STOP and Smell The Roses

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Regarding the theme of “A Lotta Shit …”, my thoughts go well beyond just the physical ailments from running. Emotional stress can be equally taxing or more. The stress of living in today’s world is intense. Using surfing terminology, life can be gnarly!

I especially see this in our kids today. How is it that grammar school students could be worrying more about a mass shooting at their school than the peer pressure of fitting in? Or that middle school students can fret about what sex they are, or what sex they should be? A recent study by the Journal of Depression and Anxiety found that  “3 out of 4 college students say they’re stressed and many report suicidal thoughts.” Suicide among all age groups is on the increase. The U.S. suicide rate has risen by 30 percent since 1999. The list goes on. The anxiety associated with living in today’s world is literally killing us. Is this surprising news? It is not when I look at the world we are living in today.


We planted a red rose bush in our front yard when my mom passed away in January of 2007. Mom absolutely LOVED the color red. That rose bush has been in full bloom every June on her birthday since. It has been remarkable. I believe God sent it as a reminder to me to STOP and smell the roses in her memory. Too often I zoom in or out of our driveway too hurried or preoccupied to take notice.

When I was growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s I don’t think the word “stress” was in my vocabulary. Today my kids tell me that stress is in their DNA. It is unavoidable. We could list a hundred reasons for it; it’s a byproduct of living in today’s world. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), “approximately one in five adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year”. That’s 20% of us! To quote Daniel Amen M.D.,

“Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.”

Slapping more resin and fiberglass on the surface may simply be disguising the deeper issues below. So much can seem wrong, even the most optimistic person can get down from so much stress. Having Marathon Faith is helpful, but that is the long-term view. We need a way to get through today!

Being Present
Steven Curtis Chapman was on to something when he released the hit song
Next 5 Minutes” in 1999:

“I’m living the next 5 minutes
Like these are my last 5 minutes,
‘Cause I know the next 5 minutes
May be all I have”

A valuable tool for dealing with stress is learning to pay attention to this very moment. “Being present”, is a phrase for nonjudgmentally allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, which Wikipedia defines as,

“Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training.”

The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment can be life-altering. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, it can make a world of difference. There is plenty to read from a wealth of books written on this subject. A couple of my favorites are mentioned below (see “Resources”). However, when stress is overwhelming me, the Bible is one place I turn for comfort. The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament is often referred to as the book of human emotions. Every experience of man’s heart is reflected in this book. In the words of Ray Stedman:

In times of struggle and persecution, in times of deep personal distress, in times of great overflowing joy, there is nothing like the Psalms to match the experience of the heart.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10

Sitting
“Sitting” is a simple form of meditation I often recommend to my coaching clients as a practice for finding rest in their hectic lives. I sit almost every day early in the morning so I can ensure my time is private and quiet. This time in solitude is often a highlight of my day. I make a cup of green tea and then retreat into my sanctuary. Sitting centers me and calms my heart for whatever God has in store. It reminds me of what is important and helps to cool any emotions that might be bubbling over on my stovetop. I come out of these sessions feeling refreshed and encouraged with a sense of purpose around the upcoming day.

Toni Packer describes sitting in The Work of This Moment”,

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, not knowing what is next and not concerned with what was or what may be next, a new mind is operating that is not connected with the conditioned past and yet perceives and understands the whole mechanism of conditioning. It is the unmasking of the self that is nothing but masks — images, memories of past experiences, fears, hopes, and the ceaseless demand to be something or become somebody.”

I discovered the sitting practice in my New Ventures West (NVW) Integral Coaching class. Our instructor Steve March requested that we spend thirty minutes a day sitting for the entire year of our training to help us learn to be present. Thirty minutes a day seemed far-fetched to me at that point of our training (“30 minutes? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?”). I am not one to sit idly.

Amazingly, sitting became a personal highlight of my NVW training. I worked up to thirty minutes a day and found that time to be transformative in molding me as an Integral Coach™. Sitting allowed me the freedom to connect with my spiritual center while feeding my soul in my stillness. It is hard for me to hear what my soul desires if I am not still and present. I cannot recommend it enough; even if it is for just five minutes!

“How wonderful it is to have a moment in time where we don’t have to be anyone.” Anonymous

We miss so much in a day about ourselves because of our constant forward motion. As human beings, we are constantly striving to improve and get ahead in life. But in the midst of our forward progress, we tend to miss what we are feeling in our innermost being. A simple example was when I was taking a video of my father (Kona Jack) playing tennis with our two kids before he passed in 2016. I was quite intent on capturing the moment on camera, knowing how special it would be to the kids years later. In doing that, I missed the time of just enjoying it at courtside and letting deep joy sink into my soul. I can go replay the video (if I can find it), but I can’t recreate what I was feeling at the time it happened. I was too preoccupied to capture it on camera. Of course, once dad passed, I can think of many instances. He often yelled at me to “put away the camera” when I pulled it out.

Kona Jack, the resident expert on being present (“Get rid of that camera Michael!”)

Sitting in the Surf
Depending on the consistency of the swell, sitting can be a big part of surfing. It is one of the first skills one must learn to be adept at catching waves. It is something I have always struggled with. Anyone who has surfed with me knows that I am a “type-A” surfer who does not like sitting and waiting for waves. If there is a wave anywhere on the beach, I am likely to paddle after it! After all, isn’t that the point of surfing? Slowly, I am learning to appreciate the time on my surfboard when I can sit and be present. In the past, I would have labeled that time as a “lull” and possibly called it a poor surfing day if there were too many.

Just last weekend I was out surfing and found myself experiencing sitting in a new way. Nobody was in the water with me to disrupt my present state. As I scanned the horizon for an upcoming wave, I was suddenly able to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation all around me. I was sitting in an endless ocean of salt water that covers three-fourths of the Earth. A pod of dolphins playfully came by to greet me as I began to feel the cold water against my body. The air was crisp against my face. My legs were hanging free over the side of my board without a leash. Pelicans were flying in a formation on the distant horizon. A seal suddenly popped his head out 25 yards from where I was sitting to say hi. I was able to settle into my sitting pose and appreciate the unfolding of the experience around me as if it were a movie playing just for me.

This was something new for me. I did not have to be anyone. I only had to be. I began looking forward to the lull and hoping it would last. I wanted to grab on to this moment and keep it forever! I had stopped to smell the roses and their smell was sweet.

Sitting tandem with Mark Magiera; San Onofre, July 18, 1991

** Resources **
Sitting Practice Instructions (pdf handout)
This is a self-explanatory 1-page overview of how to get started with a sitting practice. It also includes links to free audio resources for a guided meditation (sitting) practice. This can be useful if you are unable to control your thoughts when doing it on your own.

Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body
by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
There are more books than I can count extolling the many wonders of meditation. What I liked about this book is that Daniel and Richard sifted through the morass of clinical research to boil out the truth about what meditation can really do for us and how to get the most out of it. I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Goleman at a promotion event for this book and can assure you he is legit. Here is a list of books he has written, including the groundbreaking Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

Care of the Soul” by Thomas Moore
This is a beautifully written account of how to care for our innermost being. Having a firm belief that our soul is what we take with us to heaven in the life hereafter, I found this to be a refreshing view on how to make the most of my life here on earth in preparation for our eternal home in heaven. I completely agree with Mr. Moore’s assertion that our “loss of soul” is a major problem facing us today, which is resulting in many societal ills. The primary takeaway underscored the deep value of quiet time and sitting on a daily basis. According to Mr. Moore, we care for the soul by living life in a way that our inner sense of who we are flourishes.

We don’t do email …

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health”      Dalai Lama

I’ll be the first to admit, I need more rest!

In this 24/7 “always-on” world, the concept of joyfully being (not doing) has largely been lost. The technology revolution promising to integrate our life and work is doing the opposite. So I am going to take a shot at email here; it is killing me! Don’t get me wrong; I love email and what it enables.  But I hate it more than love it.

Enough already.

Unfortunately, I can’t live without email but am finished being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJs) is just the place to do that. In my interview, I was told,

“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”

Wait, are you kidding me!? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email?  If you listen to the Freakonomics podcast, “Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s?”, you will get some insight they are doing quite well without it. They also don’t do branded products, sales, social media advertising, rewards programs, loyalty cards, self-checkouts, wide aisles, big parking lots, and more. They’re on to something.

Most people agree today that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills seen in the world today are a result of our being overloaded. Best-selling author Richard A. Swenson termed it a lack of “margin”, which he defined as the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits.  Try reading a book without margins, you won’t get very far.

Time spent in email has devoured our margins and created a continuous 24/7 flow of information, an overload that spews data like a fire hose on full force with nobody holding the nozzle.  A small amount may hit the target, but most is wasted water causing a great deal of grief and exhaustion. God forbid I take a vacation, as the backlog of emails waiting when I return is enough to make me wish I never left.  This might partly explain why 52 percent of American employees reported having unused vacation days at the end of the year in 2017 (Project: Time Off).

