the SOSC was loosely formed in 1951 to provide a group of surfers exclusive access to the beach. The agreement was that they would take responsibility to maintain the membership, keep the beach clean and orderly, and pay what turned into a $1-a-year lease with the USMC. Two long-time San Onofre surfers, Dr. A.H. “Barney” Wilkes (a San Clemente Dentist), and Andre “Frenchy” Jahan (SOSC’s first President), are two of the hero’s that made it happen. Club by-laws, membership cards, auto decals, and rules of conduct were established at the first formal SOSC meeting on the beach on April 24, 1952.
San Onofre Surfing Club 50th Anniversary Decal
This was the beginning of an era at SanO that had roots firmly planted in a simple lifestyle of community, surfing, group games and contests, good food, and lots of rest. These would become traditions that would continue to represent the overall lifestyle at SanO for decades to come.
To quote from the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album (p. 44):
“The simplest way to describe San Onofre is a way of life”, says pre-WWII surfer and longtime Nofre observer, Art Beard. “We were all just raising our families, and it was a cheap, easy and fun way to do it.”
The SOSC was officially off and running with its own surfing beach and soon-to-be, well-entrenched “big family” lifestyle. There were no lifeguards, no running water, and no way to take a phone call – just an idyllic world of sun and surf and good friends at the beach in a serene setting.
Entrance To San Onofre Surfing Club via the U.S. Marine Corps Guard
There was nothing I looked more forward to on the drive south from Corona del Mar than that guard giving you the official military salute to gain entrance to Camp Pendleton. My friend Johnny Park and I used to laugh hysterically at each other as we attempted to duplicate that fancy salute he would make with the hand to signal us by the USMC entrance. As shown, those windshield decals became a source great pride among the surfing crowd to signify your status as a member of the SOSC over the years.
Dad had a routine we would usually follow on the weekends — leaving CdM in the morning in his 1948 Plymouth Woodie with the boards on top (Dad’s 10’+ Simmons Foam Sandwich and my 8’+ Dave Sweet “pop out”). Our first stop was the Laguna Beach Arts Festival grounds in Laguna Canyon, where Dad would play a couple sets of tennis with his good friend Jack Upton. I would pass that time somehow, constantly hoping it was match point. I knew they were done when the cold Tab came out over ice in the metal tennis cans.
Terry, Mike, Charlene, and Jack loading up the Woodie for a trip back home from Salt Lake City
“Aahhhh!” Dad would belt out after each gulp of Tab while working the three-speed column shift through the maze of Laguna Beach traffic. We were on our way to SanO! I would always keep a look out for the Laguna Beach Greeter in his red coat, who I just knew recognized me, as he would always give me that wink and point right at me. Then there was the car overturned up on a cliff by Poche Beach along Coast Highway, which I’d use as a marker that we were getting close. We made one final stop off the 5 freeway (Avenida Calafia) at the El Camino Market to buy some Mug Root Beer, Paraffin wax, the LA Times, and maybe a couple of grapes for nutrition. Tony Duynstee, the owner of the El Camino Market, was always there to cheerfully greet us at the cash register. Amazingly, I found Tony still there as if he never left when we took our kids in to show them the market almost fifty years later!
Here is an article on Tony and the market – which he finally sold to a real estate developer in 2013.
Tony Duynstee at the counter of El Camino Market summer 2012
Basilone Road was where we got our first taste of the surf overlooking trestles, and regardless of the conditions, my blood really started flowing at that point. Then the final hand wave by the USMC guard at the Camp Pendleton entrance and we were in! We parked at Old Man’s, where Dad knew the crowd, and set up base camp, which consisted of a “Coast Hardware” insignia beach chair, beach towels, the LA Times, and a foam ice chest preserving the Mug Root Beer and a couple of grapes.
Dad usually would check in with a few friends before suiting up to go in the water. Charley French is one we would often see. Both Charley and Dad were part of the Malibu crowd, who had survived WWII, and came back to surf at SanO in the summer months. There were no wetsuits back then, both of them worked together as Ski Patrolmen at Mount Waterman on weekends in the winter to get some free local skiing in.
Mom and her sister Kathryn suiting up [with Dad] for a powder day at Alta. Not quite sure how our Plymouth Woodie got there — but from the parking job it looks like there were other priorities.
