“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.
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.
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).
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.
Thinking it was my son, even if just for a minute, gave me insight into the unimaginable pain of Ben’s family and friends.
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.
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
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.
** 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.
“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 …)
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.
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.
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!
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…
Matthew 5:12 (NIV)
** Resources **
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.
“Cowabunga dudes, let’s go surfing!”
I see a long strand of glittering white sand several hundred feet wide extending into the horizon. Perfect waves are rolling in like clock-work on both sides; right-facing waves on the left side of the strand and left-facing waves on the right. A perfect point break wave without a rock in sight. I am stupefied as I watch unbelievably clean barrels peel off in succession for as far as I can see! There is no lull. I cannot imagine a more ideal surfing spot.
As Uncle Charles, dad, and I step into the water on the left side of the strand I immediately notice its crystal-clear clarity. Lying on our boards ready to paddle out, the three of us are a picture of God’s joy. Beaming smiles in anticipation of what is to come. As the first wave rolls softly over me, the water has a sweet smell and flavor so appealing that I open my mouth to drink it in and am refreshed by its taste. The water is warm on my body and invigorating to my senses. The air feels the same. A gentle offshore breeze warms me from within. It feels right to be here; this is where I belong. It comforts me deep in my soul. I look down and notice I’m wearing my yellow “Hang Ten” surf trunks from my grammar school days. I chuckle to myself, thinking how much I love them.
We easily paddle around the breaking sections of each wave with Uncle Charles leading the way, even though there is a constant outpouring of flawless tubes going by. The interval between each wave seems to vary as if the ocean knows we are trying to get out, giving us a break when we need it. I gasp at the scene of all before me and give all the glory to God; only He could have orchestrated this.
As I paddle over a feathering lip I notice that the white water of the breaking wave is whiter than I have ever seen. Light of day is radiating from the water when a wave breaks, as if light-emitting plankton are on steroids! The contrast with the perfectly clear water is out of this world, like painting daylight onto the night sky.
Paddling is effortless, an underwater current is pulling me out. There is no drop-off in the ocean floor and no end to the strand of pure white sand; waves are breaking on the horizon as far out as I can see. The offshore breeze is blowing the breaking lip of the wave into a stunning rainbow of colors I have never seen. I pause to take it in and notice the symphony of music synchronizing to the pattern of the waves. It is all connected!
Below the surface are an extraordinary variety of plants, fish and glowing rock formations emitting more light. Watching a bright kaleidoscope of life in a fantasy of color as I paddle by. It reminds me of a coral reef in Hawaii, but so much more intense and vivid, as if I am seeing HDTV for the first time. I can’t take my eyes off of it. Dad and Charles are laughing as they see me try to take it all in. Dad calls out,
“It’s as if the earth was a black and white movie, Michael.”
I can’t resist diving off my board into the depth of the thirst-quenching water. Astonished, I can see perfectly and continue to breathe and laugh out loud underwater. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?” Fish of unimaginable varieties and sizes and colors swim up to me as if they are a part of the homecoming party. Its like LED lights within them are illuminating their brilliance. It is sensational to see and quite difficult to comprehend. Excitedly, I swim to the surface to tell Charles and dad; they look at me and laugh as they continue their paddle out. “Welcome to heaven!” Charles calls back.
I am well over a mile out from the surf shack, yet the sparkling sand of the strand is just a short distance from my position in the water. I feel no tiredness from the paddling, just invigorated and excited. I sit up on my board. There is a deep inner sense of peace and tranquility within me. There is no sun, but the air is warm on my skin and the golden glory of the sky is more powerful than a noonday summer sun in Hawaii. Clouds of unimaginable variety streak through the sky like a Matisse painting with a pallet of unlimited color. I could spend my life right here. I begin praising God for such a day:
Time is lost. I have no idea how long I am sitting on my surfboard and singing to God. It doesn’t matter. The ocean and I are one. I have no questions. Everything is good.
I look up to catch a view of dad crossing a beautiful peeling wave that is well overhead and feathering a rainbow of dazzling colors behind him. He drags his foot off the tail of his Simmons Foam Sandwich to make a sweeping bottom turn and lets out a hoot to me as he sails by. A sight to behold.
A large formation of white birds with golden streaked wings appears on top of the next wave coming. I know this is my wave, as I swivel my board around in anticipation. With a paddle I am all at once lifted up and rushing with the swell, sensing the tremendous speed and power as I drop in over the feathering lip. The offshore breeze fans a rainbow around me as the spray pelts my face with the sweet taste of the crystal water. The birds sweep into the sky in perfect unison, as if they are kicking out, giving me my first wave in heaven. I stand up and realize my balance is perfect and feet are firmly planted. There is no fear of falling. Exhilarating beyond my wildest dreams. I howl out my praises to God,
Ahhhooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!! How great thou art Lord!!!!