I acknowledge email is a way of life both at work and home. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Almost 3.7 billion email users send a whopping 269 billion emails each day (The Radicati Group, Inc.). Email is the preferred method of communications (and marketing) in almost all situations.  An interesting (and funny!) read about how email has entered the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’, “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble”. In it, Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up selling email spam, was positioning their product:

“Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s anti-spam. It’s a shield against spam – a spam condom.” 

Just under 30 years ago, none of us were doing email at work or home because it did not exist.  Email found its way into the work environment in the mid-1980s as I was launching my high technology career with ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM, but without email, I left my work at the office when I came home, truly done. When IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 we were introduced to IBM PROFS (Professional Office System), the first corporate email system to my knowledge at that time.

PROFS was designed to replace the typewriter

Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It served to simply relay information from IBM corporate which had no impact on my day-to-day duties. It was like reading Morse code intended for the navy when you were in the army.  I could go weeks at a time without checking my inbox and often made fun of those (mostly management) who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of their day doing it.

By the time I left Oracle 25 years later, I would estimate that over 2/3 of my day was spent navigating my email. Even in meetings, I was only half listening as I browsed my “urgent” emails.  And like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email seemed to be a cloud that followed me home and came with me on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone and cellular networks made email exchanges easy, regardless of where you were.  Now I could do email when I was in line at the grocery store!

Contrast this with the picture below, which reminds me of my summers growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s at the beach. Entire days hanging out with friends, lying in the warm sand to heat you up after a long swim in the ocean, are vivid memories. As soon as we got too hot in the sand we would go back into the water to cool off. Repeat. Over and over until it was time to go home.

Photo credit to Matt Warsaw – “The History of Surfing”

There was no need to know about everything or be in touch with everyone.  It was easier to be present and enjoy life for what it was at that very moment. Insert a cell phone into the hands of either of these two guys and it destroys the image. How could you be enjoying the hot sand after a cool swim while watching the waves if you were sending or reading an email? You could of course, but you will agree it would not be the same.    

Enter Trader Joe’s. As my wife and I anticipated our COBRA health insurance plan ending, we began to look at options. Trader Joe’s offers a full benefits package for 30 hours a week on the clock. I filled out a simple job application and walked it down to our local TJs for an interview.  No appointment necessary.

In the interview, Amelia [Captain of the store] asked me a question about when I was available to work.  Our discussion went something like this:

  • Amelia:
    “I think you’re a good fit for Trader Joe’s. When would you be available to work?”
  • Mike:
    “That is complicated for me. Could I send you an email on the days and times?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
  • Mike:
    “Excuse me?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.“
  • Mike [extending my hand to shake]:
    “When can I start?”

What the !?!?

Deciding to give it a try and see if that is really the case, I am now five months in and am loving it. At the end of the day I feel completely content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. No email.

Here’s 10 things I like about working at Trader Joe’s:

1. “We don’t do email.”
We rest more.

2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJs.  Our jobs are crystal clear. One Captain (aloha shirt), a couple Mates (different aloha shirt), and Crew Members (hibiscus T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customer needs on a moments notice.

3. Variety is the spice of life.
Every eight-hour shift is divided into eight blocks – each one designating a different job on the ship for that hour.  In one eight-hour shift, I can perform every job in the store, from cashier to stocking to carts to loading bananas to cleaning the floor, and more.  It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by and has helped me learn the entire operation of the store.  Brilliant.

4. Huddles.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are very short stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news and to keep things “ship shape”.  No muss, no fuss.  Quick and simple instructions with some good food and grog to sample, and then all-hands back on deck to help customers.

5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs.
Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow sailors. This really surprised me at first.  If I were to go hugging people at Oracle I might end up at the HR office!  Even better, every two weeks my paycheck is personally handed to me, with a handshake, and a look-you-in-the-eyes “job well done” comment. Pretty simple. Now I’m fist bumping, handshaking, and hugging back. 

6. Happy people. 
Employees at TJs are happy.  Which makes the customers happy.  It’s “hunky-dory”. I am happy to work there.

7. Personal goodbyes.
I used to sneak out of the office at the end of a day hoping nobody noticed. When you leave TJs you go around the store and say a personal goodbye to those you are leaving behind. Add in a fist bump, handshake, or hug. Kid you not, the first couple nights I saw this I thought these folks were leaving the company!

8. Millennials.
Many of my co-workers are my children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both and are all “gung ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At TJs I am. LOL. It’s a kick.

9. Fantastic food with a family discount.
My entire family gets the employee discount when shopping at any TJs. The prices are already crazy low, so this really helps. And there’s always time on the ship for a cup of joe or a snack from the Demo bar to keep things on an even keel during your shift.

10. Just be you. 
TJ tells you they hired you because of who you are, not who they want you to be. So the word on deck is to “be yourself”.  For those who know me, that is dangerous! I’m even wearing my shorts and Hoka’s to work every day.

Halloween at Trader Joe’s

**Resources**

Margin the Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits by Richard A. Swenson

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

HODADS (the movie)

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

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

John Wooden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This movie was all about being stoked with good friends, sharing some of our most precious times together, and enjoying God’s creation.

There are two parts to HODADS (the movie):

  • Part I – HODADS (surfing)10:40

  • Part II – HODADS (surf stories)12:50

Enjoy!

Note: The full-length DVD that Gary Irving produced is available for special order through surfingforbalance.com (Contact Mike).  This movie is an abbreviated form of the DVD.

The Power of Prayer

“When we work, we work, but when we pray, God works.”
Bill Hybels

To a young surf grom growing up just a few blocks from the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960’s (see Corona del Mar and Growing Up), Bruce Brown’s epic surf movie “The Endless Summer” had a deep-rooted effect on me. Brown had done the unthinkable at that time, poetically documenting every surfer’s ultimate dream on film, in an around-the-world quest to find the perfect wave. And find it they did, at Cape St. Francis in South Africa! I was eleven years old when it came out in 1966, and by the time I entered high school, our surfing sojourns across the border into Baja helped keep my childhood dream alive.

Bruce Brown’s “The Endless Summer” set the surfing world on fire in 1966

I don’t remember ever actually praying to God for surf back then. It just didn’t occur to me to call on God for waves. We might sacrifice a surfboard or two down at Big Corona to wake up the surf gods during a long drought, but prayer was not really a thought.

However, there was one prayer around this quest for the perfect wave that stuck with me — for life. It was the first time I can remember actually calling on God for help. It made such an impression on me that I can remember it as if it happened yesterday, but in fact, it was almost 50 years ago.

In 1970 I was fifteen years old and heading into summer vacation after my freshman year at Corona del Mar High School. Surfing buddies John Park, Craig Barrett and Danny Moore had come up with a plan for finding that elusive wave deep in mainland Mexico. The furthest I had ventured on previous surfing trips was K181, which was an hour or so south of Ensenada (181 kilometers south of the border at Tijuana). These guys had come up with a new twist to our summer trek into Baja. Their idea was to go all the way to Mazatlan, over 1,000 miles south of the border into mainland Mexico! The four of us simply told our parents we were “going to Mexico for a couple weeks”. Baja and Mazatlan are both in Mexico, right? Without cell phones, the Internet, or any other means of staying in touch, we ventured ahead without considering the risks.

1970 surfing safari from Corona del Mar to Mazatlan (3 days and ~1,300 miles)

Next I know we are stuffing Craig’s orange 1964 Chevy van with supplies. We had enough canned food to feed an army, 8-track tapes of “Santana” and “Deju Vu” (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), large speakers we stole from Johnny’s sister’s bedroom for the back of the van, two beach chairs for back seats so we could remove the van seats for more storage, tools, duct tape (our most valuable asset!), water, Paraffin wax, camping supplies, Johnny’s father’s 8mm movie camera, and a first aid kit (Band-Aids, Bactine and some Tincture Benzoin in case it was something serious). The four boards on top included two Hobie Super-Mini’s, which were the prized possessions of Johnny and me.

Next stop Mazatlan! Or, so we thought…

This was clearly an extreme outing for me. Parallels to my dad joining WWII at that age aside (see “Malibu and The Greatest Generation”), I felt like I was blasting off for the moon as we shoved off from CdM, with just a few people aware of our intended destination. Whatever we lacked in experience we surely made up for in our zeal to search for perfect waves on a deserted beach in Mazatlan. The whole thing could best be summed up by my favorite word, at that time: totally “bitchen”.

Not even to the Mexican border yet before Craig’s van starting showing signs of trouble. What!?… We pulled over to a gas station to send a mechanic under the hood only to find out that it was two and a half quarts low on oil. LOL. Minor oversight.

