“Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you.” – Coach John Wooden
When my wife Marla asked me what I wanted for my 50th birthday (many moons ago), my immediate thought was not to give up on my lifelong dream of filming a surfing movie. Ever since the evaporation of our “Mexican Miracle” video in Mazatlán (in 1972), I had continued to envision starring with my best surfing buddies in a surfing movie.
I immediately moved into action. My birthday is in January, so Steamer Lane was a logical spot to film it. The lane is the place to be when the rain-soaked Pacific storms bring thick and powerfully consistent surf into Monterey Bay that time of year. It is also an ideal venue for filming from the cliffs above, where you can easily perch and capture the surfers as they go by.
On my last three birthdays at Steamer Lane, I rode big waves that never seemed to end. I was like a kid coming into a candy shop—giddy with anticipation of what was to come! The call went out to a few close friends I knew would be stoked to join in. We booked a cottage at Seascape Resort in Aptos (jacuzzi required!) for the birthday weekend and began searching for a cinematographer. I asked each of the megastar surfers to bring their big wave quiver, a CD of their favorite surf tunes from the 60s, and photographs to document their surfing history. I took the project a bit more seriously, anthologizing a 25-page term paper with photos and footnotes galore. That document turned out to be the genesis of my blog on surfingforbalance.com (in 2014). And that led to this book!
The surfing celebrities to join in were:
John Davis[i] – John was my one and only Silicon Valley high-tech surfing bro at Sun Microsystems. Ten years my senior, John and his wife Deb built their dream surf chalet on 38th Street in Santa Cruz with a quiver room for surfboards and a hot outdoor shower with a bench seat to help extract the wetsuit. I am eternally indebted to them for that shower; it is the only way I can get out of my wetsuit on a cold winter day at Pleasure Point.
Mark Magiera – I grew up with Mark in CdM (since 3rd grade), crossed ski tracks in Utah, and then lived together after college in CdM. We shared many surfing safaris over the years, including a trip to Hollister Ranch that Mark invited me on in the late 1960s. We camped in Brian Blumer’s VW bus on the bluff at “Lefts and Rights,” which was about as good as it got! Unfortunately, Mark had a conflict and missed our weekend of filming.
John Park – As the founder of Clear Spirit Surfboards, John frequented San Onofre with my dad and me back in the late 1960s when surfing was all we thought about (well, almost). Johnny led me on surfing adventures in Baja back in the seventies and eighties and was a member of the infamous “Mexican Miracle” trip to Mazatlán in 1972.
Jack Schott – Jack was another former roommate who shared many epic days with me surfing, as well as being my loyal tennis partner. Jack was the best surfer I knew and always seemed to stay out longer and catch more waves than I did, despite having ten years on me. He came down with a horrible cold on HODADS weekend, sitting out one day, and then borrowing a 7mm deep-dive wetsuit to get in for some action the second day. He still out-surfed us! Jack continues to surf today (at 77).
Gary Irving[ii] – Gary was a rare find as a local Santa Cruz artist/photographer who joined in as a cinematographer and producer. He was an answer to my prayers. Gary immediately understood what we were trying to accomplish and proceeded to invest untold hours into the final production, giving it the vital spark it needed. Considering the lack of surf that weekend, Gary did a spectacular job producing what will be remembered as the surf movie to end all surf movies (pun intended).
Despite many objections from the peanut gallery, I held firm on naming our movie “HODADS,” a term to describe a surfer without much skill. When you bring together five surfers whose combined ages cover some 270 years, it would be serious HODAD surfing, whether we wanted to admit it or not. The title stuck.
Gary filmed HODADS[iii] on the weekend of January 14th, 2005. As luck would have it, we had a freak lull in the surf in Santa Cruz for that entire weekend. Steamer Lane was so flat that there was not a single surfer in the water on Saturday. I could not believe it! We decided to invite Gary and his camera into our Seascape cottage with unlimited pizza and beer to spend the day recording each of us recalling our glory days surfing. We had many laughs jabbing at each other as we took our turn on camera. On Sunday, Gary let us in on a secret spot in Monterey Bay that “always had surf.” He was right! We ended up filming a couple of decent surf sessions at that secret spot.
HODADS was a dream come true for me. It turned out better than I could have wished, largely because of the extra time we had to film each of our personal histories with surfing. Those scenes Gary filmed in our hotel room are a treasure to pass on to the next generation. It was all about being stoked with good friends, sharing precious memories, and enjoying God’s magnificent creation in the process.
In 2015 we held an informal 10-year reunion of HODADS to rekindle some of that good karma. Somehow, we ended up having lunch at the Spanish Bay Inn at Pebble Beach instead of surfing, although our boards were strapped on the roof for action. The two 70-year-olds assured me that had nothing to do with our age.
In the end, I’ll rest peacefully in heaven knowing I finally got my surf movie.
[i] On our second day of filming, John Davis was not feeling well and not catching waves. He left suddenly and drove home shivering and feeling some chest pain. He soon was in the Emergency room at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, diagnosed with a heart attack. He had an angiogram that day to install a stent in the blocked artery! Thankfully, he was fine and in good spirits and continues to surf today at Pleasure Point (at 77).
[ii] I lost touch with Gary Irving shortly after our movie was produced. Unbeknownst to us, later that year in 2005, Gary married actor Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman. He never mentioned that one!
[iii] The full-length DVD that Gary Irving produced is available for special order through “surfingforbalance.com” (click “Contact Mike”). There is an abbreviated version of the full-length DVD available for viewing online at:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.” -John 16:33 (NIV)
Quitting the Corona del Mar High School basketball team my junior year is one regret in life that has lingered. I showed up late for a Saturday practice (the surf had been good!), and coach Tandy Gillis made sure that I would not want to do that again. And I didn’t. At the end of practice, I sheepishly told him I was quitting. Enough already. I was seventeen years old and didn’t need a basketball coach telling me what to do.
Or so I thought.
Coach Gillis was a bit of an icon in the basketball world. I appreciate that much more now than I did then. He was an All-American at The University of California at Berkeley (Cal), where he had played under coach Pete Newell, who coached Cal to the 1959 NCAA championship. Rumor had it that Tandy held Jerry West to his lowest offensive point total in his college basketball career at West Virginia University. And if you don’t know Jerry West, he was good enough to have the logo of the NBA modeled after him. Tandy’s Cal Bears beat Jerry’s West Virginia team in the finals 71-70 that year!
Coach Gillis was all about defense. He could teach it like Einstein could teach physics. It was quite simple. He taught us to play an extraordinarily tight man-to-man defense by following two principles:
#1: “Crawl inside their jockstrap,” as he used to say, and deny every pass possible.
#2: Protect the baseline as if it were Fort Knox; Don’t let anyone with the ball go by.
Conceding on either point resulted in sprinting the lines up and down the court until you were ready to barf. Coach Wooden Paradoxically, another basketball coach emerged later in my life, Coach John Wooden of the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team.
Growing up as a basketball fan in SoCal meant you had to be aware of what the Wizard of Westwood (as Coach Wooden was known) was doing on the basketball court at UCLA. For me, it started when I stayed up late with Dad to watch the KTLA Channel 5 replays of those UCLA games in the mid-1960s. I could not wait for the “Oh MYs” from announcer Dick Enberg as UCLA ran endlessly up and down the court, scoring at will, always ending up on the winning side. Dad would tell you that I usually fell asleep by halftime as the replays started at 11:00p.m.
The Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins won ten NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships (March Madness) over a period of twelve years (1964-1975), including seven in a row (1967-1973), and had four undefeated seasons (1964, 1967,1972, 1973).
However, I will never forget one loss in 1968 when the Houston Cougars and Elvin Hayes ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak in what was billed as “the game of the century” at the Houston Astrodome.[i] I cried like a baby at the end of that game.
What Coach Wooden was doing was unprecedented in the sports world, and I could not help but be caught up in trying to understand it. Something was quite different about how this man approached the game. Amidst the myriad of UCLA victories, he inspired his players to find their very best within themselves while being as cool as a cucumber watching them do it from the bench.