Howling without losing breath as I fly down the face of the wave and plot my first bottom turn, I look through the wave at a complex pattern of colors and lights below. It is as if I am gliding down a large glass mountain with the brilliance of the sea life below me lit up like a French cathedral at night. I carve a long effortless turn off the tail of my Hobie Super Mini and immediately am propelled forward even faster as I sense the wind in my face and see schools of fish lighting up the face of the wave ahead. In awe of the oneness I feel with my wave, I stare down the steep shoulder ahead with a sense of readiness for what is coming. Slicing a second turn off the lip of the wave I notice it is well overhead as the spray from my board blows off the lip in brilliant color.
I turn several more times, propelling up and down the wave when seven white dolphins with royal blue fins suddenly swim into the wave from behind. Like the Blue Angels, they are gliding effortlessly in perfect formation, as if they are leading the way for me. I seem to know they are angels from heaven; white as satin and magnificent in their size and beauty. They come in and out of the wave together, looking at me like they know my every move. It is magnificent to see their beautiful symmetry and the elegance at which they are surfing the wave. I follow their lead, turning with them as we zig-zag back and forth on the wave. They are laughing. I am laughing too! We make more turns than I can count, enjoying the perfect harmony of God’s creation. God’s animals are part of His plan for eternity. It is heavenly! The music praises God and we savor His creation.
The wave transforms into a soft shoulder and I jet out ahead of the break to carve a cutback that makes a complete half circle around the dolphins. They jump into the air in perfect formation. I have never seen anything like it; I howl as I crank a floater off the brilliant white water and turn back into the face of the wave building up again along the strand. The sand is glimmering in the shore break like diamonds as I fly by faster than I have ever gone on a surfboard.
The dolphins take another jump in unison before making their exit. I crank another bottom turn as I go deeper into the curl and in an instant everything around me turns bright florescent green. I am getting barreled as I maintain just enough speed to stay ahead of the peeling lip. I sense no danger of wiping out. I just go, firmly planted on my board as the surge of the wave propels me forward into a dense cloud of green spray, enveloping me. I am able to sense every cell in my body. Suddenly I am flying out of the tube onto a soft shoulder like a fireball shot out of a cannon. My face is frozen with an ear-to-ear smile. I want to tell the Hodads about the green room in heaven!
Shooting across the shoulder onto open water like a water skier I leave the breaking section of the wave behind. I do not slow down as I crank another bottom turn on the open sea, looking ahead to see the surf shack in front of me. Mom is watching from the shore with her patented Charlene smile looking as though she is at Malibu in 1953. I make my final cut back on flat water toward shore to carry me onto the soft white sand as the cool crystal water rushes up the beach.
I feel more alive than ever. All my worries, anxieties, and concerns are gone. Finally, I am home. This is where I belong. Halleluiah Lord Jesus!
I ponder at how this changes everything. This is indeed the life that God intended. Oh, how my life on earth would have changed if I had truly believed the glorious wonder of what God had waiting for me in heaven. I am overwhelmed with such joy and gratitude and love for a God who could provide such perfection. I want to go back and shout the truth of it all.
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…
Matthew 5:12 (NIV)
** Authors Note **
In my earlier blog “Begin with the end in mind”, I discussed a life better than we can ever imagine awaiting us in Heaven. The very best we may have experienced here on Earth will pale in comparison to what God has planned for us in eternity. Most of us really do want to go to Heaven, and I believe God desires for us to use our imagination to anticipate the beauty and wonder and joy of what awaits us there.
In Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV), Jesus commands us to set our hearts and minds on heaven above:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
** Resources **
Of all the books on heaven that I have referenced, this one was the most captivating to me. Published in 1898, Springer writes of an experience or dream she had while seriously ill in a care facility. It is a short read and quite beautifully written telling how she was able to experience the renewed earth. For me, it reads like poetry of the life that awaits us in heaven.
“ Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.”
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.
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.
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)
** 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.”
“Be faithful, and leave the results to God.”
In between surf sessions, I love to run.
The physical joy and mental relief running has provided me over the years is immeasurable. Going out on a run provides the perfect sanctuary. My Silicon Valley career was built around those early morning runs in Rancho San Antonio and noontime runs on the Baylands Trails around San Francisco Bay. It is during those runs that I am able to be alone to let my mind go from immediate concerns to discover the deep inner joy of pushing my physical limits while soaking in the fresh air and nature around me. Running has deeply enriched my life!
I caught the marathon bug in the late 1970s when the running boom was hitting full stride. I started running a couple of marathons a year while slowly shaving down my times to qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon, where my running idol Bill Rodgers was racking up the victories. Running Boston is the ultimate prize for the “average Joe” marathoner. You feel like a rock star for all 26.2 miles.
Most runners would probably agree that the marathon is the ultimate challenge in running. Imagine hitting each of your legs with a hammer for every one of the 55,000 footsteps it takes to cover 26.2 miles. By the time you reach the 20-mile point (in my view, “halfway”), a bear jumps onto your back to add to the experience. The triumphant joy and subsequent relief you feel upon finally crossing that finish line is indescribable. It can cause me to ball like a baby. Nothing compares to it.
Our life is a marathon.
I see two important similarities between life here on earth and the marathon. First is speed. If you go out too fast, eventually you will blow up. I will bet on it. One must maintain a steady pace that matches an intended (and realistic) finishing time, or else… The goal is to keep that pace for the entire 26.2 miles, which is harder than it sounds. My worst example of this was the 1994 California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento where I ran the first 20 miles nearly 30 seconds per mile faster than my targeted pace. I decided I was having a good day.