Charley was my saving grace one day at SanO when I showed up, only to realize I had forgotten to put my surfboard on top of the car. He was nice enough to loan me one for the day without asking questions (about the new girlfriend I had brought along)…
In my younger days I had to wait even longer, as dad to go in surfing first, so he could watch me while I went in after. He was easy to pick out as he often would drag a foot on his turns, which I only now understood was from his days riding the heavy balsa wood boards, where you could literally use your foot as a rudder to help you turn. Not having much interest in reading the newspaper, my only distraction while waiting FOREVER for dad to get out of the water, was keeping an eye out for Lollie McCue’s daughter Candy to walk by. Anyone who was on the beach in those days would surely confirm that.
Once I got in the water I never wanted to get out, regardless of the surf conditions. But Old Man’s always seemed to have something to ride, as it is one of the more consistent breaks in Southern California, regardless of the tide. I don’t actually recall learning to surf, but can remember going out with Dad on his board and kneeling on the nose as he stood up and surfed when I was small. At times he would fall off and lose his board in to shore. He would tell me to dog paddle around until he swam in to get it and paddled back out to pick me up. Surfing with Dad was about as good as it got.
Back in those days SanO was a very unique environment in the water. People looked out after each other, brought loose boards back out (before the leash), talked socially in the water, and generally took care of anyone in need. One day when I was about ten years old I got hit in the head by my board and opened up a good cut next to my left eye. Dad carried me to shore over the rocks (cutting up his feet), and next thing I knew I was laying down in a van chewing on some kind of special black licorice (Novocain apparently not available) and getting eight stitches from a fellow surfer to close it up. I will always remember our doctor back home telling us what a good job they had done when he pulled the stiches out a week or so later. Only years later did I find out it was Dorian Paskowitz who had done the good work. I do remember Dad carrying a bottle of champagne in the car the next trip down for the Doc. That was just kind of how things worked at San Onofre – life in harmony.
Sunday School – San Onofre style
Word about the magic of the SOCS soon got out among the surfing community, and membership boomed to 508 members in 1958, 800 members in 1961, and topped out at 1,000 members in 1971 with a waiting list of 2,000. It was almost too good to be true, and many of my friends were bribing me to take them down with us. Having exclusive access to one of southern California’s most consistent surfing beach with a built-in social community lifestyle was pretty hard to beat. The SOSC was sort of a mini-civilization, with luaus, surfing and volleyball contests, good fishing off the surfboards, Bocce ball games, and even a Sunday school for the little ones! Everyone knew everyone, and they all watched out for each other. I remember Dad leaving the keys to our car in the ignition in the case someone had to move it to get in our out, and sometimes they would do just that!
Looking back now, it is easy to see that change was imminent. It really was too good to last in the midst of what was going on in our country at the time. First was the building of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 1968, just about a half mile south of Old Man’s beach. When fully functional, this plant had employed over 2,200 people, and became a prominent landmark because of its twin spherical containment buildings, designed to contain any unexpected releases of radiation.
Then, in 1969 Richard Nixon became the 37th U.S. president, setting up a residence near the famed surfing spot Trestles (about 1.5 miles north of Old Man’s), at the old Cotton’s estate (La Casa Pacifica). When Nixon was in town, the beach was off limits to everyone, especially to surfers. The SOSC was just far enough south to be safe to go in the water. There were a few surfers who could surf Trestles when Nixon was in town. One was Rolf Arness, son of SOSC member James Arness from the TV show Gunsmoke, who lived at Cottons Estate. Another was Corky Carroll, who apparently wrote a letter to the Secret Service explaining that he was a U.S. Surfing Champion and that he did his training there. And Surfer magazine founder John Severson happened to live in the house next door to Nixon!
I can remember being down on the beach at Trestles when Nixon was not in town and cameras had been set up on the beach near the railroad tracks (years ahead of the web cam) to keep an eye on us. We of course had lots of fun with that one, trying to keep our swim shorts on! But when Nixon was there the place was off-limits, no matter how good the surf. Armed Military Police (MPs) would be patrolling the beach in jeeps; a helicopter flying overhead, and an 85 foot Coast Guard ship was sitting just outside the surf line. It seemed to me Nixon always came to town when the good south swells were hitting.
Having Richard Nixon flying by the SOSC in his presidential helicopter on a regular basis was a sure sign national politics would get involved. The story I heard is that President Nixon looked down at SOSC members on the beach one day in flight and asked how these surfers had arranged to gain exclusive access to that beach, which happened to be on a U.S. Military base. I can imagine how that conversation went! Soon talks were in process around the creation of a new California State Park, and it was generally believed that President Nixon wanted it to be named after him.