Even during the tensest moments of a game when his team appeared rattled, he would let them play on without calling a time out. After the game, he was always very humble, giving credit to those around him before himself. Most unique of all, Coach Wooden never spoke about “winning.” His focus was on helping each player become the best they possibly could be on the court. He emphasized the importance of practice, telling his players that the games would go well if they practiced well. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
Wooden’s unrivaled success was a puzzle I felt compelled to piece together to see if I could apply it to my life. Fast forward 20 years to Silicon Valley in 1992, and I was starting to see the picture. As soon as our two children, Marisa and Matthew, were old enough to play organized basketball, I entered the coaching ranks, determined to make amends for my regret of quitting Coach Gillis’ team in high school. It was there that the pieces came together, as I modeled my coaching around Coach Wooden’s now-famous “Pyramid of Success,”[ii] which summarized the building blocks required for success, both on the court and off.
Hard work was at its core, no getting around that with Coach Wooden. Once you had done the hard work, Wooden emphasized patience (“good things take time”), along with faith (“through prayer”) to be at your best when your best is needed. All this resulted in peace of mind that you could rest in the knowledge that you gave it your best effort. Coach Wooden would add, “You are the only one who truly can judge that!” Soon, I had every player on the team memorizing these pyramid blocks and reciting Wooden quotes during critical moments in a game or practice. The kids were terrific in embracing it, and of course, the parents loved taking the emphasis off winning.
When I read Coach Wooden’s first book, They Call Me Coach; I discovered a crown jewel that had been missing in my puzzle. In discussing his beliefs on success, Coach Wooden quoted straight from the Bible:
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33, NIV).
Right there, in Chapter 13, Wooden spilled the story of his Christian faith and how basketball was of minor importance in comparison to belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. Coach Wooden carried a metal cross of Jesus in his pocket through all those many games at UCLA so he could hold on to it and be comforted by his Savior when things got difficult. He said he would rub the cross for comfort to the point that it had been worn down on the corners over the years.
This was the missing piece I had been looking for; it fit perfectly. It was so simple, yet so true. The mere idea of attaining peace of mind through faith in the cross in pursuit of success would be a theme that rang true for me in my career for the next two decades in Silicon Valley. I bought several metal crosses as reminders. Most remarkable of all was that Coach Wooden practiced what he preached. His players all looked up to him for his principles and commitment to his faith. He lived it! That set John Wooden apart and helped him see the level of success he achieved at UCLA.
The most challenging job of my career was as a field sales manager at Siemens (1993-94), with a $6 million annual sales quota of telecommunications systems. I managed ten sales representatives who fought daily battles for sales territories, new accounts, quota alignment, customer satisfaction, and that very elusive Purchase Order to win a deal against the competition. My Circle of Life centered on work and not much else. I was struggling to find peace of mind at the end of the day, whether I was achieving my sales quota or not. Each day I went home to my family battle-weary, struggling to find success in the midst of it all.
In a panic to find help, I decided to type a letter to Coach Wooden and ask for resources to apply his principles around the Pyramid of Success. It was a long shot; I was hoping someone in his office might respond. Within one week, I had a hand-written letter in a hand-written envelope to me from Coach Wooden himself.
He opened by thanking me for taking the time to write:
“Your words of commendation were very kind and deeply appreciated. Many thanks for taking the time to express yourself.”
Coach Wooden was truly demonstrating the principles he was teaching! I soon created a leadership model for my sales team around the Pyramid of Success. We overachieved our sales quota two years in a row while improving customer satisfaction ratings. The puzzle was complete.
“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” -Coach Wooden
As a coach, father, and follower of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I have found Coach Wooden’s philosophy to be an excellent way to model the values our holy Bible teaches, both to children on the basketball court, as well as to adults in the business world. It enabled me to go home at the end of the day with a sense of contentment that regardless of how the day had gone, I gave it my best and had peace of mind in knowing that it now rested in God’s hands.[I]
“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.” -Coach John Wooden
[i] Wooden authored and co-authored seventeen books before his death in 2010 at the age of 99. I have listed a couple of my favorites below. A google search on “John Wooden” will bring up many more. They all model the values and beliefs of this remarkable man.
“Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization” (2005) by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. Wooden’s strategies for competitive greatness translated into a leadership principles book for business or sports. A Wall Street Journal and L.A. Times bestseller.
“Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life” (2005) by John Wooden and Jay Carty. A translation of Wooden’s philosophy with the Pyramid of Success into a self-help handbook based upon each of the pyramid blocks.
“They Call Me Coach” (1988) by John Wooden This was his first book and a personal favorite. It describes his humble upbringing on a small farm in Indiana and how his relationship with his father impacted him. It also is the only one of his books that covers the UCLA basketball teams in quite a bit of detail, which I appreciated, having watched so many of those games.
[i] The UCLA Bruins were #1 rated in the country and had won 47 games in a row, including the NCAA Division I championships in 1964, 1965, and 1967. Houston was #2 in the country and led by Elvin Hayes, who scored 39 points (he could not miss!). A footnote is that UCLA’s star, Lew Alcindor (Kareen Abdul-Jabbar), had the worst game of his college career (making 4 of 18 shots), suffering from a severe eye injury the previous week (he sat out the two previous games). Two months later, UCLA destroyed Houston 101-69 on route to their fourth NCAA Championship.
“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.” -Frank Sinatra
The first thirteen years of my life were a fairytale. My mother Charlene (everyone called her “Char”) was, for me, the perfect mom. Char was a living example of the power of the soul. Her spirit carries me forward each day. Anyone who knew Char would tell you what a tremendous life force she was.
Then one day, out of the blue, I heard these words from mom:
“Your dad has asked for a divorce.”
I will never forget that day. She had been asking me to sit down for a talk for several days, but I kept avoiding it. I was in the living room with my good friend Kevin Leitch when she came in and let it out. I didn’t react. I don’t remember thinking anything. The first words out of my mouth were,
“Will I still be able to go to San Onofre with him?”
I’m not sure when I comprehended the scope of what was happening. San Onofre was all I had to hang on to at that point, so it became my focus, and I stuffed the rest deep inside. Their divorce continued to reign down repercussions on my world for years. Life would never be the same.
While Dad greatly influenced my surfing and athletic side, Mom was the essence of who I am. Even her twin brother (Charles Lloyd) was a bit like looking in the mirror for me. Their mother (Oa Cannon) had as significant an influence on my life as anyone. I got their DNA.
When I look back at Mom’s life, I am amazed at what she accomplished. She always kept her perk and cheer, despite many challenges. Everyone admired Char’s grit and determination. She was a very hard worker, determined not to depend on anyone.
Mom was ill-prepared for life without Jack following the divorce. She didn’t drive, for starters, and had never balanced a checkbook. I will never forget that first driving lesson when she asked me which pedal was the “gas” and which was the “brake” (not kidding!). Her plunge into independent living was akin to planning an ascent atop Mount Everest without a guidebook. Her achievements were herculean.
Despite many nights crying herself to sleep after the divorce (I would hear from my bedroom), she rose above the calamity and created a loving home base for my sister Terry and me. Our home was full of her upbeat attitude, delicious cooking, and an open door to all of our friends; Everyone loved Char. She always looked at the glass as half full. I have warm memories of our high school parties on Marguerite Avenue with mom in the center of the action booming Frank Sinatra songs on her concert-sized speakers. Char loved Sinatra.
On January 3, 2007, Mom passed into heaven in bed at her home in Santa Barbara, California. We had a memorial service and spread her ashes into the Pacific Ocean on January 12th. Pallbearers Greg Ross, John Park, Mark Magiera, Skip Lauderbaugh, Jack Schott, our son Matthew (age 11), and I paddled her ashes out for spreading. It was a remarkable event, capped by a school of dolphins who joined in for the paddle back to shore.
I had no idea of the void I would feel once mom was gone. She was always accepting and supportive of who I was. I can hardly remember her ever criticizing me or telling me not to do something. She provided the loving support a boy can only dream of.
I read the following poem at her memorial service. It was written at her bedside in 1997 at Hoag Hospital (where she worked for years as a breakfast chef) while she was on a respirator for seven days after suffering a pulmonary stroke. Doctors had given her little chance of surviving and told us that she would not live on her own again if she did survive. As Char’s story goes, she lived another ten years, fully independent, continuing to balance her checkbook, doing her cooking and cleaning, and enjoying her four grandchildren right up to the day she passed.
The Spirit of Char
A gift from the heavens, you and Charles were. Born to a widowed mother with young Norma, it was tough on her. The Lord blessed you with a spirit, flourishing with love. A spirit cheerful and happy, embracing hope from above.
