19. Surfing Without a Leash

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
-Bronnie Ware (1)

While the world’s first microprocessor (2) was catalyzing the personal computer revolution in Silicon Valley, the sport of surfing was forever changed by the invention of the surf leash. I was a sophomore in high school when I first saw a surf leash in action (at Swami’s Beach in Encinitas). I was stupefied! The idea of tying your foot to your surfboard with a rubber cord virtually eliminated any repercussions of wiping out on a wave and losing your board. It quickly became a de facto standard for surfers, which helped drive a significant transformation of the sport over the next decade. Most in the water today have never surfed without a leash.

Before the leash, surfing not only mandated good swimming and paddling skills, but also required a more cautious approach to the wave you were riding. If you fell and lost your board, the backlash could include a long swim in (after some cussing and swearing), paddling back out against incoming waves, and potentially an afternoon in your garage doing ding repair (if rocks or other surfboards got involved). Growing up surfing in the 60s included a lot of swimming, paddling, and ding repair. It was how we learned!

Pat O’Neill, son of acclaimed wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill, is generally acknowledged for inventing the modern surf leash in 1971.(3) In those days, a lost board at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz meant almost certain death on the rocks, so it is easy to understand his motivation. The surf leash is also how Jack O’Neill lost his left eye. The early versions were made from a coiled surgical cord that would shoot the board back like a bullet after a wipeout. Ouch! I imagine Jack shouldered his share of, “You’ll shoot your eye out” jokes with that one. (4)

An early version of the surf leash poked out Jack O’Neill’s eye!

The surf leash helped spawn an avant-garde generation of shortboard surfers fashioning a new style of surfing that required minimal foot movement on the board and maximum body language above the waist. Suddenly, the hot surfers were wiggling like a hula-hooper to slash and tear up and down the face of the wave on boards that were barely any taller than they were. There was no penalty for trying something beyond your ability, as you could immediately try it again. The result was a dramatic shift in what became possible on a wave.

Like Intel’s 4044 microprocessor, the surf leash had its skeptics. For those of us who had grown up surfing longboards without a leash in the 60s, this innovation to the sport was not all good news. For many who liked to freely walk up and down the board while riding a wave, strapping on the leash was analogous to attaching a chain and ball to your leg. Mobility on the board was limited, as there was a tendency to tangle with the cord if you did move.

The leash also negated the thrill of trying not to fall while riding a more challenging section of a wave. There were no serious consequences to falling, so why not try something crazy? Kicking out of a wave was a technically advanced skill before the leash (with longboards). With the leash, a swan dive was now just as effective in exiting a wave. I likened it to the safety net for the flying trapeze artists at the circus. The success of any given move did not look so formidable once you realized they weren’t going to die if they fell.

We quickly labeled it the “kook cord,” and agreed among our inner circle not to use it. Most troublesome was the increase in crowds that developed, as nobody had to swim in for their board if they fell. It brought out people at breaks who had no right to be surfing there. Getting outmatched by a wave and paying the price with a swim to shore and paddle back out was not only good tutoring, but also great for those in the lineup waiting for the next set. At a place like San Onofre, it could take thirty minutes for someone who had lost their board to reappear into the lineup.

My daughter Marisa navigating the rock dance with her leash at San Onofre.

However, it soon became apparent that I would lose quickly in the game of improving my surfing if I went without it. That caught my attention. Of course, I wanted to be the best surfer in the water, and there was no denying that the leash gave you more time to ride waves. As soon as I noticed someone pass me by with a new maneuver, I caved in and strapped the shackle onto my ankle.

When wave and crowd conditions allow, I still do sometimes paddle out without a leash. A sense of freedom and excitement immediately washes over me. It’s like removing the seat belt and rolling down the windows in my car on a bluebird day. Caution is in the air, but I feel free as a bird. Nostalgia sets in. This is how surfing was meant to be. There is an excitement of risk in trying to “hang five,” knowing I could lose contact with my board by falling. I can move up and down the board without hindrance or fear of getting tangled. My surfboard becomes a part of me that I hold onto at all costs. The stoke of a long ride without a leash takes on greater joy, lifting me to kick out with a howl. My soul is awakened in the triumph. It takes me back to my roots and reminds me how the ocean has been a part of my growing and learning as a human being. One day I will look back and realize that each fall and subsequent swim to shore was a part of God’s plan for my life.

Taking off the Leash in Life

After 25 years in several high-tech sales and marketing jobs in Silicon Valley (Chapter 12, New Beginnings), I took a year off to complete a rigorous training program with twenty other classmates to become a New Ventures West Integral Coach® (a life coach). At our graduation, we each had a moment to express what those twelve months meant to us. My summation of the twelve months was that it taught me how to surf without a leash. Unleashing from the security of my high-tech job (and paycheck) had provided me the freedom to live a life truer to myself as opposed to the life the world expected of me. I had discovered that riding the Silicon Valley Express train had me so wound up on a daily basis that I had lost track of who I was. I didn’t have time for that!

A big part of learning to be a life coach was learning how to be present. For me, that meant slowing down. A lot.

Amid my busyness, I saw my life passing me by. I was checking off all the boxes to earn a living, support my family, and care for my health. Yet, in that struggle, I had lost touch with who I was. The New Ventures West coaching program provided me the opportunity to paddle out without my leash. A new awareness began to wash over me. It was refreshing and new!

What I had experienced was clarified in a book I read, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware. It is a memoir about Bronnie’s journey to self-discovery, which led her to care for the needs of the dying. Her life was transformed by that experience of tending to those who were in their final days on this earth. I admired Bronnie’s 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. It is a simple retelling of how one can learn to listen carefully to our internal compass.

That twelve-month break from the Silicon Valley juggernaut allowed me to experience the liberation of who I was. It was not easy; I fell a lot and still do. Yet learning to enjoy the swim and gaining strength from the paddle back out sharpened my understanding of who I was inside. I learned to listen deeply to what God’s plan for my life is. It is a marvelous and life-changing experience that continues to evolve as I move forward today.

I enjoy trail running in the early morning and often run the same trail (Chamise) each week in Rancho San Antonio, an open space preserve near our house. It is a challenging climb and descent of over a thousand feet with beautiful vistas of Silicon Valley and the Santa Cruz mountains on top. On random days that I can never predict, this same sense of inner consciousness envelops me like a thick fog. Even though I am running, my body slows down to tap into my soul. It is magic. Some call it the runner’s high, but for me, it is different. I am completely removed from the run and not viewing my surroundings. It is a special connection between my body and nature. I come out from it secure in who I am and confident in God’s plan. I learn through it who I am. It brings me great peace. I look at my watch at the run’s completion and acknowledge the stats, but recognize that something much more important took place.

After graduating from New Ventures West, I left my high technology job behind and found a second career at Trader Joe’s.

More on that next!

————-Footnotes——–

  1. “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware
    Here is a quick recap of the “Top Five Regrets”:
  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

2. The world’s first microprocessor (a complete central processing unit on a single chip) was introduced by Intel in March of 1971 (Intel 4044). This eventually led to the development of the personal computer (PC).

3. According to former world champion surfer Corky Carroll’s article Humble beginnings of surf leash (Orange County Register, January 7, 2012).
https://www.ocregister.com/2012/01/07/humble-beginnings-of-surf-leash/

4. In the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s request to get an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot air rifle for Christmas is countered by his mother (and Santa Claus) with, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”.