Shortly after, that we hit our second snag at the border crossing in Tecate. I remember well a sign as one approached the guard at the gate that said: “No Long Hairs Allowed”. Are you kidding me?! They weren’t. “Go home amigo!” Our dreams almost ruined, we reviewed our map and decided to target the next border crossing to the east at Mexicali – a mere two-hour drive away. This time we did some strategic planning and went into a gas station bathroom before the border to doctor up our hair with bobby pins, water and a lot of finesse. It was then that Johnny and I thought we saw Raquel Welch, but that story is a bit of a diversion…

Sure enough, we sailed right through the border with our clean-cut all-American look! We felt as though nothing could stop us now as we barreled into the Mexican desert with the sun setting and Carlos Santana singing “Black Magic Women” to four teenagers who felt like they had just hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.

1972 photo of the border crossing at Mexicali

A third snag (feeling as though we were snake bit) suddenly appeared in the form of a Mexican Federale at a Turista checkpoint station just as we were relaxing after the great escape from the Mexicali border guards. Checkpoints were something we were used to in Baja, as they often just wanted to terrorize you with a couple questions and check your glove compartment for marijuana. Usually with a machine gun in hand. But this guy was different. He was quite serious and telling us in very few words to “Vete a casa” (go home!). Holy COW, he’s not kidding! Apparently, this thing called a “Turista” sticker had to be on our car to travel into mainland Mexico from the U.S. Of course, this was news to us. In an instant, our dreams of a “Mexican Endless Summer” were coming to an abrupt and terrible end.

This Turista sticker was required to travel into mainland Mexico by automobile

The Mexican Miracle

The four of us regrouped in Craig’s van. I can remember a few tears being shed, as this indignant Federale appeared to be enjoying sending these rich white boys from the U.S. with their long hair back home. Then out of the blue, Johnny blurts out that we should pray to God. I remember thinking that was the stupidest idea in the world. How the heck was a prayer going to help? We were done! This guy was not budging, and we definitely did not have a Turista sticker. I was already wondering what we’d do with all the canned food…

As it was, we were desperate and willing to try anything, so the next thing I know the four of us are bowing our heads and praying in the car for a miracle to happen. I can’t remember the specifics. I don’t think we prayed that this guy would die or anything. I believe it was something holy, like “God, please help us, we want to surf the perfect wave in Mazatlan”… I do remember the outcome quite clearly. Out of nowhere, we came up with this hair-brained idea of waving a $20 bill in front of this guy to see if he was willing to take a bribe to let us go.   Pretty risky stuff, seeing how he was the one wearing the badge and gun, and all we really had going for us was enough gas in the tank to get back across the border before we got in any more trouble.

It was Craig who we put up to the task, since he was the oldest, by at least a few months. Craig was pretty nervous (we all were!) as we walked back from the car to this guys office. Craig starts scratching his face with the $20 between his fingers, afraid to just hold it out to the guy as an offer. I’m thinking, “what the heck is Craig doing?!” when suddenly the Federale lights up with a smile, and we all immediately knew it had worked! He took the bait, slapped the Turista sticker on our car, and sent us on our way. “Soul Sacrifice” from Carlos Santana blasting! As we plunge into the darkening desert sky on Mexican asphalt, I leaned back in my beach chair marveling at what a trip this was going to be. “Bitchen”.

An 8-track tape of Carlos Santana led the charge for us to Mazatlan

That prayer had a lasting effect on me. Whether or not God or the Holy Spirit had anything to do with answering it, it stuck with me that in that moment of hopelessness we could look to God for help, even if what seemed to be insurmountable odds weighed against us. I will never forget that moment.

The Power of Prayer

Prayer has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my Christian life. Not just “answered” prayers, although I do love those. But the way prayer has helped me to handle life’s many ups and downs through my dialogs with God. I have said many times, becoming a Christian did not so much change who I am as it changed who I wanted to be. Prayer has become the avenue for having that daily conversation with God as to who I want to become.

I have wonderful stories of how God has heard and acted on my prayers. Several years ago I started writing my prayers (in a Bible) to keep track of them. It has been fascinating to see God at work over the years. One prayer especially dear to me involves a men’s discipleship group I was involved in for two years through our church. The twelve men in this group grew very close as we studied, dined, and hung out together. Meeting every week to learn how to study God’s word, we always devoted time to praying for each other’s needs in life. With all of us having small kids, new marriages, and just launching our careers, there was never a shortage of things to pray for!

Fast forward eight years and we had all gathered as sort of a reunion at one of our leaders’ homes to pray for a serious recent injury. After praying for our friend’s healing, we got caught up on what was going on with everyone in the eight or so years since we had last been together. As each of the men provided an update, I was beginning to get goosebumps on the back of my neck. It was clear that God had been at work on what we had prayed so diligently for over those two years of our study. It was remarkable to see what He had done eight years later. We all became quite emotional as we realized how faithful God had been. But each admitted it had happened so gradually, and often in ways we had not expected, that we hadn’t really connected the dots to all that time in prayer together. We finished that night with a prayer of praise to God for his faithfulness.

While that is a story I love to tell, I also believe that prayer has also frustrated me at times. My inability to see how God is working in certain difficult situations has been quite perplexing. I know I’m not the only one feeling that way. Sometimes, we don’t feel God is hearing our prayers, but perhaps He does and it takes our whole lives to understand. God works all things for good (I look forward to understanding more once I get to Heaven).

I recently read a wonderful book on prayer that really helped me: “Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God” by Bill Hybels. Bill explains in very simple terms not only how to pray, but why prayers may not actually be getting a direct response from God. It has greatly impacted my prayer life to better understand this. He sums it up by emphasizing our need to focus on God, versus the mountain we are trying to move through our prayers:

“Faith comes by looking at God, not at the mountain.”

In Hybels’s words: “The heart and soul of the Christian life is learning to hear God’s voice and then developing the courage to do what he asks us to do.” This is a life-long journey, but something I am committed to. It has fit well into my coaching practice; as Hybels is saying that our prayer life is a two-way conversation. Often I am just pouring out my problems and forgetting to stop and listen and understand what He might be trying to tell me. This time of listening to God has been very precious, and I now understand is key to my understanding how God might be working in my life, especially when I don’t see a direct response to my earnest prayers.

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

Hybels has so very many gems in this book about prayer. I strongly encourage you to read it. He sums it up:

If the request is wrong, God says, “No”.
If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow”.
If you are wrong, God says, “Grow”.
But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, “Go”.

In closing, here are three of my favorite verses from the Bible on prayer:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Matthew 7:7

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.”
Psalm 40:1

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Matthew 21:22

Epilogue to the Mazatlan trip:

At our 40th high school reunion a few years back, a woman approached me and claimed to remember our trip to Mazatlan in 1970. I was astonished! Apparently, her family was in Mazatlan on vacation at the time we arrived, and ran into John Park and heard the story of our surfing safari adventure. After seeing Johnny, her dad pulls her aside to say: “I can’t believe their parents allowed them to drive down here!?” And of course, she replied: “Dad, their parents don’t know.”

We never did find the perfect wave in Mazatlan. Ok, but we had lots of fun and many good stories to tell our friends on our arrival back home. We made a few wrong turns on our way, even bumping into the Sea of Cortez and thinking for an instant we were at the Pacific Ocean. There was one more mechanical breakdown of the van deep into the jungle that required another Mexican mechanic. After a long wait, it was solved when Danny Moore put water in the battery. Ha! We encountered locust swarms across the highway and many seemingly endless detour signs (“Desviación”) sending us off the paved highway for miles at a time into the jungle. Finally, three days later we arrived at the main beach in Mazatlan for our first surf session.  Turns out Craig’s van did not lock, so we had to watch it as we paddled out for our first session. The water was so unexpectedly warm (over 80 degrees!) the Paraffin wax for our surfboards was melting, making foot traction on the board quite challenging.

We saw more of these Mexican detour signs than we cared to

We set up base camp at a campground in town and proceeded to explore around Mazatlan and the surrounding area for perfect waves, to no avail. At one point we might have found our secluded beach with wave potential. We ventured out and suddenly a huge bat ray flew out of the water right next to me with a large splash. I paddled into shore faster than I ever paddled in my life! And never went back out there. That kind of stuff did not happen in Southern Cal… It really spooked me.

The fun lasted just a little over a week before getting clobbered by Montezuma’s Revenge, coincidentally just as a hurricane off the Pacific was clobbering the coast of Mexico. For me, it was the perfect storm.

A final memory of Mazatlan was getting up at night in the campground in complete darkness to pay my respects to Montezuma in a torrential downpour with the wind howling. Without seeing anything, I stepped on some kind of live creature with my bare foot. It cracked like a crab, and then crawled off injured like some kind of giant prehistoric spider. Adios amigo! I am outta here! We left the next day. All important on the way home was how great a McDonald’s burger would taste after crossing the border in San Diego.

Upon arrival back in So Cal, we discovered the film in the 8mm video camera had been exposed after opening the camera. Our Mazatlan movie was gone, and none of us had a single picture from the experience. But we were more focused on the adventure of it all than trying to document it. The memories and stories are better kept in our minds. It was a trip for the ages. And it taught me the power of a prayer.