Your young life took a turn, with an accident to the head. Everyone had an opinion, but your spirit was not dead. You carried on with great passion, determination, and will. Your spirit was alive! You would not stand still.
School was more difficult; language came back slow. You were self-conscious about your bandage and what you didn’t know. Your spirit carried you forward, that was for sure. No fear of the hurdles; that spirit led the cure.
School continued to be a challenge, but your progress was clear, You stepped way beyond your boundaries, year after year. Your parents had you tutored and watched very close. What you wanted was freedom, to make of life the most.
Going off to Sun Valley, the Grand Canyon, and more. It was time to experience a life different from before. Then off to California at Malibu on the beach. Your spirit caught fire, and surfing Jack would teach. You fell in love and married in Las Vegas; it all happened so quick! But it was right, your spirit told you; he was the perfect pick.
Two kids, Terry and Mike; dreams realized and more. The move to Corona del Mar, and a house you adore. Cycling to work at our school cafeteria was the best. This life in California, you had been blessed.
Your Christmas show was magnificent! Spending days to prepare. We were so anxious to get presents; the credit was not there. That Christmas tree outrageous, year after year. You decorated it to perfection and filled it with cheer.
Only now do I realize all the work you went through. Your Christmas event was an amazing to-do. Your spirit was Christmas; that goes without saying. Giving us special traditions that will always keep playing.
Life took a twist when you and dad fell apart. The challenges were many, but your spirit got a fresh start. You learned to drive a car; “which pedal is the gas”? To balance the checkbook, and make sure that in school we did pass.
Your spirit was strong, your will even stronger. Staying cheerful and happy, though your days were much longer. Enjoying my friends and our parties, which never seemed to end. Everyone loved seeing Char; she was their best friend.
Selling our house by the beach was hard to bear. You had your job at Hoag Hospital and now some money to spare. You bought a mobile home, at Seacliff by the Sea. With orange carpet and green siding; it was now the place to be. It had more oriental decorations than the restaurants down the street. And a stereo with huge speakers, playing to Sinatra’s beat.
I can taste your lamb dinners; it was my favorite I thought. Roasted veggies cooked to perfection, though you’d argue they’re not. A special spinach salad with those home-baked buttermilk rolls. All on orange oriental china, down to the saucers and bowls. Then came your German chocolate cake, weighing in at ten pounds. My friends said it was the best, even better than it sounds.
My memories of you are endless; your spirit still stands out. God has richly blessed me; there is no doubt. Your life was tough, and tests were more than seemed fair. But your attitude was positive; always a smile to share.
Now you are in heaven, rejoicing with Oa and Paul. I really do miss you and want to give you a call. So I bid you farewell, your spirit remains with me. On to the New Jerusalem, where you are set free.
Well done, good and faithful servant. (Matthew 25:23 NIV)
Mom suffered a brain injury at age ten in 1936 that greatly impacted her childhood. As a means of documenting this for her grandchildren (Hayley, Brennan, Marisa and Matthew), this excerpt below is from a letter written by her mother (Oa Cannon) to describe mom’s injury (unedited):
“It was here that Charlene fell from the top of the shoot-the-slide in the City Park and received a bad concussion. The doctor thought she was not badly injured, but her teachers (who were my friends) said her attention span was very short and quite a problem. When we moved to Salt Lake the Principal called us and said there was something decidedly wrong. She would know something one day and the next day it would be gone. We had her tutored and she seemed to learn quickly, but again, it would leave her. I spent hours in the evenings trying to teach her to read. In Salt Lake we followed the suggestion of the Principal and took her to Dr. Harrow, it didn’t take long to point out her trouble. The injury was on her main retention nerve. He said she should be operated on or she would become worse. Already her little finger on the right hand was growing crooked, also her right foot had slowed its growth. He told us it wouldn’t be a complete recovery because it had been there so long.
Paul had his appendix out, Lynne (at seven months) had to have her tonsils out, she had been ill with asthma from diseased tonsils, then this operation was about more than we could handle financially. Three days after Charlene’s surgery she had a hemorrhage, her face was so swollen you could hardly tell where her nose was, she couldn’t talk. It took a year before she could walk and talk – still there were words she wanted to say, she tried, but it just wouldn’t come out right. It was a hard experience for her and us all. She was so bad that we all agreed it was only prayer that saved her.”
“Heaven is full of answers to prayer for which no one ever bothered to ask.” -Billy Graham
To an aspiring grom (young surfer) who was growing up at the beach in the 1960s, Bruce Brown’s epic movie The Endless Summer had a deep-rooted effect on me. Brown poetically documented every surfer’s ultimate dream on film in an around-the-world quest to find the perfect wave. And find it, they did!
I was eleven years old in 1966 when the movie played at the Newport Harbor High School auditorium. I sat in stunned silence as those around me howled and whistled at the seemingly endless rides at Cape St. Francis in South Africa. Those waves were beyond my wildest dreams. By the time I entered high school in 1969, we were developing our own obsession with finding perfect waves in Baja, California. Our many trips south of the border provided wonderful surfing on a wholesome diet of Mexican Panderia pastries ($1 a bag!), free camping, and 35-cents-a-gallon gasoline. Our mastery of Spanish boiled down to three simple phrases:
Dónde está la playa? (“Where is the beach?”)
Dónde está el baño? (“Where is the bathroom?”)
Uno más, por favor. (“One more, please.”)
It didn’t get much better than that.
In 1970 I was fifteen years old and heading into summer vacation when surfing bros John Park, Craig Barrett, and Danny Moore came up with a new proposal that was a bit of a twist to our Baja adventures.
“Let’s go to Mazatlan!”
The hypothesis was that the further we drive, the more likely we were to find those perfect waves we’d been searching for. Our Baja trips were full of adventure and good surfing, taking us 200 or so miles south. Driving 1,300 miles to Mazatlán surely would up our odds, right?
As far as our parents knew, it was “just another trip to Mexico”. Baja and Mazatlán are both in Mexico, so we didn’t see a need for further clarification. We were just going to stay a little longer . . .
“Packing for the journey was important. Six pairs of trunks, two boxes of wax, some modern sounds, and in case of injury, one band aid.” -The Endless Summer 
Soon we were stuffing Craig’s 1964 orange Chevy van with supplies fit for a wagon train. We had enough canned food for a month, 8-track tapes for music, two beach chairs (doubling as back seats in the van), tool chest, duct tape (most valuable asset!), water, Paraffin wax, camp stove, and a first aid kit (Band-Aids and Tincture Benzoin, in case it was serious). To top it off, Johnny was able to sneak two large wooden speakers (for the van) and an 8mm movie camera from his house. Four surfboards on top completed the puzzle. This expedition could be summed up in two words: totally bitchen.
Next stop, Mazatlán! Or, so we thought.
I was a bit over my head on this one. Comparisons to my dad joining the U.S. Navy at fifteen were surely in order. Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer had somehow become my Pearl Harbor. It was like blasting off for a moon launch as I nestled tightly into the beach chair in the back of the van as Craig drove us south from CdM. Whatever we lacked in experience, we surely made up in our zeal to find those waves in Mazatlán. Without cell phones, the internet, or any other means of staying in touch, we were on a real surfing safari!
“Each wave was perfect.” –The Endless Summer
We had not even reached the border before Craig’s van started hitting rough water. What!? We pulled over to a gas station and waited for a diagnosis.
“You’re two and a half quarts low on oil,” a fellow Petroleum Exchange Engineer informed us, as if we should have known.
Back on the road with fresh oil and our home speakers booming “Almost Cut My Hair” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Déjà vu album), a second hazard awaited us at the border crossing in Tecate. As we approached the armed guard at the gate, there was a sign we could not miss: “No Long Hairs Allowed”
I will never forget that sign.
“Welcome to Mexico,” we groaned to each other.
“Vete a casa, mi amigo!” (Go home, my friend!) the guard called out to us as he surveyed our shaggy heads. Our dreams sunk; we turned around and parked to brainstorm ideas. We considered various options, including me (with no driver’s license) driving us through the gate since I had the shortest hair. Fortunately, we came up with the ingenious option of trying a different border crossing in Mexicali, a 2-hour drive away.