17. Heaven Can’t Wait

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
-Mark Twain

When I first heard about Steve Jobs’ death, I was in the midst of my marketing gig at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco (October 5, 2011). It was our annual pilgrimage to shut down Howard Street, bring in the America’s Cup sailboats, and paint San Francisco Oracle red. We needed a couple of iPods for our booth giveaways, so I escaped the madness of the Moscone Center to walk a few blocks in the warm fall daylight to the Apple store near Union Square. I was navigating rush-hour in the city while enjoying the fresh air, when I was stopped cold at a fortress of candles on the sidewalk surrounding the store entrance. Steve Jobs had just died.

Employees and customers were wandering around like zombies, ruminating over the shocking news. It was as if the store needed to cease operations and digest the depth of it all. I even found myself in a state of denial. The suddenness of his passing hit hard. The iPhone 4s had been announced just a day earlier as swarms of techies were buzzing in like bees to honey for a taste of Apple’s latest innovation. And yet the incongruity was that the architect of it all had vanished. No one could quite grasp it.

Without question, Steve Jobs was one of the most remarkable leaders in the history of Silicon Valley. Suddenly, he was gone at the premature age of fifty-six. It was a sonic boom throughout the industry. Silicon Valley was experiencing a Loma Prieta aftershock like never before. We all had to rethink our world without Steve Jobs.

Walter Isaacson’s enthralling biography Steve Jobs was released just a few weeks later. For me, it was a page burner to delve into Isaacson’s account of his life. Jobs and I were born just a month apart, so I was more than curious to hear his story and better understand his genius. In the words of Isaacson, Jobs was the “ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination.(1) He combined artistic creativity with technological innovation to upend the computer industry forever.

Steve Jobs was known to “think differently.” His inventions completely transformed computer design and the user interface. To place his impact into a surfing context would be to compare the influence Bob Simmons had on lightweight surfboard design in the 1940s.(2) Simmons was the first to introduce lightweight foam and fiberglass into surfboard design. Prior to that, everyone was riding 100-pound redwood planks. Nobody at that time could have predicted the shortboard revolution that followed as a result of Simmons’ ingenuity. Surfing was changed forever.

A person holding a phone

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Steve Jobs and the iPhone 11 Pro
(image by unsplash.com)

I was fascinated with how Steve Jobs’ career paralleled the explosive growth of Silicon Valley following the invention of the personal computer (PC). The story of his emergence from the Los Altos garage to co-founding Apple Computers was like reading a Stephen Ambrose war epic on how the battle of Silicon Valley was won. Even his high school days captivated me, including the pranks he orchestrated (I could relate!). Yet, for all those days I spent surfing in high school, Steve was fiddling with computers in his garage, preparing to change the world.

As I devoured Isaacson’s narrative, there was an element of Steve Jobs’ personality that made me uncomfortable and deeply stirred my concern for who he was at the core. At times, Jobs could be a sociopathic monster in his handling of people who seemed to get in the way of where he was trying to go. His unruly antics were well-documented. Some of the stories of him thrashing his people who did not deliver on his expectations were horrific. I think most would agree that he reached the top of the mountain, but it came at an agonizing price to many who worked alongside him. It was a fascinating character study.

Yet, his list of accomplishments were unequaled. A short list of new product introductions in thirty years at Apple speaks to his genius:

  • Apple I, 1976 (Apple II, 1977)
  • Macintosh, 1984
  • iMac, 1998
  • iPod, 2001
  • iTunes, 2003
  • iPhone, 2007
  • iPad, 2010

Despite all this, as I read Isaacson’s account, I could not help but wonder: Was it worth it? At what price did Steve Jobs attain this level of notoriety? How might God judge him? After reading the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Small Fry), who was Steve Jobs’ first child, the legacy of his behavior began to show through. Although he was not always willing to admit that she was his daughter, her view of life with him provided insight into the anxieties of coming into the world as an inconvenience to her success-obsessed father. It was a provocative read for all of us to see the stardom Jobs achieved through the eyes of a child.

Steve Jobs did not appear concerned about God. The treasures in heaven did not appear to be on his radar. He experienced acclaim beyond what anyone could have imagined in his quest to deliver products that changed the world.

As Apple became the world’s first company to record a market capitalization of $1 trillion in 2018, much of the credit surely goes to Steve Jobs. According to our world’s definition of success, he did come out on top.

Yet, I would like to propose that there is another side to that coin. What if we evaluate a person’s life with a different standard? What if everything we do here in this life on planet earth has an eternal value? Would that change the way we all view our life today?

Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven.(3) As good as we know heaven will be, there is one significant point that is missing in that discussion: Heaven does not begin when you die—it begins right now. Today.  To put it in Silicon Valley vernacular, it is happening in real-time as you read this. Heaven can’t wait!

Everything We Do in This Life Matters

If your aim is to build a life of enduring significance, this is a momentous point. I lived most of my life without truly grasping it. Having a vision of my future in heaven has rearranged my priorities and clarified my sense of identity. Eternity is motivating me to take this life very seriously. There is a spiritual battle going on today in our world where eternal issues are at stake. The temptation of the evil one is to lure us into complacency to think that it does not matter how you live this life. That is a lie—don’t believe it. What happens in Las Vegas does not truly stay in Las Vegas!

Every day we live on this earth is impacting our life in heaven forever. 

According to research, we can spend up to 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime.(4) In Silicon Valley, that is a grossly conservative estimate based on a 40-hour work week (Ha!). Does it matter how we spend that time? The race I had been running was to do whatever it took in those 90,000 hours to maximize my income so I could hopefully cash out early and start enjoying life. The winners were the ones crossing that line first.

Jesus has a different take. He made it clear that there is a direct connection between what you do in those 90,000 hours and the life you spend in paradise.

 “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done,” (Matthew 16:27, NIV, emphasis mine).

When we get to heaven, Jesus is telling us that we will be repaid according to how we have lived our life on earth. Even though we are in heaven, and our joy is complete, we will have rewards waiting for us when we arrive. This promise is not an isolated incident in the Bible. There are many examples of Jesus telling us that what we are doing here on earth really matters once we get to Heaven. It is a recurring theme in the New Testament:

  • “Yes, leap for joy! For you will have a great reward awaiting you in heaven,”
    (Luke 6:23,TLB, emphasis mine).
  • “If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven,”
    (Matthew 19:21, TLB, emphasis mine).
  • “Be very glad! for a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven,”
    (Matthew 5:12, TLB, emphasis mine).

Statements like “leap for joy” and “be very glad” are signs that this topic gets special attention from God. He is keeping track of us as we live our life here on earth. Eventually (when we cross over into heaven), He will reward us for how well we’ve done.

This is not about doing good works on earth in order to get to heaven. The Bible is explicit about that. Going to Heaven is strictly an act of faith—not an act of works. The apostle Paul makes this point quite powerfully throughout the book of Romans in the New Testament.(5) One of the more renowned verses in all of the Bible, which even shows up on the bottom of my In-N-Out vanilla shake cup, states this quite clearly:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16, NIV).

It is important to note that this is also not about winners and losers. We are already in heaven, for crying out loud. Everyone will be a winner! But Jesus is clear that there will be recompense waiting when we get there.

Several books have been written on this topic.  One of my favorites is Bruce Wilkinson’s A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever, which hits it head on. It’s a small book and a quick read.