I stopped for a cup of water at mile 20 and that was it. I was done … until about mile 25, when a friend (Paul Fick) encouraged me to shuffle it in for the home stretch. I think I had two bears on my back! At one point a guy called out to me from the balcony of his home:
“Dude, You’re going to need a new pair of shoes before you finish if you keep that up!”
I did not think that was funny. I was a physical wreck for several days after. The experience completely humbled me.
This pacing principle also applies to life. Life is not a sprint; but more of a marathon. However, most today will admit to going too fast. Even kids realize this. Technology is stealing any margins we have had and enabling us to do more than our bodies (and brains) were designed for. Like the marathon, if we don’t Slow Down, eventually we crash. I’ve seen it many times over my career, and often it is not a pretty sight.
One well-documented version of this was a story told by former Google CIO Douglas C. Merrill in his book, “Getting Organized in the Google Era”. Douglas was in charge of taking Google public with their IPO in 2004, where he admitted to overworking and not taking care of his physical needs; he was too busy for that. In spite of all the warning signs his body was giving him (intense headaches, vertigo, not sleeping well, and losing 35 pounds), it was not until the day Google rang the bell on Wall Street after their IPO that Douglas realized he had crashed. As he told the story in his book, he was getting into a cab on Wall Street with two female colleagues when they looked at him in horror, “as if his eyes were bleeding”. One of them immediately handed him her compact mirror, and the blood vessels in his eyes actually had burst and his eyes were in fact bleeding! In his words, “it was a miracle my brain did not burst.” Needless to say, he took an extended leave from Google after that.
As a professional life coach, my passion is to improve the capacity of my client to integrate work and life, while adjusting to a pace they can maintain for the long-term view. It is mostly about slowing down. I found out myself just how difficult that can be when I was riding my own express-train-to-success. I see now that there is no slowing that train down; I had to get off! Getting “downsized” was not exactly how I would have planned it, but I now look back and view that as a gift from God. (see “Taking off the leash in life” for that story).
The Finish Line
Second is our focus on the all-important finish line. The marathon requires a singular focus on the finish line banner. Nothing else can matter. All the rewards of your efforts are waiting for you there. The euphoria of crossing that line is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into it. You need to run as if you are a racehorse with blinders on. To look at or think about anything beyond is simply a distraction that can cause you to lose concentration and potentially crash. Gabriela Andersen-Schiess’ (Switzerland) staggering finish in the inaugural Women’s Marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles exemplifies this extraordinary effort: click “Watch on YouTube”
I have never felt more joy and love at the end of the marathon than I did when my son Matthew and I embraced at the finish of the 2016 St. George Marathon (his first!). The tears were flowing. It was a wondrous moment as we bear hugged each other drenched in the sweat of our efforts. We savored the victory together. Marathon’s don’t get any better than that.
“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
What awaits me at the finish line of life will be way beyond anything I can experience here on earth. My heart’s desire is to cross that finish line in this life and hear, “Well done good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23 NIV). I wrote about it in Opening Day in Paradise. That triumph of crossing the finish line into heaven is something I can only wonder about. In the words of Randy Alcorn, author of the book titled “Heaven”:
“The day I die will be the best day I ever lived.”
How can I know this?
It just boils down to faith. Marathon Faith.
I view it as a sure thing. The Bible is very clear on Heaven, it is mentioned over 500 times. The book of Revelation paints a particularly stunning description at the end of the Bible when heaven and earth come together as one. Heaven is as clear a finish line at the end of life as the 26.2-mile banner is to the marathoner. I refuse to think about any other option. I have my horse blinders on. Heaven is the finish line that really matters. Life here on earth is simply a dress rehearsal for the production that will go on forever in heaven.
If you are a bit skeptical, I have compiled a short list of books (Books on Heaven-v4), which might help. They are written by people who claim to have visited heaven and received a glimpse of what God has in store for us. They are fascinating reads, regardless of your views on the Bible. I recommend reading them as fictional novels (versus non-fiction), and think you will find that they offer hope and intrigue of what lies beyond our conscious life here on earth. It is a mystery that these experiences happen to people. The Bible is our only source of truth. For me, these stories are fun to read and allow my imagination to run on what will it be like to cross that finish line.
Prior to the 1984 summer Olympics in L.A., there was no women’s marathon in the Olympics. Long distance endurance events were determined to be too strenuous for women (see: The Fight To Establish The Women’s Race). I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles and witnessed Joan Benoit’s (U.S.A.) shocking victory as she literally blew by us at mile 13, demonstrating that racehorse-with-blinders focus and determination (pictures I took below). Benoit and Grete Waitz were the top two women marathoner’s in the world coming into the Olympic marathon in L.A. They had even traded world record times in the London and Boston marathons in 1983 (one day apart!).
Benoit surprised everyone by making her move at the 3-mile mark near the first of five designated water stations (as I remember it, she bypassed that water stop to gain ground on the pack). Grete Waitz (Norway; silver metal; 1:26 behind) felt certain she would catch Benoit before re-entering the Coliseum as the temperatures in L.A. were approaching 80 degrees. Waitz was a five-time New York City Marathon champion at the time and had won every marathon she had entered up to that day.