Taking a more strategic approach in Mexicali, we parked the van at a gas station just short of the gate to doctor up our hair with bobby pins, water, and a lot of finesse. Paranoia was pervasive as we approached the guard this time, trying to look confident that we could get by. Amazingly, we sailed right through with our clean-cut all-American look.
“Dónde está la playa!?” we called out as we barreled into the Mexican desert with the sun setting and Carlos Santana singing “Black Magic Woman” (Santana album). It was as if we had just won a date with Rachel Welch on The Dating Game. We were giddy in anticipation of the road ahead.
‘It’s the kind of wave that makes you talk to yourself.” -The Endless Summer
Just as we were starting to mellow out from our great escape at the border, a third stop was forced upon us. A Mexican Federale suddenly appeared out of nowhere, as if beaming down from the Starship Enterprise. Feeling as though we might be snake bit, Craig heeded his orders to pull over, taking note of the gun hanging on his waist.
Checkpoints were something we were used to in Baja; they often stopped you with some kind of machine gun in hand to ask a couple of questions and check your glove compartment for marijuana. This guy was different.
“Vete a casa.” He left off the “friend” part, as he was not kidding! We needed a Turista sticker on our car to travel into mainland Mexico from the U.S. News to us! In an instant, our Mexican endless summer was coming to an abrupt and painful end. This guy was pulling the plug on the wave machine. We were going home.
The Mexican Miracle Regrouping in Craig’s van, I can remember a few tears being shed over this indignant Federale who was enjoying sending four long-haired gringos back to mamá. Johnny suddenly blurted out that we should say a prayer. I remember thinking that was the craziest idea ever. I didn’t go to church, so I couldn’t understand how that would help. Our trip was over. There was no way this guy was going to back down. I was already starting to think about what we could do with all the canned food and whether we could stop at a Panderia before crossing back over the border.
We were desperate and willing to try anything, so the next thing I knew, the four of us were bowing our heads and praying to God for a miracle to happen. I don’t think we prayed that the Federale would die or anything. I believe it was something respectable and short, like:
“God, please help us, we want to surf the perfect waves in Mazatlán.”
I do remember the outcome quite clearly. Out of the blue, an idea suddenly spawned: “Maybe we can bribe this guy!?”
We seemed to overlook the fact that he was the one wearing the badge and gun. After quite a debate on how much it would take, we decided to go for the jackpot and use a twenty-dollar bill. Craig was elected to carry out the assignment, since he was the elder statesman (by a month or two). I was exceedingly uneasy as we all walked back to his office for our attempt at buying him off. Craig started nervously scratching his face with the twenty-dollar bill showing in his hand as he began talking. My first thought was how utterly stupid this idea this was. What were we thinking!?
Suddenly the Federale lit up with a smile like a Times Square Christmas tree. Immediately we knew it had worked; it was a Mexican miracle!
Twenty dollars bought a lot of pesos back then. This guy snapped up the bait in a New York second and slapped the Turista decal on our car, waving us on our way like we were family.
The drums from “Soul Sacrifice” (Santana Album) started rolling as we plunged into the darkening desert sky on bumpy Mexican asphalt. I leaned back in my beach chair, marveling at what a trip this was going to be.
We camped in the desert that night and filmed the opening scene of our Mexican endless summer movie by holding wrestling matches in a cactus patch after our pork and beans dinner.
That prayer had a lasting effect on me. Whether or not God had anything to do with answering it (I think He did), it stuck that in a moment of complete despair we could call on God for help. Even when impossible odds weighed against us. It was unforgettable.
“The waves look like they had been made by some kind of machine.” -The Endless Summer
The Power of Prayer Prayer has played a pivotal role in my Christian walk. The answered prayers, of course, are wonderful! Mostly though, it’s been my daily dialog with God, helping me steer through the many challenges life throws at me. Becoming a Christian did not so much change who I am as it changed who I wanted to be. Prayer has become the avenue for having that daily conversation with God as to how I get there.
My challenge has been seeing God at work through my prayers. I started writing them in my Bible years ago to try and keep track of what God was doing. It has been amazing to see! One example of this involves a group of twelve men I was meeting with weekly to study the Bible over two years. Each week we devoted time to praying for each other. With all of us having new families and challenging careers, there was not a shortage of things to pray for.
Fast forward eight years and we had all reunited in the home of one of our leaders to pray for a serious injury he had incurred. We went around the group to catch up on the eight years since we had been together. As each one provided an update, it became clear that God had been at work. Many of our prayers had been answered! I had the prayers written in my Bible to prove it. It was an emotional moment as we realized how faithful God had been. It had happened so gradually, and often in ways we had not expected, that we hadn’t connected the dots to all that time in prayer together. We finished that night with praise for God’s amazing faithfulness.
Prayer has also frustrated me at certain times of my life. The inability to see how God is working in difficult situations that I am praying for has been quite perplexing. Sometimes we don’t see how God is hearing our prayers over many (many!) years. Perhaps He does and it takes our whole life to understand. I feel certain that when I get to heaven, it will all make sense. Yet, I am still challenged to keep my focus on God as I pray, and not on the mountain I am asking Him to move. I’d be lying to say that’s been easy.
I am working on making my prayers a two-way conversation. Often, I am just pouring out my needs to God and forgetting to stop and listen to what He might be trying to tell me through the Holy Spirit. This time of listening to God has been very precious, and is key to seeing how God might be working in my life, especially when I don’t see a direct response to my earnest prayers.
A surfing analogy to this could be how I learned over the years to listen to the elements of tide, wind, water, and currents to gain a sense of when the surf might be at its best. Paying close attention to subtle changes in each can tell you a lot!
Epilogue to the Mazatlán trip: At my 40th Corona del Mar High School reunion a few years back, a woman (Paula Schneider) approached me who claimed to remember our trip to Mazatlán in 1970. I was astonished! Her family had been in Mazatlán on vacation at the time our orange van rolled into town with surfboards on top. Incredibly, she bumped into John Park to hear the story of our long trek. After talking to John, her dad pulled her aside to say: “I can’t believe their parents allowed them to drive down here!?”
And of course, she replied: “Dad, their parents didn’t know.”
“With enough time and enough money, you could spend the rest of your life following the summer around the world.” -The Endless Summer
We didn’t find the perfect wave, but we had loads of fun and created many good stories searching. The drive included a few wrong turns, even bumping into the Sea of Cortez at one point and thinking we were at the Pacific Ocean. We thought the trip really was over when we had a complete mechanical breakdown of the van deep in the Mexican jungle. A Mexican mechanic was working on it when Danny Moore (the tow truck driver at Ken’s Mobile) put water in the battery and got it to go. Ha! Another Mexican miracle.
We encountered carpets of remarkably dense locust swarms covering the highway and innumerable “Desviación” (detour) signs that sent us onto never-ending dirt roads better suited for motocross than an automobile. It was so bumpy that at one point the entire tool chest came crashing down on us in the back of the van. It took us three days to finally arrive at the main beach in Mazatlán for our first surf session. The water was so warm (over 80 degrees!) that the Paraffin wax for our surfboards melted, making foot traction on the board a challenge.
We found a campground in town that accommodated us as we explored around Mazatlán and the surrounding area for waves, to no avail. I think we shot more video of a girl (Betty) riding her horse on the beach than of the four of us surfing. At one point we found a secluded beach with wave potential and decided to paddle out and set up for filming. It was a bit eerie paddling out at a spot you knew nothing about. I was far offshore by myself scanning the horizon for a wave when without warning a giant bat ray launched into the air and landed with a loud splash just a few feet away. It scared the crap out of me! I paddled into shore as if I were the anchor leg in the SanO paddling race. That kind of stuff did not happen back home. I told the guys I’d be glad to film the rest of the day (keeping an eye out for Betty).
Being the seasoned travelers that we were, we knew to avoid the local drinking water for fear of the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge. We had heard plenty from our friends about the disaster that could spell on a surf trip. However, after a couple of tasty popsicles from the street vendors in town, I soon was clobbered by it. As perfect storms go, a hurricane was making its way up the coast of Mexico just as I was discovering I could not stray far from the nearest toilet, which was not easy to find! “Dónde está el baño?”
My final but vivid memory of Mazatlán was getting up at night in the campground in complete darkness to pay my respects to Montezuma in a torrential downpour with the wind howling at gale speed. I stepped on some kind of giant prehistoric spider with my bare foot and heard it crack like a twig, and then crawl off into the black night in the direction of our camp.