Jack Schott carving a bumpy left at Cannon’s Beach in Mazatlan in 1964

I emailed a friend who I knew traveled to Mazatlan in those days to see if he had any photos. Though he is ten years my senior, Jack Schott is a former Surfing Magazine cover boy who to this day out surfs me every time we go (including last weekend at San Onofre). Jack told me a story about going to Mazatlan in 1964 with three friends and dragging a trailer to carry their longboards, which were big and heavy back then. Their trip ended suddenly when they were thrown into a prison in Mazatlan for lighting off fireworks from their hotel balcony. Jack claims, “It was the other guys doing that”. Ha. They barely scraped together enough money to pay their way out of the prison and flee town just as a police car was coming to get them for further damage to their hotel room.

**RESOURCES**

“Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God” by Bill Hybels
I combine my time of sitting/meditation with a time of prayer in the early morning to connect with God. This book changed my views on how I should be praying. Hybels is saying that our prayer life is a two-way conversation. Often I am just pouring out my problems and forgetting to stop and listen and understand what He might be trying to tell me. This time of listening to God has been very precious, and I now understand is key to my understanding how God might be working in my life, especially when I don’t see a direct response to my earnest prayers.

Begin with the End in Mind

“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
Genesis 2:3

God was setting an important example for us when he rested after six days of work in the opening book of the Bible.  Work is a critical element to life here on Earth, as well the life we will live in Heaven (Matthew 25:23).  Even after creating man, God immediately put him to work in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15).

I would like to propose a new perspective on how to approach the challenge of balancing work with the rest of our life, by contemplating our death.

While I am passionate about the need for balance in work and life, I’ll be the first to admit that there is no quick fix to the many challenges we all face today in this area.  There are plenty of books, articles and videos telling us how to solve it.  Here’s a “top 15” list I compiled just in case you want the quick fix:

  1. Set boundaries with email
  2. Ask for support
  3. Get organized
  4. Concentrate on one thing at a time (get present)
  5. Make time for loved ones
  6. Schedule everything
  7. Let go of perfectionism
  8. Work smarter, not longer
  9. Don’t compromise on your sleep
  10. Set life goals
  11. Learn how to say “no”
  12. Make relaxation and breaks a priority
  13. Exercise and meditate
  14. My 2nd favorite: Hire a personal coach
  15. And my favorite (it really works): Unplug!

Check out my Circle of Life quiz, which provides a quick view of the current state in balancing your life:

This work/life balance thing is a very tough nut to crack in our non-stop 24/7 economy that is being driven by a mobile device that seems to travel everywhere with us.  Rebecca Zucker writes in a recent Harvard Business Review article titled: “How to Achieve Work/Life Balance”:

“… I now work as an executive coach, and work-life balance is an issue that my clients frequently grapple with, as they face the new work demands that come with technological advances. For example, one client in San Francisco who works for a fast-growing tech company shared that she gets up at 4am to work. She has anxiety about the possibility of missing an e-mail at midnight. “Is this normal?” she asked.“

I don’t think it’s “normal”, but I do know it is happening more and more as an increasing number of us are now sleeping with these little mobile “devils”, beyond just getting us up at 4am to keep up.  Fortune magazine recently reported that 71% of us sleep with their own smartphones either on a nightstand or in their bed!

At times I wish I could beam my family back to the 1960’s when I was growing up in Corona del Mar spending summers on the beach without a thought in the world, other than what was going on right then in front of me.  It did create some challenges with surfing however, as we actually had to go to the beach to look at the waves to see if it was worth going out.  Today you simply push a button on your iPhone – and magically the tides, wind, swell and even a video appear for that day; that moment…  What!?

This cover shot from Matt Warsaw’s “History of Surfing” captures my memories of growing up at the beach in CdM – except the waves were not that good!

When my wife and I started our high tech careers at ROLM there was no Internet, no cell phones, no voice mail, and no way of carrying your “days work” around in your pocket.  When we left work, we were done for the day.  The only thing waiting the next day when one arrived to work [possibly] was a pink slip or two.  Not the pink slip that dismissed you from your job, but a pink form someone filled in when a phone call came in for you while you were out of the office. The workday started when you arrived at the facility.   

I worked hard and had days when I worked late, or when I would come in on a Saturday to get caught up.  But when I was not at work I was focused on my life outside of work, whether that was family, friends, fitness, or just relaxing and watching the surf to see if I could anticipate a swell on the rise.

Since we’re not beaming back to the 60’s anytime soon, lets agree there seems to be no stopping this lightening bolt of progress.  Dr. Richard A. Swenson, M.D. summed it up well in his book Margin when he asked:

“If we are enjoying so much progress, why is everyone so worn out?“

So let’s pause on all that progress for a moment and talk about what happens at “the end”You know, when we die.

Then what?

Steven Covey, in his best selling book: “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, was the first to gain widespread attention with “Begin with the end in mind” (Habit #2)”.  Covey asks us to question whether we are approaching life in a manner that reflects our values and beliefs.  To make his point, he included a very insightful exercise that impacted me immensely.  He asks you to find a place where you can be alone and uninterrupted to visualize attending your own funeral – three years from now.  Covey then asks you to write the speech of four people who were important in your life and who will speak at your funeral: a family member, a close friend, a co-worker, and a member of your church or community.   What do you want them to say about your life?

Here is a reprint of it (Covey_End-In-Mind_Exercise) to try it out.  I have used this as a self-reflection exercise in my coaching.  It powerfully demonstrates how you are prioritizing your time, and helps to seriously re-examine your priorities.  As the old adage goes, you never do hear anyone say from their deathbed that they wished they had worked more.   In her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, Bronnie Ware cites the number two regret (of five) as:  “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”.

Suddenly, another thought creeps into my head.  Suppose I die.  The odds are about 100% that eventually that will happen. And people then [hopefully] say nice things about me at my funeral.
Then what?

Being a Christian, Heaven is a given after life on EarthBut, what does that really mean?  What will it be like?  What will my body be like?  Will I know anyone?  Will I still be able to surf?  There are a thousand other questions I could ask.  If I am going to be in Heaven for an eternity, I’d like to know a little more.

Imagine

As mentioned earlier (About surfing and my Christian faith), I did not become a Christian until I my mid-thirties.  Prior to that, I had a real fear of death.  It was something I called “permanent lights-out”.   This thought of complete nothingness would envelop me.  It was my biggest fear.  By far.

John Lennon’s “Imagine” (1971) has a few verses that speak to this way of thinking.  It is a beautiful song.  But pay attention to what it really is saying.

“Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people — living for today

He’s talking about permanent LIGHTS OUT!

Most research tells us roughly seven-in-ten Americans say they actually do believe in Heaven — defined as a place “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.”  Most of us really do want to go to Heaven, and I believe God desires for us to use our imagination to anticipate the beauty and wonder and joy of what awaits us there.   In Matthew 6:19-21, God commands us to set our hearts and minds on heaven above.  Jesus was consistently very clear about that in the Bible:

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

When Jesus met with his disciples for their last meal together before his death, he did not use the time to review the strategic plan on how to move his ministry forward after He’s gone.  That’s what I probably would have done.  But instead, Jesus speaks about Heaven, and gives them a picture of hope around the place he is preparing for each of them:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”   John 14:1-3

Chip Ingram makes the following comment about this in his book “The Real Heaven”:

“Jesus knew that a crystal clear view of eternity and of their future home in Heaven would sustain them through the most difficult of times.  When life would get hard and when persecution would come, the hope of Heaven would motivate them to persevere.”

When I became a Christian no one handed me a brochure on Heaven.  It remained a mystery not discussed much in church or Bible studies. I wanted to know more and thus began a wonderful study for me.  It all started with the Bible.

I will see you in paradise

A disclaimer here:
I am not a professional theologian, pastor or trained biblical scholar.  These writings are based on my research solely and do involve some conjecture on my part.  I am not the expert, but I do reference a few books (including the Bible) for those who want to learn more.

While I have studied the Bible and attended church fairly consistently over the past 30 years, I did not have a very clear picture of Heaven.  It had always been present in discussions about life after death, but I never felt I had much of a grasp on what it was.

The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of Heaven (622 times according to Google), and hands-down, Jesus speaks of Heaven more than any other.

Another useful resource on Heaven is Randy Alcorn’s book appropriately called Heaven”.   Alcorn has spent over 25 years researching what the Bible says about it, and he attempts to answer some challenging questions, such as understanding the difference between the present Heaven (where Christians go when they die) and the ultimate, eternal Heaven (where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth).  I don’t want to get to that level, but highly recommend it.

I also have referenced my notes and materials from Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  BSF is an international Christian interdenominational structured Bible study (begun in 1959) I have been participating in for the past 12 years.  BSF is a wonderful program for anyone wanting to learn more about the Bible.