Wilkinson explains that our beliefs (faith) are what unlock the door to our eternal life in heaven. If we believe that Jesus is who He said He is, we will get to heaven. That is what Wilkinson calls having faith. However, our behaviors are what unlock the door to rewards and determine how we will spend eternity. It is our behavior on earth that will impact the rewards we receive when we get to heaven. And by the way, that part lasts forever. I will admit that when I look at how fast my life here on earth has flown by, this forever part has garnered my attention!

So, what will these rewards in heaven be? What might they look like?

The Greek root of the word rewards is misthos, which translates to “wages.” Jesus appears to be telling us that we are going to get paid for our time here on earth, and that it will have unending value in heaven. It’s almost as if we have a savings account for our good behavior on earth that will pay out when we get to heaven. And Jesus is the one who will sign the check.

In spite of my studies in this area, I am far from speculating what those heavenly rewards could mean. Knowing what I do about Jesus, I feel pretty confident they will be specific to each person and well worth the effort. I like the view American Pastor John MacArthur, Jr. has on it:

“There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”

This is having an impact on me now. I am envisioning that a secluded surfing spot with warm water and perfect waves just might be a possibility in heaven. Why not?

As for the behavior God is looking for, Jesus was always on message. It boiled down to one word: love.(6) It seems so simple. It is what the world needs a lot more of today.

The Impact on Silicon Valley

These words rock the life we are living here in Silicon Valley. Jesus came to tell us there is something much greater awaiting in heaven. To put it in surfing terminology, we must learn to paddle against the incoming tide. When I am out at Steamer Lane on a big day the constant push of powerful swells coming toward shore requires constant paddling just to maintain my position in the lineup. Everything around me is going the other way.

In the final few paragraphs of Isaacson’s book (Chapter 42; Legacy: The Brightest Heaven of Invention), Steve Jobs reflected on his death,

“I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God.  For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.  But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch.  Click!  And you’re gone.  Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”

Our life truly is a mist that appears briefly, and then quickly fades.(7) I want heaven to be proud of the life I lived here on earth. There will be no penalties—we will be in heaven. Yet, the work each of us is doing in our life here on earth is helping to construct that mansion that God is building for us in heaven. Nothing is ever lost or wasted with God. Everything we do on earth will build on the everlasting life we spend in heaven. Every day really does matter.

In his book The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says (8), Chip Ingram frames this point with a picture of a dot connected to a line:

Your entire life history on planet earth is represented by a dot, and your eternal life in heaven is represented by a continuous line that has no end. So, the question to ask yourself is whether you are living for the dot or for the line?

I would have to admit that I have lived the majority of my life for the dot. It’s a ton of work to paddle against those currents when the world around me is going the other way. I live a constant battle to stay aligned with the instruction Jesus gives us:

 “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
(Matthew 16:26, NIV)

Steve Jobs built an empire that left him on top of the mountain in Silicon Valley. It is hard to argue with the success he achieved. He maximized the dot. You might even think of the $5 billion Apple campus in Cupertino (AKA, “the spaceship”) as an iconic symbol of maximizing that dot. It is even visible from outer space!

Apple Park in Cupertino (2.8 million square feet of floor space and 1-mile in circumference)
(image by unsplash.com)

And yet, Jesus came into this world to redefine true greatness. In His kingdom, the least are seen as the greatest. The meek inherit the earth. The servant outshines the ruler. The first end up last and the last are first.(9) Jesus is telling us to focus on the line with no end. Those treasures will last for an eternity.

Heaven can’t wait. It is happening right now.

Playing Maximus in the movie “Gladiator,” Russell Crowe summed it up well:

“What you do in this life echoes through eternity.” 

—-Footnotes—-

  1. Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon and Schuster: 2011.
  2. Bob Simmons was the “mad scientist” who pioneered lightweight surfboard design in the 1940s in southern California and is often credited as the father of the modern surfboard. As a Cal Tech graduate who worked as a mathematician at Douglas Aircraft, he radically changed surfboard design more than anyone else before or since him. As stated on the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center website, “Bob Simmons was the first person to consciously and purposefully apply hydrodynamic theory to create dynamic lift in surfboards; the first one to use fiberglass and resin to strengthen lighter weight boards; and the first one to actually define a surfboard and describe how it works.” Tragically, Simmons died while surfing Windansea Beach in Lo Jolla on a big day in 1954 at the age of thirty five.

    Dad (Jack B Mulkey) was a friend of Bob’s and often referred to him in his memories of surfing Malibu in the 1940s and 1950s. Dad is riding a 10’9″ Bob Simmons Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”) on the cover of this book. That surfboard was a major breakthrough from the Redwood Planks they had been riding, which could weigh over 100 pounds.
    http://www.legendarysurfers.com/2016/11/bob-simmons-1919-1954.html
  3. Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven:
    1. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23, NIV)
    2. “You will have a treasure in heaven,” (Matthew 19:21, NIV).
    3. “You will be blessed… for you shall be repaid at the resurrection,” (Luke 14:14, NIV).
    4. “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven …” (Matthew 5:12, NIV).
  4. Gettysburg College study: One third of your life is spent at work
    https://www.gettysburg.edu/news/stories?id=79db7b34-630c-4f49-ad32-4ab9ea48e72b
  5. “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Romans 10:9, NIV).
  6. “…The Lord our God is the one and only God. And you must love him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. The second is: ‘You must love others as much as yourself.’ No other commandments are greater than these,” (Mark 12:28-31, TLB).
  7. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” (James 4:14, NIV).
  8. Ingram, Chip. The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says. Baker Books: 2016.
  9. Luke 13:30; Mark 10:31; Matthew 27:64; Matthew 20:16 (all NIV)
  10. Christian Leaders on Eternal Rewards:
  • Charles R. Swindoll: “…He promises a reward. And we can be sure He will keep His promise.”
  • Jonathan Edwards: “There are many mansions in God’s house because heave is intended for various degrees of honor and blessedness.”
  • Charles H. Spurgeon: “Seek secrecy for your good deeds.”
  • Theodore H. Epp: “God is eager to reward us and does everything possible to help us lay up rewards.”
  • John MacArthur Jr.: “There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”
  • John Wesley: “God will reward everyone according to his works.”
  • R.C. Sproul: “If a person has been faithful in many things through many years, then he will be acknowledged by His Master, who will say to him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… there are at least twenty-five occasions where the New Testament clearly teaches that we will be granted rewards according to our works.”
  • Billy Graham: “… and the work we have done must stand the ultimate test; final exams come at the Judgment Seat of Christ when we receive our rewards.”
  • Martin Luther: “Therefore, he who does good works and guards himself against sin, God will reward.”

Photo credits on unsplash.com:

13. The 2X4

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
-Proverbs 19:21

My faith and patience were acutely tested following my layoff from Oracle. I was putting in more hours in the job search than I had my job at Oracle, only to be consistently told I did not make the team. This resulted in many questions that seemed to hang in the air and go nowhere. Of course, my age was at the top of the list. A cloud of doubt was setting in. It was like a long lull off the end of the jetty in CdM that never seemed to end. I refused to paddle in. Surely one last set was coming. But the sun was going down and I was getting cold.

In the midst of it all, I reflected on a meeting I had with a close friend, Roger Williams,[i] who was always so positive and confident in how God is at work in our trials. Roger was the President and CEO of the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He walked through life here on earth with the exhilaration of his salvation as if he were walking on the precipice of heaven. He truly glowed as a living example of how the Scriptures can guide and transform you. Nothing speaks louder to me than a life like Roger’s that has been transformed by what God offers.