Adios mi amigo, I am out of here! We left for home the next day.
I only have two memories of the trip from that point on. First was the absolute bliss of finding a McDonald’s immediately after crossing the border into the U.S. A Big Mac and fries have never tasted better and at no other time made me feel more at home. The second was when Johnny told me that the film in the 8mm video camera got ruined when we opened the camera. We didn’t read the instructions about that part… Our Mexican endless summer movie was gone, and none of us had a single photograph from the experience to remember it by. But the adventure left an indelible impression on me. It was a trip for the ages.
It taught me that miracles are possible through the power of prayer.
“Special thanks to King Neptune for providing the waves in this film.” -The Endless Summer
“I’ve learned that simple walks with my father around the block on summernights when I was a child did wonders for me as an adult.” Andy Rooney
While Corona del Mar provided an ideal beach community for growing up, it was my time with Dad at San Onofre that most influenced my views on balancing work and life later in my career. Just mention the words “San Onofre Surfing Club (SOSC)” and it brings on a rush of heart-felt memories of living an unencumbered life on the beach doing what I enjoyed most, surfing. San Onofre (“SanO” or “Nofre” as the locals called it) was a slice of heaven.
The story of how the San Onofre Surfing Club was formed and later impacted by the 37th President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, is one of the more colorful stories of surfing history. Looking back on it today, it seems inconceivable that a group of surfers could arrange to lease a pristine and secluded surfing beach in Southern California from the U.S. Marine Corps for $1 a year!
San Onofre History As the crowds converged on Malibu, a unique surfing beach emerged 90 miles south near the San Onofre railroad station. Originally known as a fishing camp, it was soon discovered that this beach had a unique environment for surfing. The collection of bottom rocks mixed with sand on the seabed produced strikingly consistent waves with a long peeling and gently sloping nature, like those at famed Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. Word quickly spread among the surfing crowd of this gem of a surfing beach called San Onofre.
Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison and Pete Peterson were two of the first regulars at San Onofre in the mid-1930s, after the new jetties in CdM had destroyed the surf there. Both had traveled to Hawaii and brought back that aloha spirit to San Onofre. It was a perfect fit for this secluded stretch of beach, over a half-mile long and backed by dirt cliffs to maintain a sense of exclusivity. There was even a palm thatch shack on the sand left behind by a film shoot from a Hollywood movie company.
By the late 1930s, San Onofre had become the place to go to enjoy the surfer’s lifestyle with an unbeatable combination of good fishing, excellent surfing, and a community atmosphere. World War II was soon to disrupt all that, changing everyone’s lives.
In 1942 the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced that San Onofre beach would become part of Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine Corps base in the country. It was officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt later that year to train U.S. Marines for service in World War II.
During those years Dad described how they would tape paper over their headlights when driving PCH between San Clemente and Oceanside for fear the Japanese were going to attack. For those lucky enough to return home from the war in late 1945, the USMC began to allow access to the beach again for surfing. The Marines in charge of Camp Pendleton were willing to work out an agreement with these surfers, understanding the sacrifices they had made for our country. 
In a startling story of cooperation between civilians and the U.S. military, the SOSC was loosely formed in 1951 to provide a group of surfers exclusive access to the beach. The SOSC gained responsibility to maintain membership, keep the beach clean and orderly, and pay a $1-a-year annual lease. Dr. A.H. “Barney” Wilkes (a San Clemente dentist), and Andre “Frenchy” Jahan (SOSC’s first president) are two heroes who finessed the USMC into the agreement.
In the end, it was brilliant, but it did not come without some turbulent times between the two.  Club bylaws, membership cards, auto decals, and rules of conduct were established at the first formal SOSC meeting on the beach on April 24, 1952. Dad was fortunate enough to be a part of that early membership crowd.
This was the beginning of an era at SanO that had roots firmly planted in a simple lifestyle of a surfing society which soon became a way of life for raising your kids at the beach in SoCal. There were no lifeguards, no running water, no paved roads, and no way to take a phone call; just an idyllic world of sun and surf in a serene setting, free of life’s challenges with plenty of time for rest. These traditions would be passed on for generations to come.
Waiting I waited all week with great anticipation for the trip to SanO with Dad on weekends. Getting that official military salute at the gate to Camp Pendleton was like gaining entrance to Main Street at Disneyland. Those windshield decals that got us by the USMC guard became a source of great pride to signify our status as a member of the San Onofre Surfing Club.
However, getting to San Onofre was another matter. What should have been a 45-minute drive took forever! We left CdM onto PCH in mid-morning with our two Dave Sweet boards bungee corded on top of our ’64 Chevy Nova Wagon. Our first stop was the Laguna Beach Arts Festival, where Dad would play a couple sets of tennis with his good friend Jack Upton. I would try and pass the time digging holes, killing bugs, and throwing rocks, constantly hoping it was match point, no matter who was winning. After what seemed like half the day, I knew they were finally done when the Tab came out over ice in the metal tennis cans. I sprinted to the car.
“Aahhhh!” Dad would belt out with each sip while working the three-speed column shift through the maze of Laguna Beach traffic and hills while juggling the tennis can of Tab.
We were on our way! My first marker was the “Laguna Beach Greeter” (Eiler Larsen) in his bright red coat, who always recognized me, I was sure, giving me that wink and pointing right at me. Next, I watched for a wrecked car that was overturned up a cliff by Poche Beach along PCH. Getting close.
We made a final stop off the 5 freeway (Avenida Calafia) at the El Camino Market to buy some Mug Root Beer, Paraffin wax, the LA Times, and a small cluster of grapes for nutrition. The owner of the El Camino Market, Tony Duynstee, was always there to cheerfully greet us at the cash register and update us on the surf report.
The Basilone Road offramp was where we got our first view of the waves overlooking the renowned surf break—Trestles. Regardless of the conditions, my pulse spiked at just the sight of the waves; I could not wait to get in. The fancy hand wave by the USMC guard at Camp Pendleton was our final green light. We bounced down the rutted dirt road and parked at “Old Man’s” to set up base camp; a Coast Hardware beach chair, beach towel, and small Styrofoam ice chest to preserve the Mug Root Beer and grapes (no other food). Once the boards were moved off the car to the palm shack, the next hiatus began. In my younger years, Dad would not let me go in the water until he got out. He wanted to keep an eye on me in the water. Although, every time I looked to see if he saw my ride, he was immersed in the LA Times . . .
After chatting it up with friends about the wind, tide, water temp, and Dodgers, Dad would finally wax up and paddle out. I knew he would not stay in the water long (he never wore a wetsuit), so at least the clock had started.
Jeez . . .
Dad was easy to pick out riding waves as he would drag a foot on his turns, which I now understand was from his days riding the heavy balsa wood boards at Malibu where you used your foot as a rudder to turn. My only distraction beyond watching his every move was keeping an eye out for Candy McCue to walk by. Anyone on the beach in those days would surely confirm that.
After what seemed like a 16-inning scoreless baseball game, I raced to get my board and wax up as soon as I saw Dad coming in. The water at SanO was always like dipping into a familiar bath—I never wanted to get out. Old Man’s is one of the more consistent breaks in Southern California, so there were always waves to ride, regardless of the conditions. Once I hit double digits in age, we could finally paddle out together. Surfing with Dad was about as good as it got.
SanO was a unique environment in the water. People looked out after each other, brought loose boards back out (before the leash), and took care of anyone in need. When I was ten years old, I wiped out and got hit hard in the head by my board. It opened a good slice next to my left eye, so there was lots of blood. Amazingly, Dad was right there and able to carry me to shore over the rocks on a low tide day (cutting up his feet badly in the process).
The next thing I knew, I was lying in a van chewing on European black licorice while getting eight stitches to close the gash (“It’s your Novocain,” the doc told me). I will always remember our doctor back home telling us what a good job he had done stitching it up. Only years later did I find out it was Dr. Dorian Paskowitz who had done the good deed. I remember Dad carrying a bottle of champagne in the car on the next trip down for the doc. That was how things worked at San Onofre—life in harmony.