A timeline leading up to the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon demonstrates how remarkable Benoit’s achievement was, including her shocking win at the Olympic Trials Marathon, just 17 days after arthroscopic surgery on her knee:
- April 17, 1983: Grete Waitz sets the world record at the London Marathon in 2:25:28
- April 18, 1983: Joan Benoit sets a new world record at the Boston Marathon in 2:22:43 (+1 day)
- April 25, 1984: Joan Benoit underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee (“unable to run”)
- May 12, 1984: Joan Benoit wins the women’s Olympic Trials marathon in 2:31:04 (+17 days)
- August 5, 1984: Joan Benoit wins the inaugural women’s Olympic Marathon in 2:24:52
Gabriela Andersen-Schiess ran for her home country Switzerland, even though she was living in Sun Valley, Idaho (as a ski instructor) where she continues to lead an active lifestyle today. She finished the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon in 37th place out of 44 finishers (2:48:42) and admitted to missing the 5th (final) water station. She suffered from heat exhaustion and dehydration but was not hospitalized. Gabriela won her two previous marathons coming into the Olympic Marathon (just two months apart):
- Twin Cities Marathon (October 2, 1983 – 2nd running)
- California International Marathon (December 4, 1983 – inaugural)
Joan Benoit held the fastest time for an American woman in the marathon for 32 years after winning the 1985 Chicago Marathon in 2:21:21. Her world record in the 1983 Boston Marathon was the fastest time by an American woman at that race for 28 years. On the 40th anniversary of her first Boston Marathon win, Joan ran the 2019 Boston Marathon (with her daughter Anna) in 3:04:00, finishing first in the female 60-64 age group by nearly nine minutes.
Grete Waitz won 13 out of 20 Marathons she entered, including nine NYC Marathons, two London Marathons, and five World Cross Country Championships. She completed her last marathon (New York City Marathon) in 1992 with her friend Fred Lebow, in celebration of his 60th birthday, after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Waitz also died of cancer on April 19, 2011, at the age of 57.
Duel in the Sun: Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America’s Greatest Marathon by John Brant
This book covers the agony and ecstasy of the marathon race in excruciating detail. John Brant chronicles the 1982 Boston Marathon from start to finish where American’s Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley fought it out side-by-side in one of the most epic marathon battles of all time. The first half of the book covers their struggles of getting to the starting line, and the second half reviews how each of their lives was permanently impacted by their extreme efforts on that hot and muggy Patriots Day in 1982.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight
Plain and simple, this book is a fantastic read about how Phil Knight founded and launched Nike into one of the world’s most recognized brands. But inside that story are a lot of wonderful details about how the Eugene became TrackTown USA in the 1960s, soon after Phil ran for the University of Oregon under the tutelage of Bob Bowerman, who became Phil’s business partner. Bowerman in my mind is the hero of the story and gets my vote as the single person most responsible for inspiring the 1970s running boom.
A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever by Bruce Wilkinson
The Bible teaches that everything I do in my life here on this earth is impacting my life in Heaven for eternity. Bruce Wilkinson wrote a wonderful book on this topic. He connects the dots between what you are doing today and what you will experience after you die. It is a quick read and guaranteed to get you thinking more about how what you do today really matters. Forever!
I wrote more on this topic in Heaven Can’t Wait.
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Like the microprocessor in Silicon Valley, the sport of surfing was forever changed by the invention of the surf leash. The simple idea of tying your foot to your surfboard with a rubber cord eliminated any repercussions of wiping out on a wave and losing your board. The ripple effect of this was a fundamental reshaping of the sport over the next decade.
Before the leash, surfing not only mandated good swimming and paddling skills, but it required a more conservative approach to the wave you were riding. If you fell and lost your board into the beach, the consequences included a swim in to the beach, a more difficult paddle back out (against incoming waves), and maybe a couple hours in your garage doing ding repair if rocks or another person’s board got involved. Surfing in the 60’s included a lot of swimming, paddling, and ding repair.
According to Corky Carroll in his article “Humble beginnings of surf leash”, Pat O’Neill, son of famous wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill, is generally acknowledged for inventing the modern surf leash in 1971. A lost board at Steamer’s Lane meant almost certain death on the rocks, so it is easy to see how that came about. Interestingly, the surf leash is how Jack O’Neill lost his left eye, as the early versions were made from a surgical cord that would shoot the board back faster than you wanted after a wipeout. Ouch!
With the invention of the leash, short boards quickly evolved (from long boards) as a new slash-and-tear style of surfing emerged that required minimal foot movement on the surfboard. Suddenly there was no penalty for trying something beyond your abilities on a wave as the surf leash began a revolution of what was possible while riding a wave. It was analogous to the safety net of the flying trapeze artists.
For those of us who had grown up surfing without a leash, this new invention was not all good news. My friends and I called it the “kook cord”. Most troublesome was the increase in crowds, as nobody had to swim in for their board when they fell. It was as if the entire skateboarding community suddenly was able to surf and never lost their board when they wiped out. It also brought people out at breaks they had no right to be surfing, giving them a false sense of security on waves they would normally not even try and catch. Paddling out even became a challenge if you were navigating through the kelp.