Roger Williams

I had met with Roger in October of 2013 while he was in the midst of an arduous struggle with cancer. He continued teaching and providing visionary leadership at Mount Hermon during his battle. Despite it all, he agreed to meet with me in his majestic office amidst the giant Redwoods at Mount Hermon to address specific questions I had regarding my future. I sensed that God was calling me to a ministry around a balanced life in Silicon Valley and knew Roger could help guide me. Although it was a challenging time for him with his declining health, we spent over two and-a-half hours that evening. Roger spoke with intensity and delight that I can’t quite do justice with words. It was as if our meeting had been ordained by God.

My direct question to him was,

“Roger, how had you known that it was God calling when you gave up your successful business career and beautiful home to go into ministry?”

Roger did not hesitate; his response was crystal clear. He told me that God had quite simply hit him over the head with a 2×4 when his calling arrived. It was obvious. There was no mistaking it. “You will know for sure when it happens to you,” he told me.

And after hearing the specifics of his story around his calling to serve, I had to agree. A 2×4 had hit him! I left that meeting with a great sense of relief and drove over the summit on Highway 17, thankful for such lucid advice from such a dear friend.

My 2X4

Suddenly, Roger’s wisdom rang out to me; there was no mistaking the 2×4. The cloud of doubt was lifting; it was all suddenly quite clear. I began to see that I had been hit multiple times!

My layoff from Oracle hit me with the power of a steel 2×4. It shook my foundation. But was that God? In pursuing the job search and taking classes from the outplacement firm, I sensed that my heart was not fully in the work I was seeking. The fear of unemployment was driving me. The bills were still coming in and I needed to work!

Then two more 2×4s descended onto my head that finally rang my bell. God was calling.

The first was a job opportunity I pursued at a data storage company in downtown Mountain View, PureStorage. The stars had finally aligned, and I felt like this was the job for me. I had twelve interviews and two presentations to their executive staff over a couple of months. It had been all-consuming and appeared to be a perfect fit. From everything I could see, they liked me. They targeted the Oracle database customers as a new opportunity and needed a seasoned marketing professional to navigate Oracle’s myriad of product teams, organizations, and technology. I could even walk to the office from home.

In the end, I had to call them to find out they had hired someone else. That was a Muhammad Ali shot straight to the forehead. I was on my back.

Feeling quite dazed and discouraged, a good friend set me up to meet with a senior executive from a venture capital company on Sand Hill Road who worked with Silicon Valley start-ups. Surely, he could set me straight on how to land a marketing job in this valley. We met outdoors at Philz Coffee in Palo Alto, and I will never forget the first words out of his mouth (beyond the niceties):

“You’ll never get hired in this valley.”

I gurgled my sip of coffee, almost getting it down the wrong pipe.

“Uhum. Excuse me?”

He had not even looked at the manila folder I had handed him with all my good deeds. I was utterly flabbergasted and did not know what to say. My sales pitch was gone. The wind had gone out of my sails. No waves were coming. The sun had set. I might as well paddle in.

His next sentence provided clarity, but still hung in the air like the Hindenburg poised to explode into flames:

“The average age of a CEO [start-up] in this valley is just over 30 years, and they are not going to hire you.”

That was the only time I did not finish my Philz coffee. I had plenty of adrenaline running through my veins already. And the buzz lasted for days. That 2×4 settled it. Roger was right; there was no question.

Hanging 11

With a serious dose of faith that the bills would get paid and much patience that I could wait twelve months to start, I enrolled in a 1-year training program to become a professional life coach (a New Ventures West Integral Coach). This set a path for me to transition my career from high-tech marketing to helping others navigate work/life balance challenges in Silicon Valley. It was a job made in heaven for me to go on a mission of self-discovery for my future. I was stoked!

New Ventures West (NVW) had the most advanced training curriculum available, with a seasoned faculty known for their wisdom and experience. I needed the best to effectively lead people in a discussion about balancing priorities in Silicon Valley. It felt right. I was sure God was directing me.

That year was a fantastic transformation of my self-identity as I looked deep inside to find my passage forward. I was coached in the class (by instructors and fellow students) to understand the experience my clients would have. That meant learning to slow down and listen with my heart about what was going on inside. It was quite uncomfortable for someone who had been riding the express train in Silicon Valley for twenty-five years. My world had been all about going faster, not slower. But I could feel it was right. I was finally on a path I could follow with my heart. It was life-changing stuff. To put it in surfing terms (as one of my classmates described it), I was learning to “Hang 11!”


Epilog on Roger Williams

  1. [i] Roger went to his heavenly home on September 14, 2014, succumbing to cancer that he called “his insidious dance partner.”  His passing came just a few days after his 21st anniversary at Mount Hermon. Praise God for the gift I was given that day to be with Roger and drink from the deep well of wisdom he offered.

    Our family would spend a week each year with Roger and his team at the Mount Hermon family camp at Lake Tahoe. Most memorable of those trips were the summer evenings we spent singing worship music and taking communion on the shore’s edge of Lake Tahoe. Watching the sunset paint brilliant colors onto the surrounding lake and mountains, our family sang praises to God for the beauty of his creation. The love and joy Roger always showed us left an indelible impression on me. 

    While I was very sad to lose Roger as a friend and mentor here on earth, I feel closer to him than ever and rejoice in the thought of joining him in heaven. Roger was one of the first people to get me excited about heaven. He spoke of it as if he had been there. I can still hear his voice calling out to us on the shore’s edge as the sun was painting its portrait:

    “Folks, we can count on God’s promise that heaven will far surpass this beauty we see now.

    If you think the colors are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.

    If you think the sunsets are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.

    If you think this is a beautiful place to live now – wait until you see it REDEEMED in heaven!”

    Roger Williams (1947-2014)
Lakeside dance party at the Mount Hermon family camp at Lake Tahoe (Circa 2002)

Roger’s family posthumously published a book by him that he had been working on before his passing. The book showed up on our kitchen counter one night when I had arrived home late after the family had gone to bed. I had not known about it and was stunned! I could only wonder that Roger had ensured its delivery to comfort me. That very night I had been teaching a group of young adults at our church on the topic of “Heaven” and had been questioning myself the entire drive home as to my qualifications to do so. The title of the book is:

 Hearing From Heaven: A Memoir of God At Work At Mount Hermon
by Roger Williams

12. New Beginnings

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”.
–Mark Twain

As much as I had been anticipating it, I was seriously wounded when the words finally came. After 25 years of continuous employment in Silicon Valley, the layoff bullet I had been dodging for so many years finally caught me in January of 2017. The official explanation was “corporate downsizing.” The ensuing farewell email went out that day with the title, “new beginnings.” (1)

New beginnings, for sure!

I had been through the corporate downsizing exercise more times than I wanted to count. Once the dot com bubble burst in 2000, layoffs at Sun Microsystems had become a drumbeat that never seemed to end. (2) I am reminded of a Gary Larson The Far Side comic where one deer says to the other (who has a bulls-eye on his chest):

Bummer of a birthmark, Hal!”

Every six months, we were paraded in front of management for a closed-door session to see whose turn it was to pack their boxes and leave. It was as if we were lined up for a firing squad and didn’t know whose gun had the bullet. The layoff meetings had become so commonplace that one manager actually read me the official “You’re fired” script in a closed-door session, only to pause, and then tell me he was kidding!

What!?

At least I knew how it was going to feel when I finally did get the gun with the bullet. Thinking it over after, I was sorry I hadn’t fallen to the floor and feigned a heart attack!