The magic of the SOCS soon got out among the surfing crowd, and membership soared to 1,000 members by 1971 with a waiting list of 2,000. It was almost too good to be true, and many of my friends were begging me to take them. Having exclusive access to one of southern California’s most consistent surfing breaks with a built-in social community lifestyle was hard to beat. The SOSC had become a mini-civilization built around surfing with luaus, horseshoes, surfing and volleyball contests, fishing, Bocce ball, and even a Sunday school for kids! The SOSC was even mentioned in an October 18, 1965 issue of Sports Illustrated about surfing. 
President Nixon As progress would have it, change was imminent with the SOSC. Construction of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station began in 1968. Just a half-mile south of Old Man’s beach, this plant employed over 2,200 people and became a prominent landmark with its twin spherical containment buildings designed to contain any unexpected releases of radiation.
In 1969 Richard Nixon became the 37th U.S. president, setting up his summer White House residence near Trestles (1.5 miles north of San Onofre), at the La Casa Pacifica. When President Nixon was in town, Trestles was off-limits to everyone, especially to surfers! Armed military police would be patrolling the beach in jeeps, helicopters flew overhead, and an 85-foot Coast Guard ship sat just outside the surf line. The SOSC was just far enough south to be unaffected.
Having President Nixon flying by in his helicopter was a sure sign the tide was about to turn. I will never forget the day in 1971 when I heard the devastating news that the entire SOSC beach had been leased to the state of California for use as a state park. It appeared to be the end of the SOSC and my dream of passing on the San Onofre baton.
The story we heard was that President Nixon looked down from his presidential helicopter at the SOSC members and asked how they had arranged to gain exclusive access to that beach on a U.S. military base. I can imagine how that conversation went! Soon, talks were in process around the creation of a new California state park, and it was believed that President Nixon wanted it to be named after him. In the end, it was deemed a presidential gift from Richard M. Nixon—but at least “San Onofre” took the name slot.
As has been the history with the SOSC, a few heroes again emerged to keep the club alive and thriving into a new era. One was SOSC President Doug Craig, who provided the dedicated leadership and guidance for the club to stay together and work with the state of California to preserve the beach and surfing culture for future generations. The story of President Nixon meeting with the SOSC to gain his personal SOSC membership is documented in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album and is good for a chuckle. 
San Onofre Surfing Contest Next to Christmas and my birthday, the most coveted time of the year for me was the annual SOSC surfing contest at the end of summer. I thought about it every day I was in the water at SanO, replaying in my mind what the announcer would say after a good ride. It was a family fun event with something for everyone, no matter what your age or skill level. The club members who orchestrated it were the early pioneers of the sport and knew how to run a first-class surfing contest. The trophies for the finalists were right up there with the Heisman in terms of star power.
For me, it was all about my desire to surf like Erik Hops, who was in my age group. Erik surfed at a level I could only dream about. He won 1st place every year (as far as I know) and was the best surfer in the entire club in my view. I never saw anyone at SanO who had total board control and walked the nose as smoothly as Erik. He was even famous—the very first surfing book I was given (Modern Surfing by John Severson – 1964) had a picture of Erik surfing in it. When I ordered my first custom Doug Haut surfboard in Santa Cruz years later, I fulfilled my dream of having a solid red pigment board, just like the one Erik rode at SanO.
The highlight of the contest each year was announcer Jim Irwin, who was appropriately labeled “the Vin Scully of surfing contests”. Jim’s booming voice made you feel like you were a world champion, even if you were just barely navigating an ankle biter. His enthusiasm was extreme, and his joy of the sport leaped out as he described each ride with fantastic detail and emotion. When announcing the “8-year-old and under” kids, who were barely 25 yards offshore, he made it sound like they were dropping into 25-footers at Waimea Bay:
“The white water is thundering down as he streaks across the massive face of a turbulent curl and cranks a bottom turn just in time!”
Hearing Jim describe each contestant was like reading a character description in a Steinbeck novel. He was an artist in motion. God bless that man; I am praying that he will be announcing my rides in Heaven.
SanO Today It has been a great joy to live out my dream of taking my family down to SanO to experience much of what I had growing up. The SOSC leadership has done an amazing job keeping the original structure of the beach intact and maintaining the culture I became so fond of as a kid. We now arrive at 6 a.m. to get in (Dad would not have approved!), but once I park the car and collapse into my beach chair, the familiarness of it all comes right back like a favorite song from that era.
I always wanted to experience SanO like the many families who camped there all summer in vans with lots of food and drink. We started making an annual trek from northern California to SanO in a fully equipped RV, which allowed us to spend entire days into darkness soaking in the San Onofre aroma of a healthy simplicity of life. The kids loved it and I was thrilled to finally barbecue that meat I always smelled as a child among the many camper vans. We even catch the SOSC surfing contest when we can, which has maintained the same all-inclusive aloha spirit. Jim Irwin has passed on, but his legacy continues from the announcer’s booth; those “8-year-old and under” kids are still a personal highlight for me.
On one trip down I took our kids on a sightseeing tour to see the tennis court at the Arts Festival (still there), the Laguna Beach Greeter (a new one!), and we even pulled off at Avenida Calafia to find El Camino Market for some last-minute wax and ice. Incredibly, I found Tony Duynstee still at the counter almost 50 years later! Tony finally sold the store to a developer after 75 years at that location.
Today, as I reflect on growing up at SanO and watch my kids in the water at Old Man’s, I dig my toes into the sand and think how fortunate I am now, and was to have such a wonderful place to grow up. It is a joy to share with my wife and children. I always believed life at SanO was the way things were supposed to be. It made an indelible impression on me.
This quote from the San Onofre 1973 Cookbook for Surfers, captures the essence of SanO (unedited):
“Say San Onofre and you hear the sound of surf rolling in a long way, and smooth stones chuckling together in the shore break. As a place name, San Onofre has come to have deep meaning for a large group of men and their families who have surfed together for as long as thirty years at the same lovely, wild stretch of beach. The constancy of both surf and friendship has distilled a camaraderie that is as strong as the surfers are different… All this time, the beach has remained unspoiled, as delightful on a wind-swept winter’s day, as it is on July 4th, awash with dogs, kids, and cold drinks. Improvements in the name of comfort were avoided; no showers, no blacktop, no running water, no lifeguard stands. Out on the water, the surfers took care of each other. All problems could be brought to an open forum, a circle of beach chairs. Access to San Onofre depended on the good spirit of cooperation with the Marine Corps, and two more unlikely groups never lived side by side.”
Marion Haines, Polly Buckingham, Claire Shaver San Onofre Cookbook, 1973
Footnotes:  The San Onofre Surfing Club, 1952 – 2002: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album, this book is a treasure of pictures and stories of the 50-year history of the club. Page 36 describes the new world order at San Onofre following WW II (unedited):
THE FORTIES – A Changed World
“World War II changed America in profound ways. It ended the Depression, unified and equalized the country, restarted the economic engine and opened doors to new lifestyles. Those who had never seen the beach till they shipped out of California [from Camp Pendleton] knew they wanted to go back there. Those who had grown up with the beach knew just how good they had it.
In 1946 a bunch of us lived down there at ‘Nofre: Glen Fisher, Wild Ass Wiley, [James] Arness, Bob Card Hammerhead – we’d go to the dump and get old furniture and set it up and live like a hobo camp. We called ourselves the “52-twenty club,” cause for the first 52 weeks after the war they paid us $20 a week as veterans. You could live like kings at ‘Nofre for that. We all enrolled in college to get better jobs and surfed every day.” Jim ‘Burrhead’ Drever
 The San Onofre Surfing Club, 1952 – 2002: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album, A summary of the struggles between SOSC members and the USMC in the 1950s are neatly summarized on page 41 of this book: “The Fifties – Birth Of The Cool”. The net of the story is that the USMC notified the SOSC in 1955 that they would no longer have exclusive access to the beach. Total chaos followed (unedited):
Things went downhill almost immediately. Irresponsible surfers set fire to the brush in the San Mateo Creek estuary and nearly burned down the railroad trestle. Burning wood thrown at the commuter train and piled debris on the tracks once caused a passenger train to grind to an emergency stop. Parking and other regulatory signs were used as firewood. The grass shack was torched. A cave on the cliffs was filled with old tires and gasoline. The fire was so intense the Marines couldn’t reach it with the fire truck. Occasionally the M.P.s were so provoked that they fired rifles and pistols at the trestle surfers. Some surfers set up camp overnight on the beach in defiance of patrolling M.P.s. The Marine Corps demanded the Club maintain order or all civilians would be restricted from the beach. The Club, of course, disclaimed responsibility, since the Marines had allowed free and uncontrolled public use of the area.