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

One of my favorite verses on Heaven in the Bible is this one, where Jesus refers to Heaven as “paradise”, in almost the last words he spoke on Earth before his death.   He said this to a dying thief who was being crucified next to him on the cross.  As the thief accepted Christ as his Lord and Master he was assured of his place in Heaven.

So just exactly what is this “paradise” that awaits us that Jesus is referring to?  According to Jesus, they were going to be there “today”!  As I have studied Heaven, it has given me great purpose for my life here on Earth.  The Bible is crystal clear about what awaits us by accepting Jesus as our Lord and savior.  Heaven is a real, physical place Christians know to be the final destination, where we will enjoy life with God for eternity.

Chapter 21 of the book of Revelation in the Bible represents heaven as a place where there is no more sin, death or sorrow.  Heaven will have indescribable beauty beyond our wildest imagination from what we know here on Earth.  We will rejoice with those we knew in life on Earth when we are in Heaven.  We will be home with God with a sense of peace and joy that everything is as it should be.  In Heaven we will have real physical bodies, will eat and drink and wear clothes like we do here on Earth.  In Heaven we will be able to do physical things just like we do here on Earth today.  Like having a tasty barbecue with your good friends on the beach.

As Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he made a point to eat with them and asked them to touch him and see that he was a physical being (Luke 24:36-43).  He even prepared a breakfast fish barbecue on the beach for his disciples to demonstrate to them that he was himself (John 21:1-15).  I know this is hard to imagine for us here on Earth.  Nobody of course understands the mystery of how God works all his miracles, but the Bible is very clear on all of it.

The resurrected Jesus barbecued a fish breakfast on the beach for his disciples (Luke 24:36-43)

From all the reading I have done, a life way better than we can imagine awaits us in Heaven.  The very best we may have experienced here on Earth will surely pale in comparison to what God has planned.

Here is a quote from Randy Alcorn’s Heaven to frame this picture:

“All of our lives we’ve been dreaming of the New Earth.  Whenever we see beauty in water, wind, flower, deer, man, woman, or child, we catch a glimpse of Heaven.  Just like the Garden of Eden, the New Earth will be a place of sensory delight, breathtaking beauty, satisfying relationships, and personal joy.”

While Heaven and Earth appear to be separated today, according to the Bible, in end times when Jesus returns to Earth, Heaven will come here onto a new Earth for eternity.  The New Jerusalem comes down to the renewed Earth and there the redeemed will spend eternity with God on the renewed Earth.  Revelation 21 contains a surprisingly detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like.

I purposely am avoiding further detail, and recommend Randy Alcorn’s Heaven if you want to learn more.  But it is fun to use one’s imagination to provide an image of this wonderful world yet to come.

While all this is interesting, I found myself still wanting to know more about Heaven.  I wanted to debunk this belief about Heaven being boring or anything we might get tired of.  I even have one friend who half jokingly described it as a non-stop church service singing “Holy-Holy-Holy” … for eternity?

Gary Larson spoke to that well in his many comics on Heaven.

Stay tuned for my next post: “Opening day in paradise”.

**RESOURCES**

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel

This book was made into a movie in 2017, and I highly recommend both if you have any questions around the historical reliability of the New Testament, and/or claims made by Jesus Christ.  Lee Strobel was a self-proclaimed atheist when he began investigating the Biblical claims about Christ after his wife’s conversion. As an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Lee pulled together all the facts about Jesus as if he were going to trial. Prompted by the results of his investigation, he became a Christian on November 8, 1981.

Heaven by Randy Alcorn

I’ve made my case for this book in the above post.  Simply wonderful.
In the words of Stu Weber (stated on the front cover):

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

Lessons for the Grandchildren from Kona Jack

Well, I’ll just start by saying that I can’t put into words how much I miss dad. There are so many emotions around the void I feel without him. It’s been quite a change in life for me.

Dad was a man’s man, that’s for sure. And I guess I lucked out by being his boy. We didn’t have to talk things out. In fact, never really did as far as I can remember. Life with dad just happened.   Hanging out doing things guys do together, largely around sports. He taught me most of what I know about surfing, tennis, skiing, football, baseball, basketball and more. But I don’t mean that he instructed me – that definitely wasn’t dad. It was just about being together and doing whatever it was we were doing, and then I learned through that experience. It’s been a good lesson for me in life. I wouldn’t trade that time with dad for anything.

I know this won’t surprise those who know me well, but I look very forward to going to heaven, which is a nice way of saying that I look forward to dying. I have a firm belief in the truth of a glorious life in heaven awaiting us. For eternity. I’ve read so many books on it, and of course, the Bible is so crystal clear on the joy and peace that awaits us. There in heaven, I believe I will be reunited with dad again in the prime of his life. It will be a joyous reunion that I look very forward to. I am imagining of course that he is going to say,

Michael, let’s go surfing!”.

Until then, my hope is that I can have as much of an influence on people as dad did on his friends and family and neighbors in Kona. Somehow, he seemed to rub off on everyone, even on people he would seemingly completely ignore. A good example of that was a neighbor of his at the Keahou Kona Surf & Racquet Club who gave him a case of Coors Light for Christmas one year. He simply returned it to them and said he didn’t drink Coors Light.

That was dad.

I think we all would agree that dad left quite a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.

I thank God for this opportunity to summarize a few of the areas from dad’s legacy that I think his grandchildren should take note of. I like to think of it as the passing of the baton to Marisa, Matthew, Brennan and Hayley. They are all quite simple, not anything that would surprise those who knew dad. But I think the combination of them together is what really set dad apart.   He lived each one of them to the fullest.

So here they are — 6 lessons for the grandchildren from Kona Jack.

#1 – Keep your sense of humor (even into your 80’s and beyond!)

"You should have seen the OTHER guy!"

“You should have seen the OTHER guy!”

In my opinion, this had to be the top lesson from dad for all of us!

Plain and simple, he was hysterical with his many dry comments that seemed to always come out when you least expected it. He had an amazing wit, and used it all of the time, on anyone! It didn’t seem to wane at all as he launched into some challenging times in his 80’s. There are so many examples to cite. Dad was a walking comedy act in my book, and I appreciate that now more than ever…

On my last trip over to Kona to see dad, I had come to rescue him after he took a pretty serious spill walking down the hill from KTA with a bag of groceries.  He was quite bandaged up, head to toe, not moving too well, when he asked me to take him to town for a haircut. As we entered the barbershop, dad was shuffling slowly through the door as a customer was holding the door open waiting for dad to get by. Suddenly out of nowhere, dad looked at this guy and blurted out,

“You should have seen the OTHER guy!”

I had to really think for a minute or two what the heck he was even talking about. Then suddenly as I took my seat in the barbershop, it hit me.  I almost started crying I was laughing so hard.

His many sticky notes in the mail to Terry and I were also famous for these dry comments. Here’s one he wrote on an article he was sending me:

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

Another sticky 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.”

Ok, final one!
Another note 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

Dad sneaking in a nap just hours before the wedding bells ring!

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

I believe a big key to the long and healthy life dad lived was his ability to sleep, anywhere at any time. He often took 2 naps a day, and never (that I can remember) had a hard time getting a full nights sleep. I even remember our wedding day, when I walked into the bedroom in Jack Schott’s house to get the Tuxedo on, and there was dad on the floor lying down for a nap. Of course, I think that is one area where he would agree that his lack of hearing was a real advantage!

I believe his sleep had a LOT to do with countering his daily nutritional habits, if you can call it that. Dad was a walking miracle based upon the food he was eating on a daily basis. He could have written the book on “how to live a long and healthy life while eating and drinking anything you want.”

I will always remember the trip we took back from Honolulu after being air Evac’d there for surgery to implant a stint in his main heart artery (early 90’s). After rescuing him from 2 days at Queens Medical Center (which believe me, was a story in itself!), we flew to Kona and were on our way home in the car when he requested that I pull into the Harbor House in Kealakehe Harbor (one of his favorite spots) for a giant schooner of draft beer and a large plate of french fries (which he proceeded to salt heavily and cover with catsup). I remember trying to tell him the doctor said not to lift anything over 10 pounds, and that the beer schooner was surely well over that! He looked at me like I was crazy, holding the giant glass mug with both hands shaking as he lifted it to his lips.

And of course, there was the infamous grocery list 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, and a Snickers bar.

On a thank you note he sent Terry, he outlined what would happen 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.”

I’ll bet he slept good that night!

In fact, it really seems quite appropriate that he passed in his sleep after a Father’s Day meal of fish & chips and a Rob Roy (at the old Drysdale’s of course!).

#3 — Keep life simple

Dad's wardrobe for the week, hanging on his bathroom towel rack.

Dad’s wardrobe for the week, hanging on his bathroom towel rack

I think we ALL were extremely envious of the fact that dad lived about as simple a life as one could imagine. And for the past 27 or so years after moving to Kona, he probably should have won an environmental achievement award for having the lowest carbon footprint in the state of Hawaii.   I clearly remember the day I took him to the airport in L.A. for his move to Kona from Newport Beach at Park Newport. He had sold everything for the move, including his car. But when he put a single suitcase into the car I seriously thought he was kidding.