All hoodwinking aside, it was my turn to hear the official news from my boss. I waited for the pause, but he was not kidding. Leaving the meeting left me feeling as if I had a bold “L” tattooed across my forehead (“Loser” or “Laid off,” take your pick). As the official script read, it had nothing to do with my performance, age, or even my regular use of the corporate gym. I had finally woken up in the wrong job with the wrong product at the wrong time. I shuddered at the thought of not having a job to go to tomorrow. It was another “green flash” moment. The world stopped turning as I walked down the hall back to my office.

At 62 years of age, it was time to go job hunting. I decided to write about it as a means of coping with the ordeal. According to the outplacement firm Oracle Corporation provided to ease my transition, this was good therapy. (3)

Hired at Sun Microsystems: April 1, 1999
Laid off at Oracle Corporation: January 19, 2017

The goodbyes of that final day were memorable and many. I usually started my day in the cafeteria, where Mary, Julia, and several other faithful servers had become an important part of my work routine. Although there are no free meals at Oracle, I would miss those folks.

I dropped in on those few on my team who were left behind to defend the fort. There were lots of hugs and a few tears. Ricarda stopped by my office with her cheery “Buenos Dias!” to empty my trash as I was packing my final box. Knowing my limited Spanish, she understood immediately when I motioned the cutthroat sign to her. I handed her one of my plants, and she showed great compassion.

My good friend Steve Sarvate and I snuck out to our private court for a final round of tennis on the Oracle clock. He lost his entire team in the layoff (including his manager), but somehow survived. (4) As I bid farewell to the Club Oracle recreation center staff, I was reminded how my officemates could not understand how I found time to go to the gym each day. I would reply that I could not understand how they could not! It made an incredible difference in my productivity and attitude at work.

Tennis partners on the Oracle clock

As I was walking out to the parking lot with my boxes, the looks I got from those left behind brought back fresh memories of the times I had been in their shoes. The sense of guilt over why you dodged the bullet was disconcerting. My work did not disappear; they would soon be bearing the burden of picking up the pieces.

It was an emotionally draining day. Despite trying to be present amid the farewells, I could not help but wonder about my future. A Silicon Valley marketing job would not be easy to land if you were unemployed at my age, no matter how good you were. I’d been told I should try a little Grecian Formula on my hair and maybe a pair of cool-looking eyeglasses.

OK.

The drive home was a bit more upbeat. Windows rolled down with the sunroof open, there was a feeling of release creeping in on me. The breakup with Larry Ellison was not something I would lose sleep over. I was sensing that this could be good. Maybe even great!

The family and I decided to head straight to the theater for an early showing of the Disney movie Moana, which turned out to be the perfect anecdote to the day. It opened with a short film called Inner Workings, which immediately spoke to me. It followed Paul’s internal organs (brain, heart, lungs, stomach, etc.), a man living in 1980s California, as he awakened on a typical day of work with dozens of other employees sitting at desks entering data into their computers.

They were moving in monotonous unison while his brain took notice of the dreary routine of his life and came to realize that this cycle would eventually lead to his death as a sad, miserable, lonely man. No surprise that Paul looked to be my age. Ha! It was as if God was suddenly waking my internal organs into a new life, I was stepping off the Silicon Valley treadmill for the first time in years. It was refreshing. Best of all, I could now paddle out at Steamer Lane mid-day during the week.

Yeehaw!

Life carried on, even though my job had stopped. In so many ways, nothing changed (including the bills!). For 25 years, I had gone to work. I was lost with nowhere to go. It was clear that I needed a plan. Having my calendar wide open was not the good thing it used to be. I quickly realized the importance of keeping myself busy to stay in a healthy state of mind. Surely, I could land on my feet. All those years of fighting the good battle in the valley of infinite silicon did teach me a thing or two. Work/life balance had been my creed, but I also knew how to handle combat. I was not afraid of digging into a fox hole for a frontline battle to find work.

There were days of melancholy. I lacked purpose and realized my job had been how I measured my value. It was humbling. I wanted to make some changes there. Like Paul in the movie Inner Workings, my perspective had changed, and I was afraid of what might lay ahead. It was as if I had been on an express train for 25 years blowing by all of the stops with complete focus on the destination. Suddenly the train had stopped, and I got off. It was unfamiliar territory for me.

The good news was that I had sufficient daily margin to enjoy a rich time of prayer and meditation, every day. I sensed that God had plans for my passion around work/life balance; it was exciting to think about what might unfold. I knew this time away from the daily routine of work was a gift and I wanted to use it wisely. I studied John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success for encouragement. At the very pinnacle were the two words I committed to stand by:
– Faith (Through prayer.)
– Patience (Good things take time.)

As I faithfully waited on God, I recited a prayer each morning by Saint Ignagius Loyola. (5) Its simplicity and purpose was just what I needed to start each day:

“Lord Jesus Christ.
All that I have and cherish, you have given me.

I surrender it all to be guided by your will.
Your grace and your love are enough for me.
Give me these Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more.
Amen.”


Footnotes:

  1. Email sent to my co-workers at Oracle on January 19, 2017 (3:51 pm):

    Subject: new beginnings

    I will be leaving Sun/Oracle effective today — time for new beginnings!
    It has been my very great pleasure to work with you all.
    THANK YOU — especially to Vijay Tatkar, who has been my inspirational & loyal leader these past few years.
    I look forward to staying in touch with you going forward.


    Mike Mulkey

  2. When Oracle Corporation purchased Sun in 2009 (for $7.4 Billion), it was another scramble to justify your existence to the new CEO, Larry Ellison. We were all on the chopping block. I was an Alliance Manager for a strategic partnership Sun had with Intel Corporation at the time. The first meeting with the then-President of Oracle Safra Catz did not go well. She began the meeting by dropping the strategic partnership agreement between Sun and Intel on the table and asking, “What is this shit?”

  3. One of my inspirations to write this book was author William Finnegan, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Barbarian Days at about my same age. Barbarian Days was his story of a life-long obsession with surfing after a long career as a well-known author of international journalism. In his words, “I was reluctant to come out of the closet as a surfer because of how I would be perceived as a writer.” Barbarian Days is a remarkable collection of surf stories from his escapades of traveling worldwide from the 1960s up to the present day. What makes his book so remarkable is that it is very well written. Finnegan debunks that myth that surfers are not good writers with a detailed analysis of every surf spot he sees (including San Onofre) in a way that makes it attractive to even a non-surfing audience. Thus, the Pulitzer Prize. Of course, he’s now my hero.

  4. Steve Sarvate lasted another two years at Oracle before getting laid off himself. He sold his home in Sunnyvale and moved to an apartment in San Francisco. Once the pandemic hit, we had a couple of zoom calls to check in on each other. He passed away of a heart attack in 2021 on a tennis court in the city while waiting for a game. Steve read all of my blogs on surfingforbalance.com, and I rest in the comfort that he knew (and often debated with me) the truth of Jesus Christ.

  5. Saint Ignatius Loyola was a sixteenth-century Spanish Catholic priest who founded the religious order of The Society of Jesus (The Jesuits).

11. Lessons for The Grandchildren

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

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

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

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

“Ah, another day in paradise!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Michael, let’s go surfing!”.

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

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

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

1 – Keep your sense of humor.

This may be the single most important of all!

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

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

“I’ve lost my swagger, Michael.”

I couldn’t have said it any better.

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

“You should see the OTHER guy!”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

2 — Sleep trumps diet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Surely, he slept better than ever that night!

3 — Keep life simple.

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

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

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

Huh?

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

His quick reply:

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

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

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

Good point.