Today, when conditions allow, I love to leave the leash behind. I immediately feel a sense of freedom and relief from the safety belt effect of having this plastic cord tied to my leg. This is how I learned, how it seems surfing should be. There is an exciting sense of risk and danger in trying a difficult move (like “hanging five”), knowing you could lose your board to the beach if you fall. It gives me the freedom to move up and down the board without hindrance or danger of getting tangled on the cord. My surfboard becomes a part of me that I will hang on to at all costs if I do fall or go through a big wave. The exhilaration (“stoke”) of a good long ride without a leash takes on greater joy, often kicking out with a brief howl to awaken my soul. It takes me back to my roots of who I am as a surfer and reminds me how the ocean has been a part of my growth as a human being. Through that process I have become a stronger and better surfer, it’s a wonderful thing. It’s about life; learning and developing as we take our spills each day.
Taking off the leash in life
After 25 years in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley, I took a one-year sabbatical to become a certified New Ventures West Integral Coach®, or in more common terms, a Professional Life Coach. Those 12 months were all about taking off my leash and learning to live daringly without the Oracle security blanket. If you read Hit over the head by a 2×4, you know that I had been riding the Silicon Valley Express train that had me so wound up on a daily basis, that I lost track of who I was. I didn’t have time for that!
This change in lifestyle was dramatic for me and my family. In my New Ventures West coaching class, it became clear that I had to grow and develop myself before I could become proficient at coaching others. We were taught about “island hopping”, which is the natural progression of humans to constantly strive to get ahead in life by building a bigger and faster boat to get you to the next island of your dreams. A Tony Robbins term for this is “CANI” (constant and never-ending improvement). It’s what Silicon Valley is all about. I’ll always remember the picture drawn on the whiteboard in our class of a stick figure man on the left ==> a body of water in the middle ==> and an island on the right, with the comment: “Constantly trying to get life to turn out in the future.” There’s no time to be present. God forbid we stop and smell the roses. We just look ahead to the next island and start designing the next boat to get there. Faster. And life is passing us by.
That 12-month break from the Silicon Valley Express train allowed me to remove my leash to experience the freedom and joy of who I really am. I’d be lying if I told you it was easy. I fall a lot these days, but am learning to enjoy the swim and gaining strength from the experience, knowing that I am growing along the way. I feel a sense of freedom I have not felt in years. I am learning to listen deeply and let life teach me where I want to go. It is a marvelous thing. My coaching is all about helping you to take your leash off and give it a try. It can be a life-changing experience. Here are a few testimonials from my clients who have been brave enough to take the plunge.
Bronnie Ware took off her leash and learned to live a life around who she found herself to truly be. This book is a memoir about her journey, which led her to care for the needs of the dying. What was most interesting to me was how her life was transformed by that experience of tending to those who were in their final days on this earth. The top five regrets were interesting, but what I admired in Bronnie’s story was her honesty about too many years doing unfulfilling work and how she was able to break that mold to live the life she felt she was called to. This is not a Christian pilgrimage, but a simple retelling of how one can learn to listen carefully to our internal compass in life.
Here is a quick recap of the “Top Five Regrets” verbatim off her website (in case you were curious):
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
“Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you.”
For all surfers, the thought of riding the perfect wave and capturing it on film is something we dream about. So when my wife Marla asked me what I wanted for my 50th birthday (many moons ago), my immediate thought was to film a surfing movie with my “old” surfing buddies to recapture some of those glorious feelings about surfing!
I had been major stoked my previous three birthdays in early January surfing large Pacific storm swells at Steamers Lane on waves that never seemed to end. Steamers Lane at low tide on a strong January northwest swell is something you have to experience to understand how good it can be. It is a thick and powerful wave, which can go on longer than any ever ridden in my years of surfing. To ride a wave at Steamers all the way from outside around the point at Indicators and into Cowell’s Beach is a big-time thrill. With a minus low tide, you can walk most of the way back out on the sand to the point for a short paddle out. Since the rain-soaked storms in January were almost as guaranteed as the frigid water, this seemed to be a plan without fail for a real surfing movie.
With Marla’s support, I immediately contacted four close friends from my past whom I knew would be excited about the idea:
- Mark Magiera – I grew up with Mark in CdM (since 3rd grade), roomed together on Goldenrod Avenue, and shared many experiences surfing together and hanging out at 507 Marguerite Avenue (see Corona del Mar and Growing Up). Mark led me to Hollister Ranch, back when you could have your VW bus parked on the bluff at Rights and Lefts, which is exactly what we did! Mark, unfortunately, had a conflict and had to bow out of the HODADS filming.
- John Park – Founder of Clear Spirit Surfboards, John frequented San Onofre with my dad and I back in the late 1960’s when surfing really was about all we talked about (well, almost). Johnny led me to surfing adventures in our many trips to Baja back in the seventies and eighties and was a member of the infamous Mexican Miracle (see The Power of Prayer).