I will never forget the day in 1971 when it was announced in that certain parcels of Camp Pendleton, including the entire SOSC beach, had been leased to the State of California for use as a state park and beach. It was deemed a presidential gift from Richard M. Nixon – but at least “San Onofre” took the name slot in place of Nixon…
I was a sophomore in High School at the time and felt like my world had just ended, as this surely meant the end of the SOSC as I knew it. My immediate thoughts were of the “valley tourists” (as we called them) who flooded Big Corona State beach in the summer, suddenly hanging out under the palm thatched shack at Old Mans with their boom boxes playing The Jackson 5, and no surfboard on the car. The dream of raising a family on that beach the way I had been raised, seemed to suddenly disappear like snow on a hot spring day.
As has been the history with the SOSC, a few heroes emerged to keep the club alive. One was then SOSC President Doug Craig, along with a small group of club members, who provided the dedicated leadership and guidance for the club to stay together and work with the State of California to preserve the beach for future generations. This story is well documented in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album (p. 59), “The End Of An Era”. But it gives me great pleasure to I take my kids down there today, and enjoy much of what we had growing up there in the 1960s.
Fab Four at SanO – Summer 2012
A fitting close to this era is a written in the 50th Commemorative Album on (p. 64): Tricky Dick Goes Surfing
“When Richard Nixon moved the “Western White House” to Cotton’s Point (north of The Trestle) in ’69, ‘Nofre was put in the spotlight more than ever. As a result, the Club was now on the verge of being stripped of its beach due to the all out political battle waged against it. Members had no choice but to play their hand. Bob Mardian (Nixon’s Attorney General at that time), was an enthusiastic and active member of the Club, and was considered an ace in the hole. Members increased the clean-up detail and suspended members who trespassed on Marine property at Trestles, trying to put on the very best face to the outside world. The SOSC even went so far as to make Nixon an “honorary member” with hopes of wooing his support for a status quo approach to ‘Nofre. Tricky Dick was scheduled to meet with them down at the SOSC beach, but, for unknown reasons, he never showed. In 1970, then Club president Doug Craig was permitted a 15-minute meeting with Nixon at the Western White House after Bob Mardian had pulled some strings. Craig believed he had Nixon’s backing after their talk. But a year later, Nixon did an about-face and handed San Onofre over to the state as a “Presidential Gift”. The San Onofre Surfing Club’s little-known book for members only, published in ’74, has a special tribute to Nixon in its closing pages: a picture of Craig standing next to an upright, driftwood log, with a giant middle finger carved into it. “He betrayed us,” says Craig.
Whatever viewpoint one takes on the decision, Nixon’s presence in the Western White House, just a short walk up the beach, brought a unique historical legacy to the Club. And it changed San Onofre forever.”
Here is a historical picture of the day Nixon was given his honorary membership to the SOSC in 1970 (L to R) Robert Mardian, Mike Hops, Richard Nixon, Dick Hoover, Julie Brown, Tony Mardian, Denise Tkach, Tom Turner, Billy Mardian, Rolf Arness, Tom Craig, and Doug Craig
Nixon’s honorary membership card and decal
Today, as I reflect on growing up at SanO and look at my children in the water at Old Mans, I dig my toes into the sand and appreciate how fortunate I was to have such a wonderful place to grow up. I always believed life at SanO was the way things were supposed to be. Looking back today, it was truly a remarkable experience.
A good way to sum up what San Onofre meant to me, is to quote from the Introduction to the “San Onofre Cookbook For Surfers”, which was published in 1973 to capture the essence of the many tailgate feasts. These took place to satisfy the enormous appetites, which naturally come about from a day in the water at SanO.
“Say San Onofre and you hear the sound of surf rolling in a long way, and smooth stones chuckling together in the shore break. As a place name, San Onofre has come to have deep meaning for a large group of men and their families who have surfed together for as long as thirty years at the same lovely, wild stretch of beach. The constancy of both surf and friendship has distilled a camaraderie that is as strong as the surfers are different… All this time, the beach has remained unspoiled, as delightful on a wind-swept winter’s day, as it is on July 4th, awash with dogs, kids, and cold drinks. Improvements in the name of comfort were avoided; no showers, no blacktop, no running water, no lifeguard stands. Out on the water, the surfers took care of each other. All problems could be brought to an open forum, a circle of beach chairs. Access to San Onofre depended on the good spirit of corporation with the Marine Corps, and two more unlikely groups never lived side by side.” Marion Haines, Polly Buckingham, Claire Shaver San Onofre Cookbook, 1973