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

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

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

4 – Exercise for life!

Still playing solid tennis well into his eighties!

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

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

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

5 — Enjoy life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one, Michael.”

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

6 — It’s OK to be sentimental.

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Footnotes:

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

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

9. Peace of Mind

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”
-John 16:33 (NIV)

Quitting the Corona del Mar High School basketball team my junior year is one regret in life that has lingered. I showed up late for a Saturday practice (the surf had been good!), and coach Tandy Gillis made sure that I would not want to do that again. And I didn’t. At the end of practice, I sheepishly told him I was quitting. Enough already. I was seventeen years old and didn’t need a basketball coach telling me what to do.

Or so I thought.

Coach Gillis was a bit of an icon in the basketball world. I appreciate that much more now than I did then. He was an All-American at The University of California at Berkeley (Cal), where he had played under coach Pete Newell, who coached Cal to the 1959 NCAA championship. Rumor had it that Tandy held Jerry West to his lowest offensive point total in his college basketball career at West Virginia University. And if you don’t know Jerry West, he was good enough to have the logo of the NBA modeled after him. Tandy’s Cal Bears beat Jerry’s West Virginia team in the finals 71-70 that year!

Coach Gillis was all about defense. He could teach it like Einstein could teach physics. It was quite simple. He taught us to play an extraordinarily tight man-to-man defense by following two principles:

#1: “Crawl inside their jockstrap,” as he used to say, and deny every pass possible.

#2: Protect the baseline as if it were Fort Knox; Don’t let anyone with the ball go by.

Conceding on either point resulted in sprinting the lines up and down the court until you were ready to barf.

Coach Wooden
Paradoxically, another basketball coach emerged later in my life, Coach John Wooden of the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team.

Growing up as a basketball fan in SoCal meant you had to be aware of what the Wizard of Westwood (as Coach Wooden was known) was doing on the basketball court at UCLA. For me, it started when I stayed up late with Dad to watch the KTLA Channel 5 replays of those UCLA games in the mid-1960s. I could not wait for the “Oh MYs” from announcer Dick Enberg as UCLA ran endlessly up and down the court, scoring at will, always ending up on the winning side. Dad would tell you that I usually fell asleep by halftime as the replays started at 11:00p.m.

The Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins won ten NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships (March Madness) over a period of twelve years (1964-1975), including seven in a row (1967-1973), and had four undefeated seasons (1964, 1967,1972, 1973).

However, I will never forget one loss in 1968 when the Houston Cougars and Elvin Hayes ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak in what was billed as “the game of the century” at the Houston Astrodome.[i] I cried like a baby at the end of that game.

What Coach Wooden was doing was unprecedented in the sports world, and I could not help but be caught up in trying to understand it. Something was quite different about how this man approached the game. Amidst the myriad of UCLA victories, he inspired his players to find their very best within themselves while being as cool as a cucumber watching them do it from the bench.

Even during the tensest moments of a game when his team appeared rattled, he would let them play on without calling a time out. After the game, he was always very humble, giving credit to those around him before himself. Most unique of all, Coach Wooden never spoke about “winning.” His focus was on helping each player become the best they possibly could be on the court. He emphasized the importance of practice, telling his players that the games would go well if they practiced well. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Wooden’s unrivaled success was a puzzle I felt compelled to piece together to see if I could apply it to my life. Fast forward 20 years to Silicon Valley in 1992, and I was starting to see the picture. As soon as our two children, Marisa and Matthew, were old enough to play organized basketball, I entered the coaching ranks, determined to make amends for my regret of quitting Coach Gillis’ team in high school. It was there that the pieces came together, as I modeled my coaching around Coach Wooden’s now-famous “Pyramid of Success,”[ii] which summarized the building blocks required for success, both on the court and off.

Hard work was at its core, no getting around that with Coach Wooden. Once you had done the hard work, Wooden emphasized patience (“good things take time”), along with faith (“through prayer”) to be at your best when your best is needed. All this resulted in peace of mind that you could rest in the knowledge that you gave it your best effort. Coach Wooden would add, “You are the only one who truly can judge that!” Soon, I had every player on the team memorizing these pyramid blocks and reciting Wooden quotes during critical moments in a game or practice. The kids were terrific in embracing it, and of course, the parents loved taking the emphasis off winning.


When I read Coach Wooden’s first book, They Call Me Coach; I discovered a crown jewel that had been missing in my puzzle. In discussing his beliefs on success, Coach Wooden quoted straight from the Bible:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33, NIV).

Right there, in Chapter 13, Wooden spilled the story of his Christian faith and how basketball was of minor importance in comparison to belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. Coach Wooden carried a metal cross of Jesus in his pocket through all those many games at UCLA so he could hold on to it and be comforted by his Savior when things got difficult. He said he would rub the cross for comfort to the point that it had been worn down on the corners over the years.

Oh MY!

This was the missing piece I had been looking for; it fit perfectly. It was so simple, yet so true. The mere idea of attaining peace of mind through faith in the cross in pursuit of success would be a theme that rang true for me in my career for the next two decades in Silicon Valley. I bought several metal crosses as reminders. Most remarkable of all was that Coach Wooden practiced what he preached. His players all looked up to him for his principles and commitment to his faith. He lived it! That set John Wooden apart and helped him see the level of success he achieved at UCLA.

Meeting Dick Enberg and exchanging stories of those late-night KTLA broadcasts of UCLA basketball games.

The most challenging job of my career was as a field sales manager at Siemens (1993-94), with a $6 million annual sales quota of telecommunications systems. I managed ten sales representatives who fought daily battles for sales territories, new accounts, quota alignment, customer satisfaction, and that very elusive Purchase Order to win a deal against the competition. My Circle of Life centered on work and not much else. I was struggling to find peace of mind at the end of the day, whether I was achieving my sales quota or not. Each day I went home to my family battle-weary, struggling to find success in the midst of it all.

In a panic to find help, I decided to type a letter to Coach Wooden and ask for resources to apply his principles around the Pyramid of Success. It was a long shot; I was hoping someone in his office might respond. Within one week, I had a hand-written letter in a hand-written envelope to me from Coach Wooden himself.

Huh?

He opened by thanking me for taking the time to write:

“Your words of commendation were very kind and deeply appreciated. Many thanks for taking the time to express yourself.”

Coach Wooden was truly demonstrating the principles he was teaching! I soon created a leadership model for my sales team around the Pyramid of Success. We overachieved our sales quota two years in a row while improving customer satisfaction ratings. The puzzle was complete.

“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” -Coach Wooden

As a coach, father, and follower of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I have found Coach Wooden’s philosophy to be an excellent way to model the values our holy Bible teaches, both to children on the basketball court, as well as to adults in the business world. It enabled me to go home at the end of the day with a sense of contentment that regardless of how the day had gone, I gave it my best and had peace of mind in knowing that it now rested in God’s hands.[I]


“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
-Coach John Wooden

Footnotes:

[i] Wooden authored and co-authored seventeen books before his death in 2010 at the age of 99. I have listed a couple of my favorites below. A google search on “John Wooden” will bring up many more. They all model the values and beliefs of this remarkable man.

  • “Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization” (2005) by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. Wooden’s strategies for competitive greatness translated into a leadership principles book for business or sports. A Wall Street Journal and L.A. Times bestseller.
  • “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life” (2005) by John Wooden and Jay Carty. A translation of Wooden’s philosophy with the Pyramid of Success into a self-help handbook based upon each of the pyramid blocks.
  • “They Call Me Coach” (1988) by John Wooden
    This was his first book and a personal favorite. It describes his humble upbringing on a small farm in Indiana and how his relationship with his father impacted him. It also is the only one of his books that covers the UCLA basketball teams in quite a bit of detail, which I appreciated, having watched so many of those games.