- Jack Schott – Jack was another former roommate who shared many a good day with me in the water, as well as being my loyal tennis partner. Jack was the best surfer I knew, and always seemed to stay out longer and catch more waves than I, in spite of having ten years on me! Jack came down with a horrible cold that weekend, sitting out one day, and then borrowing Gary Irving’s 10mm dive suit to finally get in for some action. And he still out-surfed us!
- John Davis – John was my one and only Silicon Valley high tech surfing bro at Sun Microsystems. Also 10 years my senior (are you kidding me!?), John and his wife Deb built the dream surf cottage on 38th Street in Santa Cruz with its own quiver room and a hot outdoor shower (with a bench seat to help extract the wetsuit). I am eternally indebted to them for that shower, as it is the only way I can get out of my wetsuit on a cold winter day. On our second day of filming John was not feeling well, and not catching waves. He left suddenly, drove home shivering and feeling chest pain. Long story short, he soon was in the Emergency room diagnosed with a heart attack. He had an angiogram that day to install a stint in the blocked artery! Not kidding.
- Gary Irving – was our key to this entire project as cinematographer and producer. I believe God sent Gary to us to do HODADS. He immediately understood what we were trying to accomplish and proceeded to invest untold hours into the final production of our movie, giving it the vital spark we were looking for. Considering the wave situation (see below), Gary did an unbelievable job producing what will someday be remembered as the surf movie to end all surf movies (pun intended). Unbeknownst to us, later that year in 2005 Gary married Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman.
Huh? He never mentioned that one…
Despite some objections from the peanut gallery, I decided to title the movie “HODADS”, which in surfer terminology is a surfer without much skill (aka “kook!”). When you bring together five surfers whose combined ages cover some 270 years, I realized it would be serious HODAD surfing whether we wanted to admit it or not.
Gary filmed HODADS on the weekend of January 14th, 2005. As luck would have it, we had a freak lull for the entire weekend. Steamer’s Lane was so flat there was not a single surfer in the water on Saturday. So we pinned Gary and his camera equipment into a hotel room with unlimited pizza and beer to spend the entire day recording each of us recalling our early surfing days. On the second day, Gary let us in on a secret spot in Monterey Bay that “always had surf”. In fact, he was right! So we did get a couple decent surf sessions for Gary to film.
As John Wooden liked to say “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”
This movie was all about being stoked with good friends, sharing some of our most precious times together, and enjoying God’s creation.
There are two parts to HODADS (the movie):
- Part I – HODADS (surfing): 10:40
- Part II – HODADS (surf stories): 12:50
“When we work, we work, but when we pray, God works.”
To a young surf grom growing up just a few blocks from the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960’s (see Corona del Mar and Growing Up), Bruce Brown’s epic surf movie “The Endless Summer” had a deep-rooted effect on me. Brown had done the unthinkable at that time, poetically documenting every surfer’s ultimate dream on film, in an around-the-world quest to find the perfect wave. And find it they did, at Cape St. Francis in South Africa! I was eleven years old when it came out in 1966, and by the time I entered high school, our surfing sojourns across the border into Baja helped keep my childhood dream alive.
I don’t remember ever actually praying to God for surf back then. It just didn’t occur to me to call on God for waves. We might sacrifice a surfboard or two down at Big Corona to wake up the surf gods during a long drought, but prayer was not really a thought.
However, there was one prayer around this quest for the perfect wave that stuck with me — for life. It was the first time I can remember actually calling on God for help. It made such an impression on me that I can remember it as if it happened yesterday, but in fact, it was almost 50 years ago.
In 1970 I was fifteen years old and heading into summer vacation after my freshman year at Corona del Mar High School. Surfing buddies John Park, Craig Barrett and Danny Moore had come up with a plan for finding that elusive wave deep in mainland Mexico. The furthest I had ventured on previous surfing trips was K181, which was an hour or so south of Ensenada (181 kilometers south of the border at Tijuana). These guys had come up with a new twist to our summer trek into Baja. Their idea was to go all the way to Mazatlan, over 1,000 miles south of the border into mainland Mexico! The four of us simply told our parents we were “going to Mexico for a couple weeks”. Baja and Mazatlan are both in Mexico, right? Without cell phones, the Internet, or any other means of staying in touch, we ventured ahead without considering the risks.
Next I know we are stuffing Craig’s orange 1964 Chevy van with supplies. We had enough canned food to feed an army, 8-track tapes of “Santana” and “Deju Vu” (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), large speakers we stole from Johnny’s sister’s bedroom for the back of the van, two beach chairs for back seats so we could remove the van seats for more storage, tools, duct tape (our most valuable asset!), water, Paraffin wax, camping supplies, Johnny’s father’s 8mm movie camera, and a first aid kit (Band-Aids, Bactine and some Tincture Benzoin in case it was something serious). The four boards on top included two Hobie Super-Mini’s (picture of mine), which were the prized possessions of Johnny and me.