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

And of course his response: “This is it Michael. I got rid of everything.”

And he stayed that way – never succumbing to a life of possessions and complexity. His place was a perfect example of that. A couple of $3.99 Wal-Mart Chairs around a $4.99 Wal-Mart table was about the only furniture he needed.   He didn’t seem to mind that when we came to visit we all had to stand around to talk with him. In fact, I think he liked the fact that you were never going to stay long if you didn’t have somewhere to sit. I tried to buy him a Lazy Boy chair more than once, just to get his feet up.
“If I want to lay down I’ll just go out to the pool”, he quickly shot back in response.

Good point.

Dad’s amazing ability to keep life simple and avoid the stress that often is attached to the things we accumulate truly was something to be admired.

Here’s a note he wrote us on the back of his race number for the Keahou 5K – effectively re-using the race number as a note card:

“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 good tennis at 85 and beyond.

Still playing solid tennis well into his 80’s!

If there is one quality that most influenced me, it was dad’s example with consistent exercise throughout his entire life. This was probably one of the few areas where he did offer advice to Terry and I as we were growing up. Whether it was his tennis, surfing, skiing, or even jumping rope in the living room when we were growing up, dad believed exercise was a true fountain of youth. And he was pretty good living proof that it worked!

This hand-written note of his on the back of a re-used Christmas card pretty much says it all:

“Dear Marla and Mike: Thought I’d take just a second to wish you the best of everything for 1993 and to thank you again for the running shorts and socks. Trust me, you could not have done better. Wish I could send you a sample of this year’s eggnog. It is arguably one of my best blends yet.
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.

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

Following on that theme, I think everyone would agree that dad set the stage on how to enjoy life. It did not matter whether it was a classic Kona sunset, a cold mug of draft beer, or a well played football game on TV — he enjoyed it to the fullest, and let everyone around him know it. It was a very nice & healthy quality of his, and something that I already miss a great deal. There is definitely a part of it that has propelled me into the work/life balance coaching arena. Dad simply never let work distract him from enjoying life and kept a keen eye on those who did the same.

Here’s an insightful comment he made on 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!”

Another quality I especially noticed later in dad’s life was that he was not a complainer and seemed to find pleasure and humor during the difficult times. Don’t get me wrong, he let you know if he didn’t like something or if something had not gone well, but he never dwelled on it – and seemed to just let the hard times pass, soon making light of it after. That was especially evident to me when we made those two trips back to Queens Medical Center in Honolulu for his bladder cancer surgery, while carrying a catheter bag with him along the way. He truly was amazing on those trips with how he kept his spirits up and maintained a sense of humor about it all. I could cite so many examples, but one that sticks out was a vivid memory I have of him enjoying a beer in the Kona airport after security had given him the complete shake-down in the TSA line.
He is taking a long draw of the beer, and saying:

“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one Michael.”

Of course, I was looking at him holding the catheter bag as he drank the beer in amazement, thinking, how could he possibly be enjoying a beer right now?!

#6 — It’s ok to be sentimental

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

We all know about dad’s goodbyes. Plain and simple, they were painful for those of us who were trying to leave! I dreaded it every trip over as he always fell apart and started to cry when I left. Interestingly, my last trip over was the worst of all. He really did act as if he knew he would not see me again, finally almost yelling at me to leave…

Its hard to say much more on this one – but I think the point for the grandkids is to not hold your emotions in – but to let it go. I wish I could be more like that.
Here are a couple notes he wrote me which show different aspects of his sentimentality:

Written on the “Corona del Mar and growing up” section which he edited for me on this blog:

“ 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 [out] grow my sentimentality, which I for sure inherited from my father.”

A short note on a bank statement he sent me (and I know he felt exactly the same about Brennan and Hayley):

“Mike: this is not very legible, but if there is any questions I’m sure we can straighten them out on the phone. Also, I wanted to give you and Marla my sincere congratulations on the way you have raised your two kids. Believe me, they are the absolute tops.”

Here’s one Terry and I discovered after dad’s passing. He had taken a 3-week solo trip to Australia after his retirement from General Telephone in the mid 80’s, and the airlines lost his luggage on the flight over. We were surprised to find a fairly detailed daily journal he kept from that trip where he periodically lamented over the loss and its impact on his trip and on his emotions, until seemingly getting over it on his final week or so on the trip. The final entry in the journal was as follows:

“Checked with Quantis 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 he sent me shortly after college (early 1980’s) – but I don’t think this one was re-used:

“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.

[now, mind you — next sentence in this same note]

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”

Good-bye dad.

Kona Jack (October 30, 1926 – June 20, 2016)

June 20, 2016
This post is in honor of our father, grandfather, and good friend,
Jack B Mulkey *

US_Navy

U.S. Navy recruit for WWII Jack B Mulkey

On the night of a full Strawberry Moon, Kona Jack, as he was known on the big island of Hawaii for the past 27 years, passed away peacefully in his sleep, just 4 months shy of his 90th birthday, and after spending Father’s Day with his daughter Terry, and her husband, Bob Hankenson. He was in fact doing fantastic that entire week, still living the independent life he loved at the Keahou Surf and Racquet Club in unit #29. But he always told us that he never did want to reach 90.

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Kona Jack ready for sunset at the Keahou Surf & Racquet Club

I should add that his Father’s Day included Terry washing his feet (they needed it!), his favorite meal, fish and chips; and his favorite cocktail, a Rob Roy, served “up with a twist”. He even completed the day’s crossword puzzle in the Honolulu Advertiser!
It’s safe to say he passed on exactly as he would have wanted.

father_and_daughter

Father and daughter out for breakfast just a few days before Father’s Day.

kCrossword_puzzle

Today’s Crossword Puzzle

* Dad will be laid to rest in a ceremony at the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery on Friday, October 28th (9am).  A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, October 29th at the Keahou Surf & Racquet Club in the late afternoon.  Please let me know if you would like to join us! (m1mulkey@gmail.com).

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Jack_B_Mulkey

Dad and the 1936 Ford Cabriolet Convertible he used working for a fried chicken delivery business following the war

The following obituary ran in the Hawaii local newspapers on July 15, 2016:

Jack “Kona Jack” B Mulkey, 89, of Keauhou died June 20 at home. Born Oct. 30 in Santa Monica, Calif., he was a maintenance helper for the Keauhou Surf & Racquet Club, retired right of way agent for General Telephone Co. in California, surfing pioneer and U.S. Navy World War II veteran. Service information at surfingforbalance.com. For info, call 650-799-3292 or 805-252-5376. Survived by daughter, Terry (Robert) Hankenson of California; son, Michael (Marla) Mulkey of California; four grandchildren. Arrangements by Cremation Services of West Hawaii.

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These blog posts below are dedicated to dad’s memory, for all the wonderful lessons in life I learned from him through the sport of surfing and balancing life. If you would like to read more about the blog, click on “About”. And if you would like to read more on dad’s history with surfing in California, click on “Malibu and The Greatest Generation”.

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Dad was a huge John Wooden fan from the day he took the helm as head coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team in 1948 when dad was attending there on the GI bill from WWII.  As I was looking through some of the hand-written notes dad had sent me over the years, I found this one in response to reading one of Wooden’s books I had sent to him:

“Mike: It all boils down to preparation, details and work, work, work. No wonder I was never successful! 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.”

This post below (Peace of Mind) was in queue for dad’s review at the time of his passing.
I am publishing it today in his memory.

Peace of Mind

Prologue (4.3)

“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

I love basketball.

I don’t have many regrets in life, but quitting the Corona del Mar High School basketball team my junior year is one that has stuck with me through the years. I showed up late for a Saturday practice (in my wetsuit of course…), and coach Tandy Gillis made sure I would not want to do that again. And I didn’t. At the end of practice I sheepishly told him I was done. Quitting the team. Enough already. I was 17 years old and didn’t need some basketball coach telling me what to do.

CdM_Class_1973

Coach Gillis was a bit of an icon, which of course I appreciate much more now than I did then. Tandy played basketball for the University of California, and rumor had it that he 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 was an All American at Cal, where he had played under coach Pete Newell, who coached Cal to win the 1959 NCAA championship. In fact, Tandy’s Cal Bears beat Jerry West’s West Virginia team in the finals 71-70 that year.

nba-logo

Gillis knew how to coach defense like Einstein knew how to teach physics. It was quite simple really. He taught us how to play an extremely tight man-to-man defense by “crawling inside their jock strap” as he used to say, and denying every pass possible. If you ever conceded the baseline to an opponent with the ball, it was going to be a long practice for you. That was about it.