[i] The UCLA Bruins were #1 rated in the country and had won 47 games in a row, including the NCAA Division I championships in 1964, 1965, and 1967. Houston was #2 in the country and led by Elvin Hayes, who scored 39 points (he could not miss!). A footnote is that UCLA’s star, Lew Alcindor (Kareen Abdul-Jabbar), had the worst game of his college career (making 4 of 18 shots), suffering from a severe eye injury the previous week (he sat out the two previous games). Two months later, UCLA destroyed Houston 101-69 on route to their fourth NCAA Championship.

[ii] Coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” can be found at: https://www.thewoodeneffect.com/pyramid-of-success/

7. Circle of Life

“Next to love, balance is the most important thing.”
— Coach John Wooden

Anyone who has known me throughout my professional career would back my claim that balance in life has been modus operandi. It is in my DNA. As I came into Silicon Valley aspiring to achieve success and to support our family, I was constantly battling equilibrium between my work, family, and personal life. I can’t exactly explain the drive; it has been my calling.

This balance mantra appeared to me in a Golden Gate University classroom in Los Angeles one night. It was an epiphany that stuck. I was in a master’s degree program (Telecommunications Management) to further my education in my job at Siemens (who purchased ROLM in 1989). Sipping a hot chocolate to wake up after a long day at work, I was contemplating what this class might entail when the instructor walked in. I’ve forgotten his name, but I remember he started the class by handing out what I thought was a class syllabus. Upon inspection, I noticed that it was titled the Circle of Life.

I put my hot chocolate aside. He had my full attention.

He opened with a statement about life beyond telecommunications. He wanted us to review our direction in life and consider whether that was where we wanted to go:

“If we don’t change the direction we are going, we are likely to end up where we are headed.”

I could see that he was quite serious about this. He made perfect sense in what he was saying:

“If you can keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person.”

His words were simple, yet true! The Circle of Life document included a self-analysis quiz to help us understand how our life was going today. He wanted to help us improve our lives at work, at home (family life), and attend to our personal needs (self). After we completed the quiz, he stressed the importance of setting goals. 

“A man without goals has been compared to a ship without a rudder. Both are subject to the winds of fate.”

At once I realized that I was sailing on that ship! I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, but could see there was no way to balance those desires against the other vital areas of my life. I was excited to put my rudder into the water.

It was brilliant!

I want to say that my life changed that very moment in class as I reviewed the results of my Circle of Life quiz. Not so. While it prompted me about the areas I wanted to achieve better balance, it was a busy time with family, work, night school, and more. His handout went into my class binder along with the rest of my materials. I did not retrieve it for several years.

A marriage, two kids, and two jobs later.

I was working for Sun Microsystems in 1999 when the Circle of Life resurfaced. My telecommunications expertise helped earn me a job with their new and emerging “Netra” division. Sun was riding high on the dot-com bubble caused by internet-related companies’ explosive growth in Silicon Valley. The Sun Netra division was selling servers like In-N-Out sells burgers. We couldn’t build them fast enough!

Sun’s CEO Scott McNealy had extended a $1 billion credit line to Senior VP Neil Knox to build a family of telecommunications-grade servers (the “Netra”) to sell to large telecom providers worldwide. The time was ripe; Scott wanted them now. Working for Neil and his Netra product team in Menlo Park was like being part of the Apollo 13 moon launch team. Between beer bashes, we were pouring cement for the foundation to the internet! A go-to-market plan was quickly developed, and soon, we were pedaling  Sun’s new Netra servers around the globe. 

Amid the chaos, Marla was learning to manage our home with two active toddlers as I was jet-setting around the world to get our Sun sales teams onboard about the opportunity with Netra servers.  All appeared to be going according to plan when a letter arrived with the opening line of, “Congratulations!”

I won the lottery!

Well, kind of. The highly coveted letter from the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii had arrived, announcing they had picked my name to compete in the 1999 event.

Holy cow! 

It was a fairy tale come true. Dad lived in Kona right on the course, and we had watched the race several times. I had dreamed about going by him while competing in the race for years. And yet, my first thought was how I could find time to do all the necessary training without losing my job, family, or both! A 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile marathon was not going to happen purely by desire. Pulling this off would require a Ph.D. in balance.

Fast-forward four months later, and things seemed to be falling into place. I was feeling good. I learned how to sneak in my runs and rides on business trips and made up the swimming in my time back home. It did wonders for the jet lag and helped me sleep when my clock was off in another time zone.

Then Marla said something which changed my paradigm. We were discussing making family time a priority on weekends when she blurted out:

“If you put as much time into your family as you do into training for this triathlon, we would have no issues!”

Gulp. It stuck, as I knew it was true.

I was speechless.

My life had been revolving around my job and triathlon training. There was no time for much else besides the necessary sleeping and eating to keep it all going. The family had taken a back seat. I immediately rummaged through my Golden Gate University class binder and pulled out the Circle of Life. As I mapped it out, it was clear as the light of day. I had been in a cloud of denial and had lost perspective in all I had been accomplishing.

Thank God Marla brought me to my senses. Here are a couple of questions in the Circle of Life quiz which convicted me:

– Do you spend “quality” time with your family and children each week? 
– Do you make time for regular “date nights” to have quality time with your spouse/partner/children?
– Do you eat dinner as a family at the dinner table 3 times a week?
– How often do you check email after hours and on weekends without taking the corresponding time off work? 

This discussion was much larger than a triathlon for me, but it helps make the point. Like the three events (swim, bike, run), I needed to find equilibrium in my time and energy for each area of my life (work, family, self). It was as if I was planning to have a stellar swim and bike time while ignoring preparation for the run. My overall performance (my life) would suffer as a result. Or worse, I might not finish the race! I have seen that happen more than once in the triathlon circles, especially in the ironman distance race. Just like a job, the training can be all-consuming, discarding family members along the way.

Keeping my family a priority would be vital for the rest of my life, and something I would model for my children going forward. I had to (and did) make changes.

If things go well with the family, life is worth living; when the family falters, life falls apart. This is truer today than ever before and underscored for me the importance of maintaining balance.

Here is the “Circle of Life” quiz (pdf file): https://surfingforbalance.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/circle-of-life-quiz-v5-4.pdf

Give it a try!

A balanced life not only feels good, but my experience is that it helps those around you too. As that instructor reminded us that opening day of class:

“If you can keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person.”

6. Riding the Wave in Silicon Valley

“If we are enjoying so much progress, why is everyone so worn out? “
-Dr. Richard A. Swenson, M.D.

Age with wisdom can be a wonderful thing. I look back now on some of the hardest experiences in my life and realize how they helped me grow. My leap into tennis club management embodies this dynamic.

I left Utah with degree in hand and landed at the Rusty Pelican Restaurant in Newport Beach to ease my transition into responsible living. Ha! Waiting tables almost became my career. I was stuffing my safe deposit box with gold Krugerrands to manage all the cash from tips, surfing (or playing tennis) all day, and arriving at work just in time to eat. It could easily have become a lifestyle …

Somehow, I got back on plan when I was hired as general manager of the Covina Hills Racquet Club (CH) in southern California. CH was the full package club, with thirteen tennis courts, two racquetball courts, weights/aerobics room, pro shop, snack bar, jacuzzi/sauna, and an outdoor pool. I would be directing the “leisure society” with members who were spending their free time (and disposable income) at our club. Dr. Rockwood would have been proud; it was textbook.