Next stop Mazatlan! Or, so we thought…
This was clearly an extreme outing for me. Parallels to my dad joining WWII at that age aside (see “Malibu and The Greatest Generation”), I felt like I was blasting off for the moon as we shoved off from CdM, with just a few people aware of our intended destination. Whatever we lacked in experience we surely made up for in our zeal to search for perfect waves on a deserted beach in Mazatlan. The whole thing could best be summed up by my favorite word, at that time: totally “bitchen”.
Not even to the Mexican border yet before Craig’s van starting showing signs of trouble. What!?… We pulled over to a gas station to send a mechanic under the hood only to find out that it was two and a half quarts low on oil. LOL. Minor oversight.
Shortly after, that we hit our second snag at the border crossing in Tecate. I remember well a sign as one approached the guard at the gate that said: “No Long Hairs Allowed”. Are you kidding me?! They weren’t. “Go home amigo!” Our dreams almost ruined, we reviewed our map and decided to target the next border crossing to the east at Mexicali – a mere two-hour drive away. This time we did some strategic planning and went into a gas station bathroom before the border to doctor up our hair with bobby pins, water and a lot of finesse. It was then that Johnny and I thought we saw Raquel Welch, but that story is a bit of a diversion…
Sure enough, we sailed right through the border with our clean-cut all-American look! We felt as though nothing could stop us now as we barreled into the Mexican desert with the sun setting and Carlos Santana singing “Black Magic Women” to four teenagers who felt like they had just hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.
A third snag (feeling as though we were snake bit) suddenly appeared in the form of a Mexican Federale at a Turista checkpoint station just as we were relaxing after the great escape from the Mexicali border guards. Checkpoints were something we were used to in Baja, as they often just wanted to terrorize you with a couple questions and check your glove compartment for marijuana. Usually with a machine gun in hand. But this guy was different. He was quite serious and telling us in very few words to “Vete a casa” (go home!). Holy COW, he’s not kidding! Apparently, this thing called a “Turista” sticker had to be on our car to travel into mainland Mexico from the U.S. Of course, this was news to us. In an instant, our dreams of a “Mexican Endless Summer” were coming to an abrupt and terrible end.
The Mexican Miracle
The four of us regrouped in Craig’s van. I can remember a few tears being shed, as this indignant Federale appeared to be enjoying sending these rich white boys from the U.S. with their long hair back home. Then out of the blue, Johnny blurts out that we should pray to God. I remember thinking that was the stupidest idea in the world. How the heck was a prayer going to help? We were done! This guy was not budging, and we definitely did not have a Turista sticker. I was already wondering what we’d do with all the canned food…
As it was, we were desperate and willing to try anything, so the next thing I know the four of us are bowing our heads and praying in the car for a miracle to happen. I can’t remember the specifics. I don’t think we prayed that this guy would die or anything. I believe it was something holy, like “God, please help us, we want to surf the perfect wave in Mazatlan”… I do remember the outcome quite clearly. Out of nowhere, we came up with this hair-brained idea of waving a $20 bill in front of this guy to see if he was willing to take a bribe to let us go. Pretty risky stuff, seeing how he was the one wearing the badge and gun, and all we really had going for us was enough gas in the tank to get back across the border before we got in any more trouble.
It was Craig who we put up to the task, since he was the oldest, by at least a few months. Craig was pretty nervous (we all were!) as we walked back from the car to this guys office. Craig starts scratching his face with the $20 between his fingers, afraid to just hold it out to the guy as an offer. I’m thinking, “what the heck is Craig doing?!” when suddenly the Federale lights up with a smile, and we all immediately knew it had worked! He took the bait, slapped the Turista sticker on our car, and sent us on our way. “Soul Sacrifice” from Carlos Santana blasting! As we plunge into the darkening desert sky on Mexican asphalt, I leaned back in my beach chair marveling at what a trip this was going to be. “Bitchen”.
That prayer had a lasting effect on me. Whether or not God or the Holy Spirit had anything to do with answering it, it stuck with me that in that moment of hopelessness we could look to God for help, even if what seemed to be insurmountable odds weighed against us. I will never forget that moment.
The Power of Prayer
Prayer has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my Christian life. Not just “answered” prayers, although I do love those. But the way prayer has helped me to handle life’s many ups and downs through my dialogs with God. I have said many times, 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 who I want to become.
I have wonderful stories of how God has heard and acted on my prayers. Several years ago I started writing my prayers (in a Bible) to keep track of them. It has been fascinating to see God at work over the years. One prayer especially dear to me involves a men’s discipleship group I was involved in for two years through our church. The twelve men in this group grew very close as we studied, dined, and hung out together. Meeting every week to learn how to study God’s word, we always devoted time to praying for each other’s needs in life. With all of us having small kids, new marriages, and just launching our careers, there was never a shortage of things to pray for!
Fast forward eight years and we had all gathered as sort of a reunion at one of our leaders’ homes to pray for a serious recent injury. After praying for our friend’s healing, we got caught up on what was going on with everyone in the eight or so years since we had last been together. As each of the men provided an update, I was beginning to get goosebumps on the back of my neck. It was clear that God had been at work on what we had prayed so diligently for over those two years of our study. It was remarkable to see what He had done eight years later. We all became quite emotional as we realized how faithful God had been. But each admitted it had happened so gradually, and often in ways we had not expected, that we hadn’t really connected the dots to all that time in prayer together. We finished that night with a prayer of praise to God for his faithfulness.