1972 CdM Varsity Basketball Team (Tandy Gillis on far right)

UCLA Basketball
Growing up as a basketball fan in SoCal in the 60’s and 70’s meant you had to be a fan of what John Wooden was doing with his UCLA men’s basketball team. Dad had attended UCLA on the GI bill following the war, and quickly began to follow what the Wizard of Westwood (as he became known) was doing on the basketball court. They truly were a sports dynasty of unequal at that time. I have fond memories of dad allowing me to stay up to watch the KTLA channel 5 replays of those games at 11pm with Dick Endberg announcing. I could not wait for the “Oh MY’s” from Endberg, as UCLA ran endlessly up and down the court scoring at will, and seemed to always end up on the winning side. Truth be known, dad would clarify here that I fell asleep by halftime of most of those games.

The Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins went on an absolute rampage to win 10 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships over a period of 12 years (1964-1975), including 7 in a row (1967-1973), and 4 seasons undefeated (1964, 1967,1972, 1973), and even had an amazing 88-game win streak. I cried the day they lost that streak to Elvin Hayes and the #2 Houston Cougars in what was billed as the game of the century at the Houston Astrodome with over 52,000 in attendance. I don’t want to get started on that story, other than to mention that UCLA’s star,  Lew Alcindor (Kareen Abdul-Jabbar), had the worst game of his college career, playing with a patch over one eye due to an injury… Clearly, what Coach Wooden was doing was unprecedented in the sports world and had grabbed everyone’s attention.

mike and dick endberg

20 years later I had the opportunity to meet Dick Endberg in person and exchange stories of those late night KTLA channel 5 broadcasts.

Something was quite different about Coach John Wooden.

Amidst the many, many UCLA victories, coach Wooden had the ability to inspire people in his wonderful qualities as a person, and I was surely one who was caught up in the magic of what he was accomplishing. In all circumstances Coach Wooden was an extremely humble man, always giving the credit for those around him before himself. As a coach, I found it incredible that he never spoke to his teams about winning. His focus was in helping each of them become the best that they possibly could be. He liked to emphasize the importance of practice, and that if you practiced well, the games would take care of themselves. He was cool as a cucumber during the tensest moments of the game, often refusing to be the first to call a timeout to get his team settled down.
I could carry on at length, but there are many books written which tell that story [see “Resources” below for some suggestions].

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
John Wooden

One could not help but wonder what was behind all the success those UCLA teams were having. It was puzzling to me, and I felt a strong yearning to learn more about this man’s inner philosophy and whether I could apply his lessons to life, as well as to coaching basketball.

Fast-Forward 20 years to Silicon Valley.

They Call Me Coach
As soon as our two children were old enough to play basketball, I could not wait to enter the coaching ranks to pass on all the valuable skills I had learned as a CdM High School Sea King. As painful as it was to carry the regret of being a quitter in a sport I enjoyed so much, I was determined to make amends through coaching. God works in amazing ways, and He has allowed me to use that experience as an opportunity to influence other players at the high school level that were contemplating the same decision to quit. Believe me, I give a strong testimony against it, and have had some success at keeping them on the team.

marisa & Mike Go Team!

Reciting a block of the pyramid with YMCA little hoopsters (“CONFIDENCE!”)

I was working for IBM as a Sales Training Instructor when I read John Wooden’s first book, They Call Me Coach, hoping I could leverage his model for success to inspire trainee sales representatives to achieve their sales targets. Buried in the middle of the book in Chapter 13, I was struck by another epiphany.

As Coach Wooden was discussing his beliefs on success and how he tried to coach his players about being the best they could be, he quoted a verse from the Bible, Matthew 6:33:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Right there, Coach Wooden told the story of his faith, and how basketball was of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. In Coach Wooden’s view, there was only one kind of life that truly wins; one that places faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Only then could true peace of mind take place.

Wooden carried on to explain how he had carried a metal cross of Jesus Christ in his pocket through all those many games over the years so he could hold on to it and be comforted by his Savior when things got tense in the game. He held the cross in his hand and would rub it for comfort — to the point that it had been worn down on the corners over the years.

Oh MY.

I was a new Christian at that time, and that really hit home with me. It was so simple, yet so very honest, and so true! It made a great deal of sense to someone who was just starting off in their career, and it would continue to ring true over the next two decades chasing that model of “success”.

Most remarkable of all was that Coach Wooden felt strongly that he had to practice what he preached in order for his teachings to be effective. His players all looked up to him for his principles and for his commitment to his faith. He really lived it! And I believe that is what set John Wooden apart from all others and enabled him to see the level of success he achieved.

Achieve Quota!
At the time I had this revelation with Coach Wooden, I had just been promoted to a Sales Manager position for the IBM branch sales office in Santa Clara selling telecommunications systems to our installed base accounts. To this day I have never held a more challenging and demanding job. I hold all sales people in the highest regard as a result. It took me to the limit – and then some…

In the late 1980’s IBM regarded their sales force as the most important ingredient to their success. New-hire sales reps were in a sense brainwashed through an intensive 18-week sales training program. They hit the streets running and were expected to deliver on quota immediately. So as a Sales Manager, the pressure cooker was on the fire, and I was fighting on a daily basis for territory, accounts, quota, and that most elusive Purchase Order to bring home the bacon.

But that fine balance between the work (which never seemed to stop) and my life outside the office was immediately in jeopardy. Hard work not withstanding; I was working my tail off! But I struggled with a perspective, which would allow me to both inspire my team to success, as well as give me a sense that I could rest at the end of the day knowing I had done my best to meet the day’s challenges.

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

Pyramid of Success
The Pyramid of Success was another jewel I discovered in They Call Me Coach, a model of which has been on the wall in my office ever since. Coach Wooden described how he struggled with the definition of the word “success”, and what it truly meant. This led him on a sojourn over a 15-year period to create a block pyramid, which summarized the building blocks required for success, both on the court and off. It is easy to summarize. Hard work was definitely at the core of it. No getting around the hard work with Coach Wooden. But once you had done that, it came down to patience (“good things take time”), along with faith through prayer to turn it over to God. All this resulted in “peace of mind” that you can rest in the fact that you have done all the right things, now is the time to rest in God’s plan for the outcome. Never a thought about winning. Just making sure it was your best effort. And of course, as Coach Wooden liked to say: “you are the only one who truly can judge that!”.

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Here was a model that said you did not have to win to succeed! I quickly adopted it for the children’s basketball teams I was coaching (they all had to memorize each of the 15 blocks), as well as incorporated it into the mentoring of our sales team at IBM.

I got so excited about discovering the Pyramid of Success that I even typed out a letter to Coach Wooden, asking for additional resources that I could use in our sales training classes. I figured he had someone sorting his mail that could send me some information. Amazingly, within a week of sending the letter, I had a hand-written response from Coach Wooden with details of the resources I could call on. 
He was truly modeling the principle’s he was teaching.

Letter_from_John_wooden2
As a coach, father, and believer in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I have found the pyramid of success to be a wonderful 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 has enabled me to go home at the end of the day over the years with a sense of satisfaction that regardless of the outcome, I gave it my best effort.

Wooden authored and co-authored 17 books before his death in 2010 at the age of 99, and I have listed a couple of my favorites below. But an Amazon search on “John Wooden” will bring up many more. They all model the values and beliefs of this amazing man.

**Resources**

“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 blocks of the pyramid.

They Call Me Coach (1988) by John Wooden
This was his first, and my personal favorite, as 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 which covers the UCLA basketball teams in quite a bit of detail, which I appreciated, having watched so many of those games.

Corona del Mar and Growing Up

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

Prologue (Part 2 of 4)

Crown of the Sea
My “San Onofre experience” and growing up in Corona del Mar plays a big part fitting this work/life balance puzzle together. This time period is a very unique chapter in Southern California surfing history. My Father, Jack Mulkey, is my Editor in Chief to hold me accountable for accuracy.

Crown of the Sea

Corona del Mar (CdM), which is Spanish for “Crown of the Sea”, was pretty much the quintessential beach community, with a small town atmosphere (population in 1964 of ~8,000), plenty of beautiful sandy beaches and rocky coves to explore, and balmy weather that was comfortable all year round. It was a very tightly knit crowd, most of who stayed together from kindergarten through graduation from Corona del Mar High School (GO Sea Kings!). Several of them I am still in close contact with today.

The more memorable times were pretty much spent at the beach, surfing (body or board), and just hanging out with friends. I remember just lying in the warm sand to heat you back up after a long stint in the water, and then going back in to the water once you got too hot.  Repeat.  Until it was time to go home.

Mostly we hung between the two main beaches in town, Big Corona and Little Corona. They were two very different beaches. Sometimes we’d talk one of our mom’s into dropping us off with our surfboards off at a local surf spot a little further up or down the coast. This was regardless of the surf conditions, as we had no way of knowing ahead of time what it was like. One time I recall Matt Cox had his mom drop us off at Huntington Beach cliffs on a day when there was not much surf. Apparently, she forgot to come to get us!? Of course, without cell phones or money, we were really stuck. We were beginning to plot a robbery on a nearby convenience store to stave off starvation when she suddenly showed up at the end of the day. We never let Matt hear the end of that one.