 San Onofre – Memories of a Legendary Surfing Beach by David Matuszak, is the encyclopedia on San Onofre, weighing in at an astounding 1,561 pages (not kidding). One must see this book to believe it. Page 702 has an excerpt from the Sports Illustrated article in 1965 which included the following (unedited):
“At the opposite pole is the San Onofre Surfing Club, which is at the same time one of the most exclusive and one of the tackiest clubs in the world. Founded in 1951 and located at Camp Pendleton, its facilities seem to consist of little more than a few shacks badly in need of repair, which serve as dressing rooms and toilets, and its existence seems to depend on the whim of the Marine commandant. The SOSC has 800 members, each paying $20 annual dues… Elderly men wearing straw hats, smoking cigars and drinking cans of beer sit on the swells astride their boards, occasionally riding a wave in, still seated. One old gentleman says he only surfs on his birthday, of which he has several every summer.”
 The San Onofre Surfing Club, 1952 – 2002: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album, A fitting close to this era is summarized on page 64 (unedited):
Tricky Dick Goes Surfing “When Richard Nixon moved the “Western White House” to Cotton’s Point (north of The Trestle) in ’69, ‘Nofre was put in the spotlight more than ever. As a result, the Club was now on the verge of being stripped of its beach due to the all out political battle waged against it. Members had no choice but to play their hand. Bob Mardian (Nixon’s Attorney General at that time), was an enthusiastic and active member of the Club, and was considered an ace in the hole. Members increased the clean-up detail and suspended members who trespassed on Marine property at Trestles, trying to put on the very best face to the outside world. The SOSC even went so far as to make Nixon an “honorary member” with hopes of wooing his support for a status quo approach to ‘Nofre. Tricky Dick was scheduled to meet with them down at the SOSC beach, but, for unknown reasons, he never showed. In 1970, then Club president Doug Craig was permitted a 15-minute meeting with Nixon at the Western White House after Bob Mardian had pulled some strings. Craig believed he had Nixon’s backing after their talk. But a year later, Nixon did an about-face and handed San Onofre over to the state as a “Presidential Gift”. The San Onofre Surfing Club’s little-known book for members only, published in ’74, has a special tribute to Nixon in its closing pages: a picture of Craig standing next to an upright, driftwood log, with a giant middle finger carved into it. “He betrayed us,” says Craig.”
This picture was taken the day Nixon was given his honorary membership to the SOSC in 1970. Left to right: Robert Mardian (Nixon’s Attorney General), Mike Hops (Erik’s older brother), President Richard M. Nixon, Dick Hoover, Julie Brown, Tony Mardian, Denise Tkach, Tom Turner, Billy Mardian, Rolf Arness (son of James Arness of Gunsmoke fame), Tom Craig, and Doug Craig (SOSC President).
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” John Kabat-Zinn
If asked to dream up a place for growing up, it would be difficult to find a better community for a young boy than Corona del Mar (CdM), Spanish for Crown of the Sea. CdM was the quintessential beach community in the 1960s, with a small-town atmosphere (population ~8,000), beautiful sandy beaches, and balmy SoCal weather that was comfortable year-round. We had a tight-knit gang that hung together from grammar school at Harbor View Elementary through graduation at Corona del Mar High School. I maintain close contact with many today.
Looking back on those days growing up in CdM reawakens the simplicity of my youth. If we weren’t in school, throwing rocks at each other in the alley, or playing ball at the Community Youth Center, our days were largely about hanging out at the beach—which could easily fill an entire day! I have fond memories of “corn dogging” in the warm sand to heat up your body after a long stint in the water, and then going back into the water once you got too hot. Rinse and repeat until it was time to go home.
I had no idea at the time that CdM had a strong history of surfing. It was one of the premier spots on the west coast in the late 20s and early 30s, hosting the Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships[i] during that period. A large jetty extension was then built at the entrance of Newport Harbor in 1936[ii] and surfing popularity in CdM died out because of the change in surf conditions. Most of the serious surfing crowd (and the Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships) ventured further south to San Onofre in search of consistently good waves.
CdM Beaches The primary charm of CdM was the beaches. Big Corona was a half-mile-long strip of fine white sand that had a jetty for surfing, bodysurfing, volleyball, girl-watching, a snack bar, and lots of tourists. We called the south end Banzai, which ironically had no shape for surfing at all (due to the jetty extension), but lots of open sand to hang out when the tourists were crowding near the jetty.
On a “red flag” day (meaning, big waves!), we would bodysurf at Banzai, taking the drop like we were diving off a cliff, getting completely bombed when the entire length of the beach seemed to break at once. There was also a very short tubular left by the jetty which magically appeared during the big south swells at low tide; our own homegrown Banzai Pipeline. It came out of nowhere and was astonishingly good when it happened.
Little Corona was a very scenic but much smaller option with minimal sand, lots of rocky coves and tide pools, decent surfing, and no tourists or snack bar. A mile south, The Coves (now Crystal Cove State Park) had lots of untamed beaches with the best surfing and no lifeguards to patrol our many antics. We staged our legendary 4th of July parties at The Coves, which the Newport Beach Police finally put a stop to after our senior year in high school. It was a mutually agreed-upon treaty—we pushed their police cars out of the incoming tide while agreeing to break up the shindig.
There was also The Wedge on the north side of the harbor, renowned for waves that could top 20 feet on a big south swell. We could see the wave cresting over the top of the jetty from CdM on those big days, so a few times we swam across the harbor to watch. Avoiding the Harbor Patrol was nerve wracking, but seeing people bodysurf a 20-foot wave just a few feet off the shore was worth the risk back then.
Foamers When word got out that a sizable south swell was hitting, Big Corona was the place to be. Our small community of surfers lived for those hurricanes off Baja, California when the CdM jetty would break “off the end”. It was all word-of-mouth, so the first one to see a swell got on the phone (or bike) and let out the word that it was “foaming!” An all-out assault on Big Corona ensued, regardless of what you had planned for the day. Foamers were not something to be missed; they were right up there with Christmas and birthdays.
When the call hit 507 Marguerite Avenue, I would instantly grab my Duck Feet fins with Converse Hodgman raft and sprint to Big Corona to get in on the action. It was a long paddle/kick out as I slowly passed the massive granite rocks with sharp barnacles that could easily turn you into ground round at Coast Super Market. Our rafts had no fins and thus absolutely no control, so the thought of “getting sucked” (as we called it) was a real fear.
Arriving at the end of the jetty, my eyes were nervously glued to the bell buoy (top center of the picture above) as an indicator of how big the next set coming would be. When it dipped to the crown, my adrenaline skyrocketed, knowing it was a guaranteed BIG foamer set. We immediately jockeyed for position, shouting out our claim to the wave of our choice: “1st end!” “2nd end!” “3rd end!”
Pandemonium erupted as that first foamer exploded off the end of the jetty, sending white water out like the exhaust from Apollo 13. Proper positioning was essential as I vice-gripped my raft and the mountain of white water exploded onto me. It was like trying to catch a snow avalanche without skis as it raced by. Once I was in, the experience to follow was unforgettable—a guaranteed “E-ticket” ride at Disneyland. The initial drop was completely blind, smothered in white foam, and made it impossible to gain any sense of where the death-dealing rocks were as you bounced along like you were riding a wild bronco.
Breaking free from the upheaval, I got my first view of the jetty and immediately kicked like crazy to steer toward open water to avoid side-slipping out of control. An incredibly long and very bumpy ride followed that was both exhilarating and hair-raising as the gap to the barnacle-crusted rocks quickly narrowed. I navigated my raft with precision to make it to the shore break inside, which sometimes earned a hoot from the crowd watching on the beach.
I remember some of those rides vividly—as if they just happened yesterday. Riding that Hodgman raft off the end of the jetty rivals anything I have done on a surfboard since for pure fun and adventure. It was surfing nirvana.
The odds of getting sucked finally caught up with us when Mark Magiera became an instant rock star (pun intended) for becoming our first casualty while riding a surfboard on the inside channel of the jetty, where the boats were! He magnificently survived, while setting a Hoag Memorial Hospital record for visitors during his stay.