While that is a story I love to tell, I also believe that prayer has also frustrated me at times. My inability to see how God is working in certain difficult situations has been quite perplexing. I know I’m not the only one feeling that way. Sometimes, we don’t feel God is hearing our prayers, but perhaps He does and it takes our whole lives to understand. God works all things for good (I look forward to understanding more once I get to Heaven).
I recently read a wonderful book on prayer that really helped me: “Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God” by Bill Hybels. Bill explains in very simple terms not only how to pray, but why prayers may not actually be getting a direct response from God. It has greatly impacted my prayer life to better understand this. He sums it up by emphasizing our need to focus on God, versus the mountain we are trying to move through our prayers:
“Faith comes by looking at God, not at the mountain.”
In Hybels’s words: “The heart and soul of the Christian life is learning to hear God’s voice and then developing the courage to do what he asks us to do.” This is a life-long journey, but something I am committed to. It has fit well into my coaching practice; as Hybels is saying that our prayer life is a two-way conversation. Often I am just pouring out my problems and forgetting to stop and listen and understand what He might be trying to tell me. This time of listening to God has been very precious, and I now understand is key to my understanding 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 air at my favorite surf spot 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!
Hybels has so very many gems in this book about prayer. I strongly encourage you to read it. He sums it up:
If the request is wrong, God says, “No”.
If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow”.
If you are wrong, God says, “Grow”.
But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, “Go”.
In closing, here are three of my favorite verses from the Bible on prayer:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.”
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Epilogue to the Mazatlan trip:
At our 40th high school reunion a few years back, a woman approached me and claimed to remember our trip to Mazatlan in 1970. I was astonished! Apparently, her family was in Mazatlan on vacation at the time we arrived, and ran into John Park and heard the story of our surfing safari adventure. After seeing Johnny, her dad pulls her aside to say: “I can’t believe their parents allowed them to drive down here!?” And of course, she replied: “Dad, their parents don’t know.”
We never did find the perfect wave in Mazatlan. Ok, but we had lots of fun and many good stories to tell our friends on our arrival back home. We made a few wrong turns on our way, even bumping into the Sea of Cortez and thinking for an instant we were at the Pacific Ocean. There was one more mechanical breakdown of the van deep into the jungle that required another Mexican mechanic. After a long wait, it was solved when Danny Moore put water in the battery. Ha! We encountered locust swarms across the highway and many seemingly endless detour signs (“Desviación”) sending us off the paved highway for miles at a time into the jungle. Finally, three days later we arrived at the main beach in Mazatlan for our first surf session. Turns out Craig’s van did not lock, so we had to watch it as we paddled out for our first session. The water was so unexpectedly warm (over 80 degrees!) the Paraffin wax for our surfboards was melting, making foot traction on the board quite challenging.
We set up base camp at a campground in town and proceeded to explore around Mazatlan and the surrounding area for perfect waves, to no avail. At one point we might have found our secluded beach with wave potential. We ventured out and suddenly a huge bat ray flew out of the water right next to me with a large splash. I paddled into shore faster than I ever paddled in my life! And never went back out there. That kind of stuff did not happen in Southern Cal… It really spooked me.
The fun lasted just a little over a week before getting clobbered by Montezuma’s Revenge, coincidentally just as a hurricane off the Pacific was clobbering the coast of Mexico. For me, it was the perfect storm.
A final memory of Mazatlan 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. Without seeing anything, I stepped on some kind of live creature with my bare foot. It cracked like a crab, and then crawled off injured like some kind of giant prehistoric spider. Adios amigo! I am outta here! We left the next day. All important on the way home was how great a McDonald’s burger would taste after crossing the border in San Diego.
Upon arrival back in So Cal, we discovered the film in the 8mm video camera had been exposed after opening the camera. Our Mazatlan movie was gone, and none of us had a single picture from the experience. But we were more focused on the adventure of it all than trying to document it. The memories and stories are better kept in our minds. It was a trip for the ages. And it taught me the power of a prayer.
I emailed a friend who I knew traveled to Mazatlan in those days to see if he had any photos. Though he is ten years my senior, Jack Schott is a former Surfing Magazine cover boy who to this day out surfs me every time we go (including last weekend at San Onofre). Jack told me a story about going to Mazatlan in 1964 with three friends and dragging a trailer to carry their longboards, which were big and heavy back then. Their trip ended suddenly when they were thrown into a prison in Mazatlan for lighting off fireworks from their hotel balcony. Jack claims, “It was the other guys doing that”. Ha. They barely scraped together enough money to pay their way out of the prison and flee town just as a police car was coming to get them for further damage to their hotel room.
“Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God” by Bill Hybels
I combine my time of sitting/meditation with a time of prayer in the early morning to connect with God. This book changed my views on how I should be praying. Hybels is saying that our prayer life is a two-way conversation. Often I am just pouring out my problems and forgetting to stop and listen and understand what He might be trying to tell me. This time of listening to God has been very precious, and I now understand is key to my understanding how God might be working in my life, especially when I don’t see a direct response to my earnest prayers.