Woodie_in_Garage

Dad in front of our 1948 Plymouth Woodie at 507 Marguerite Ave.

Corona del Mar has an interesting history with surfing as one of the premier surfing spots on the west coast in the late 1920s and early 1930s and even hosted the Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships during that period. However, in 1936 a large extension to the jetty at the entrance of Newport Harbor was built, and surfing popularity pretty much died due to the change in surf conditions on the CdM side of the harbor (south side). These jetties are huge barriers to block the entrance to Newport Harbor and clearly were a tremendous undertaking to build, requiring railroad tracks to transport the giant granite rocks into position.

A remarkable story about the building of the jetties was recently documented in a 2014 PBS documentary called “The Wedge: Dynasty, Tragedy, Legacy”.  In 1926, a 15-year old polio victim (George Rogers Jr.) drowned in the Newport Harbor as the boat he was in capsized in heavy surf. As a result of his polio, the heavy weight of his iron leg braces sank his body to the bottom of the harbor and was never found. His father, George Rogers Sr., consequently sold his business and focused his remaining years of life seeking the funding to alter Newport Harbor to prevent such an accident from happening again. In spite of the scarcity of money during the depression, he raised over $2 million in federal and local funds to build the jetty extension in 1936. However, a month following the re-dedication of the improved Newport Harbor entrance, George Rogers Sr. suffered a heart attack while on his boat as he entered the harbor entrance and died at approximately the same location his son had died, ten years earlier.
What!? …

Although the surf on the CdM side was partially blocked by the large jetty, the jetties did lead to the creation of the now famous “Wedge” on the north side of the harbor in Newport Beach. Waves at the Wedge can top over 20 feet when conditions are right. I remember a few times growing up when we dodged the Harbor Patrol as we swam across the harbor from CdM to watch the body surfers at the Wedge when it so big that we could see the waves from the CdM side of the harbor. Swimming in the harbor was strictly prohibited, but to see people body surf a 20-foot wave just a few feet off the shore was worth risking getting caught.

On the CdM side, the jetty extension pretty much destroyed the excellent surfing waves for which CdM had been so well known for. Once the jetties were completed in 1936, most of the serious surfing crowd began venturing further south to San Onofre and beyond in search of consistently good waves to ride.

Big Corona State Beach (bottom half) and the Wedge (top half)

For our local surf community, Corona del Mar State Beach (Big Corona) still had plenty of good waves when a south/southwest swell would come in. There was also a very short tubular left, which seemed to magically appear during the BIG south swells at low tide that we reckoned to our own homegrown Pipeline in Hawaii. It came out of nowhere and was hard to believe when it happened.

Further south down the beach was called Banzai – ironically, which had no shape for surfing at all – but lots of open sand to hang out when the tourists from inland were crowding the beach near the jetty and snack bars. We’d often go out to body surf on a big day after the “blackball” flag came out (meaning, no surfing). You would catch a wave and take the drop like you were diving off a cliff, and then pretty much get bombed when the entire length of Banzai seemed to break all at once.

It wasn’t too often that we brought a Kodak Brownie camera down to the beach to take pictures back then, and those we did take were of pretty poor quality. Below is a shot of Scott Sutton taken by his dad circa 1966 from the jetty while he was riding one of those classic jetty rights. Scott is manhandling a 9’3” Hobie “Phil Edwards Model” which had three 2×4-sized redwood stringers in it. And that’s John Park off to the side paddling his Surfboards Hawaii looking like he was trying to shoulder-hop Scott (and lost out). Scott later became a publisher and illustrator of children’s books, including the wildly popular “Family of Ree” series of books.

sutton in 67 at cdm jetty

Scott Sutton on a 9’3” Hobie “Phil Edwards Model” at CdM Jetty circa 1966

Our small community of surfers lived for those big south swells generated by hurricanes off Baja California when the CdM jetty would be breaking “off the end” on large sets. No webcams, cell phones or the Internet back then to check surf conditions; it was all pretty much word of mouth. The first one to see good surf got on the phone or their Schwinn Sting-Ray bike and let out the word that the surf was up! And if “foamers” (as we called them) were breaking off the end of the jetty, it was an all-out assault on Big Corona, regardless of what you had planned for the day.

Woody_Foamers

FOAMERS!!

This shot was taken in the early 1990s of that very scene (by Woody Woodworth). It provides a picture of the power and force of those big south swells as they would hit the jetty.

When the call came out for “foamers”, I would grab my Duck Feet fins with Converse Hodgman raft and literally sprint to Big Corona to get in on the fun. There was a small community of us who had learned the routine of the long paddle out and carefully watching the bell buoy (top center of the picture above) for how far it would drop to indicate how large of a set of waves was on its way.

And if the bell buoy dipped to the crown, it was a guaranteed BIG set. My adrenaline immediately skyrocketed as we would all jockey for position as we called out to lay claim to the wave of our choice in the set:
“1st END!”
“2nd END!”
“3rd END!”…

And once you caught one, the experience to follow was unforgettable. It was an amazingly long, extremely bumpy and exhilarating ride to navigate your raft all the way to the shore break inside – an E-ticket ride, to put it in Disneyland terminology of that day. I remember some of those rides vividly just like they happened yesterday. Riding that Hodgman raft off the end of the jetty all the way in rival anything I have done on a surfboard since for pure fun and adventure. Adding to the effect was the always present danger of getting sucked into giant barnacle covered rocks on the jetty by the tremendous force of the wave you were riding if you wiped out or side-slipped on the raft.

Mulkey Woodworth Foamers

Woody Woodworth and I on a CdM jetty foamer circa 1971

Of course, I’m the wimp wearing the long john wetsuit, but I argue that was mostly about preventing the rash on your chest, which got pretty nasty from the canvas raft. Woody later became a professional surf photographer (Creation Captured).

Another member of this tight community, Mark Magiera, became an instant rock star (pun intended) when he was sucked into the rocks on a wipeout while riding a surfboard off the jetty inside the channel (where the boats were!) — and he actually survived to tell about it. Mark apparently set a record at Hoag Memorial Hospital for visitors during his stay. He had been sucked into the jetty and lived to tell about it, something right up there with being awarded the armed forces Purple Heart. We were all incredibly envious of his bravery and survival. I imagine our parents were all aghast at the sudden fame Mark achieved for such an act.

As a result of this ever-present danger, Woody Woodworth and John Park pioneered a technique of fiberglassing two fins onto the Hodgman raft bottom to help hold you into the wave. This dramatically changed the scene at Big Corona when the foamers were hitting, enabling you to hold a line across the wave without side slipping into the jetty rocks. A new era had been born!

When the surf wasn’t up, we did have a few organized activities we attended to. Below is a rare picture of our CdM Community Youth Center “All Star” baseball team circa 1964. The “Total” score sets the tone for just how serious we were about our baseball back then (the negative for this pic got flipped over).

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CdM Community Youth Center “All Star” baseball team circa 1964

There is a LOT to say about almost everyone in that picture, some of whom I’ve already mentioned. But I’ll hold it to one, John “Go-Go” Bandel, top left (standing). Go-Go was a very talented athlete in all sports (including rock throwing), and just plain had a way about him that you could not help but like. When we were picking sides, I always wanted to be on Go-Go’s team.  Amazingly, he was one of “17” children, raised in a good Catholic CdM family, in one of the original (and small!) CdM homes built in the 1940s. Needless to say, everyone in CdM seemed to know a Bandel at that time. I only went inside that house once or twice, and I remember wondering how the heck it all worked, as it did not seem possible that 17 children were all living there at the same time!?

A funny story snuck out at a recent wedding reception which a couple of the Bandel’s attended. Apparently, during those early days in CdM, one of the Bandel kids was caught in a backyard picking fruit off a tree of another family in the neighborhood.  As the story went, when they got caught, they had a piece of paper which turned out to be a map, which neatly mapped out many of the fruit trees in CdM. I believe we confirmed at the reception that night that each Bandel kid had an assigned fruit tree in CdM to be picked on a specific day of the week. Mr. Bandel was one smart man!

**Resources**

Surfing San Onofre To Point Dume 1936-1942 by Don James

This book is a slice of surfing history that you have to see to believe.  I ran across it on the shelf at Powell’s book store in Portland, Oregon before it had been published on Amazon. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the photographs from the 1930’s and 1940’s are an artistic delight of surfing at that time.  At the end of the book is a “notes” section with amazingly detailed descriptions of each photograph and who was in them.  Don James and some friends had salvaged these photographs from old scrapbooks and decided to publish a book of them. As it turned out, the book arrived just a few days before Christmas 1996, and Don passed on two days later on Christmas Eve after signing 500 copies of the first edition.

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