Or so I thought.

I was immediately overwhelmed. Work/life balance went out the window, even though I was wearing tennis clothes and working on my suntan. I had a staff of twenty employees and two tenants (pro shop and snack bar) who needed constant attention. The owners (Granada Royale Hometels) expected a tennis club to be as clean and orderly as a newly arrived hotel room; inspections from the hotel staff were constant.

I soon realized CH was in a negative cash flow position with memberships declining. Then we had a pink eye outbreak in the pool. Upon inspecting the pump room, I found my maintenance man smoking pot (“Are those two connected?”).

This part was not in the textbook!

My workdays were some of the longest I have ever worked; I quickly realized that peak hours at the club were when all my friends were off work (weeknights, weekends, and holidays). I dropped off social calendars and watched my tennis game disappear. It was as if I had been thrown onto the court against Bjorn Borg and wished “good luck,” even though everyone knew it was going to be a massacre. 

Marketing for new members at Covina Hills Racquet Club (1983)

The tide began to turn when I hired our head tennis pro, Barry Friedman. CH immediately took to his style and personality as he rallied (pun intended) members into activities that raised morale and got everyone out to play. A community was awakened.

Looking back, I see two big lessons from CH:

  1. Members (people) are generally happy if they have a tennis pro (leader) who they like and who can improve their game. Barry taught me a lot in that area.
  2. Relationships matter; never overlook any one of them. It took just one letter from a disgruntled member at CH to nearly cost me my job. I survived, but vowed not to ever allow that to happen again.

When Granada Royale Hometels announced their shocking decision to close CH two years later, I took a leap of faith to join a new telecommunications company called ROLM in 1984 (where my sister Terry was working). I was hired as a customer support advisor and was responsible for driving maintenance contract revenue for ROLM’s telecommunications systems. I was like a deer in headlights. Overnight I transitioned from counting tennis balls in the pro shop to counting ports on a printed circuit board (and having to learn what a port was!).

AT&T had a monopoly of analog telephone service in the U.S., over what would soon become the digital transmission network of the internet. As the U.S. government mandated the breakup of this monopoly in 1982, companies like ROLM emerged to computerize the telephone and long-distance service for businesses. ROLM was investing heavily in technical training of their workforce to get a jump on this new opportunity. It was as if I was going back to college, but getting paid to do it!

Best of all, I met the love of my life Marla. She was also in a customer support role when we first met at ROLM’s Irvine, California office. An office friendship immediately developed. Marla was smart as a whip (USC graduate), beautiful, fun, easy to talk to, and liked to laugh. When I first announced my interest in her, my co-worker Al Walker snapped back,
“Mulkey, she’s got legs as long as you are!”

I won the jackpot when Marla agreed to marry me in Newport Beach in 1991. We moved north to ROLM’s headquarters in Santa Clara where we planted our roots, raised two children (Marisa and Matthew), and began to call Mountain View home, leaving behind the warm beaches of southern California.

Selling a ROLM Computerized Branch Exchange (CBX) required technical sales support. I was in the right place at the right time, and after twelve months of training classes, I was a fully seasoned ROLM systems engineer. It was an exciting time to be on the leading edge of a Silicon Valley company like ROLM.

I immediately took to ROLM’s CEO, Ken Oshman, and his philosophy of “GPW” (Great Place To Work). In-between training classes and field sales calls, I was back on the tennis courts or taking time out for a jacuzzi or steam bath at work. The ROLM campus included recreation facilities that rivaled CH; they were even featured on CBS 60 Minutes. It really was a great place to work!

Marla and I were both enjoying the excitement of our jobs at ROLM, but realized there was not much free time to go hang out at the beach. Silicon Valley was emerging as the global center of innovation for computer technology, so it seemed reasonable that work became the priority. The computer was entering our lives in ways we never could have anticipated in the 1970s. Dr. Rockwood’s leisure society was in jeopardy.

The information revolution explosion which soon followed happened so quickly that nobody had time to study the potential dangers that came with it. Alvin Toffler wrote about this in his book Future Shock (1970), arguing that that the information overload to come would overwhelm society and result in a “future shock” because of our inability to handle it all. The more I saw of Silicon Valley, the more I believed he was on to something. There was a wave coming and it was big.

The Wave
In the midst of all this, it took me five years to brave the cold water in Santa Cruz and go surfing. It was a long dry spell! Some blame was due to the work culture in Silicon Valley, but mostly it was my fear of the frigid northern California currents. New wetsuit technology from O’Neill finally got me to break the ice at Steamer Lane (“the lane”) in 1996. I quickly realized I had found an escape valve from the Silicon Valley pace, less than an hour from my doorstep in Mountain View.

This Woody Woodworth poster hung in my office for many years.

The lane on a big winter swell is not for the faint of heart. Both the leash and wetsuit were spawned there for good reason. The rock cliffs are gnarly, and the water is numbing. It is a world-class reef/point break that is thick and powerful and can rip for several hundred yards into Cowell’s beach (on a low tide). It rivals any break I have surfed in California.

Paddling out can challenge even the best surfers, as the currents are strong, the waves often too humongous to duck under, and there are four different breaks to navigate (indicators, middle-peak, the slot, the point). I like to sit at middle-peak on big days when it can top triple overhead further outside at the point; however, waiting for a wave can get spooky. Middle-peak can jack up to double overhead out of nowhere and get you diving for abalone faster than a boat anchor if you can’t get over it. The longer your board, the more difficult that can be. Middle-peak waves often move sideways as fast (or faster) than they are moving in, so positioning for the take-off can be quite tricky and involve a bit of luck.

I caught the biggest wave of my life on a winter storm-swell day at middle-peak. The sensation was completely alien. The wave unexpectedly appeared and came at me like a freight train out of a dark tunnel, whistle howling. As I paddled for it the ocean picked me up like a tsunami and began moving with me. It was as if all of Monterey Bay was caught up in this wave. I was instantly moving with the wave and rapidly dropping in, whether I wanted to or not! The wave had caught me.

I quickly got to my feet in a crouched position as I raced down the face, noticing a couple of surfers diving for the bottom off to my side. The drop was sensational, akin to jumping off a cliff. As I started a sweeping right turn, the enormity of the wave and the amount of water moving with me was exhilarating! I felt like Franz Klammer at the 1976 Olympics, racing with abandon to stay ahead of the crashing lip, ignoring all sense of form. I had never gone so fast.

Over my shoulder, I could see the wave breaking behind me in apparent slow motion. Surfers sneaking over the lip looked back down at me as I excitedly banked off the face with water spraying high into the crisp Santa Cruz air like a snowboarder coming off a half-pipe lip. My Doug Haut surfboard tracked onto the face of the wave as if it were the Santa Cruz boardwalk roller coaster, dropping and climbing as the face continued to build in front of me without any sign of letting up. The force of it allowed me to sweep further out of the section without any danger of losing momentum back into the wave. I was flying!

This went on continuously until I finally kicked out at Cowell’s beach on the inside as the wave broke in front of me. Cresting over the lip I fell off the back of my board and floated on my back to soak in the memory of what had just happened. I released a light laugh and then slowly climbed on my board and paddled back out, reliving every part of that wave. Like one good shot on a round of golf, it carried me for many, many waves after. It had been a gift from God.