Mark had been sucked into the jaws of the jetty and lived to chronicle his story. We were lined up in the hospital waiting room to pay our tributes. In our small community, that was right up there with being awarded the armed forces Purple Heart. We were incredibly envious of his bravery and many bandages. I imagine our parents were all aghast at the sudden fame Mark achieved for such an act.
As a result of this ever-present danger, in the early 1970s, Woody Woodworth and John Park pioneered a technique of gluing two fins onto the Hodgman raft bottom to help hold you into the wave. This dramatically changed the scene at Big Corona when it was foaming, enabling you to maintain a line across the wave without side-slipping toward the jetty rocks. A new era had been born!
CdM Shenanigans If I ever run for elected office (not something to worry about), our many CdM Shenanigans from those days would likely boot me out faster than you can say “Quick Draw McGraw”. We were safe and sensible (for the most part), but like any kids, we had our fun and games.
As our surfing improved, we coveted travel beyond the CdM beaches. Sometimes we could persuade a parent or older sibling to drop us off at a local spot nearby. We had no way of knowing if it would be any good (it usually wasn’t), but we always pounced on the opportunity to venture beyond our home turf.
One time Matt Cox got his mom to drop four of us off at the Huntington Beach cliffs with our boards on a day when there was not much surf. She forgot to come to pick us back up. Not kidding. Without phones or money, we were shipwrecked. Just as we were plotting a robbery on a nearby convenience store to stave off starvation, her car rolled up. We never let Matt hear the end of that one.
If we weren’t at the beach, we did have one or two organized activities we participated in. Below is an acclaimed picture of our CdM Community Youth Center All Star baseball team circa 1964. This was an elite team of ballplayers, coached by Scott Flanagan’s brother (top middle and bottom row). The total score of “120 – 0” tells it all (the negative of the picture is reversed).
There is a lot I could say about almost everyone in this picture, including the two who opted out on the team uniform. I’ll hold it to John “Go-Go” Bandel, top left (standing). Go-Go was a very talented athlete in all sports (especially rock throwing), and simply had a way about him that you could not help but like. When we were picking sides, I always wanted to be on Go-Go’s team. He was one of 17 children being raised in one of the original (and small) two-story CdM homes built in the 1940s. I only went inside their house a time or two and remember wondering how the heck it all worked. It did not seem possible that 19 people could fit in there at the same time, let alone carry on with life!
A funny story snuck out at a CdM wedding reception a few years back about those days. One of the Bandel kids was caught in a backyard picking fruit off the tree of another family in the CdM neighborhood. When they got caught, they had a piece of paper in hand which turned out to be a detailed map of all the many fruit trees in CdM. We confirmed that night that each Bandel kid had an assigned fruit tree to be picked on a specific day of the week for the family. Mr. Bandel was one resourceful man!
Once in high school, jobs became a necessity, as our parents (who had survived The Great Depression and WWII) held on to the cash tightly. I was a busboy at the Rueben E. Lee restaurant, and soon was also working weekends at Ken’s Mobile gas station with my friends Danny Moore, Mark Magiera, Frank Frost, and Jeff Zerkie.
Located at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Jasmine Avenue, Ken seemed to love hiring local CdM high school kids to pump the gas and check under the hood while he was playing poker in his RV parked in the back or at Whitman’s Garage up the street. It was a dream job to get paid to hang out with my best friends, work on our cars, get greasy, and be the conduit in town when a big event (aka party!) was coming down. It was almost as if Ken was partnering with our parents to keep us off the streets while putting a little cash in our pockets.
On weekends Ken was not around much, so we had free reign on running the gas station. I’d be lying to say that things didn’t get a little out of hand some of those days. It was just a little too much freedom for high school boys with lots of ideas.
Jeff Zerkie, Frank Frost, and I were doing our “Petroleum Exchange Engineer” work (as we called it) one of those weekend days when the topic of the “baby’s butt” resurfaced. There was a vacant lot next to the gas station with a large billboard that was recently plastered with a Pampers ad that was mostly just a gigantic bare baby’s butt. It was appalling! We had convinced ourselves that the entire city was disgraced by it. We even complained to our parents. It was an abomination that simply had to be fixed. We might even become famous if we could do something about it.
Well, the next thing I know, Frank strolls by carrying the extension ladder from the gas station telling us he had an idea . . . As Jeff and I manned the pumps, we watched Frank climb halfway up the billboard on the ladder and duct tape an M-80 firecracker to the middle of the baby’s butt.
“Uh Oh . . . ”
He then placed a cigarette to its fuse, lighting the other end of the cigarette, and climbed down before the excitement began.
We were all three giggly for what seemed an eternity while serving customers and looking up at the baby’s butt with great anticipation. Nothing happened. We concluded that the cigarette must have gone out or the M-80 was a dud. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, it exploded like a cannon on a warship.
It was ear-piercing, with a quick flash of fire followed by a large plume of smoke, creating a scene that we had not envisioned. All cars on PCH suddenly were screeching on their brakes crossing the yellow divider lines as if “the Russians were coming.”[i]
People were streaming out of Albertson’s across the street to see what happened. We were dumbfounded. Amazingly, no cars collided and no one was hurt. As we hid in the gas station office, it soon became clear that everything was quickly coming back to normal. Whew! For a week after we were certain that every car pulling up with an “E” on the license plate was the FBI coming to interrogate us.
Our mission was accomplished, as the Pampers ad did get replaced a few weeks later. The scar left by the M-80 surely tarnished their brand in a way that needed immediate attention.
[i]Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships – In 1928 the Corona del Mar Surfboard Club hosted the first notable surfing competition held in the United States at Big Corona State Beach, as it is known today. As soon as the harbor entrance was dredged and over 200,000 tons of rocks were dropped to form the jetty, it moved south to San Onofre in 1935 due to the blockage of the surf by the jetty. The winners between 1928 and 1941 were as follows:
1928: Tom Blake 1929: Keller Watson 1932: Pete Peterson 1934: Gardner Lippincott 1936: Pete Peterson 1938: Pete Peterson 1939: Lorrin Harrison 1940: Cliff Tucker 1941: Pete Peterson
[ii] A remarkable story about the building of the jetties was told in a 2014 PBS documentary called The Wedge: Dynasty, Tragedy, Legacy. In 1926, a 15-year-old polio victim (George Rogers Jr.) drowned in the Newport Harbor as the boat he was in capsized in heavy surf. As a result of his polio, the heavy weight of his iron leg braces sank his body to the bottom of the harbor, and it was never found. His father, George Rogers Sr., consequently sold his business and focused his remaining years of life seeking the funding to alter Newport Harbor to prevent such an accident from happening again. Despite the scarcity of money during the great depression, he raised over $2 million in federal and local funds to build the jetty extension in 1936. A month following the re-dedication of the improved Newport Harbor entrance, George Rogers Sr. suffered a heart attack while on his boat as he entered the harbor entrance and died at approximately the same location his son had died, ten years earlier.
[iii]The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming – was a 1966 American film about the chaos following the grounding of the Soviet submarine off a small New England Island during the Cold War. I should note that we were the generation who had nuclear bomb drills in grammar school where we would get under our desks and put our hands over our heads for protection. The thought of the Russians coming during the cold war of the 1960s was not all that far-fetched.
“Surfing is the deceptively simple act of riding a breaking ocean wave on a surfboard. In reality, as a fundamental physical feat, surfing on a wave is a phenomenal conjunction of forces; the mathematics of it are profoundly complex. However, as an expression of the essential relationship between man and nature, surfing is unique in its clarity. And as a metaphor for life and just about anything life throws at us, it is unparalleled. Life is a wave. Albert Einstein even said so.”
Drew Kampion, Stoked! A History of Surf Culture
My earliest memories of the beach date back to the late 1950s when our family would go to Incline Beach in Santa Monica. We lived just up the hill on 22nd Street until I was almost five years old. I don’t remember much around those early years, but the picture below of my sister Terry and me in the back of our 1947 Plymouth Woody captures a glimpse. I do remember looking very forward to our trips to the beach to play in the ocean and sand.
The beach was a place of complete freedom—open space to roam and recreation in the purest sense of the word. There were very few rules—mostly around water safety—and lots of ways to spend your time, unencumbered by the usual restrictions at home. Life became a very simple event, focused on playing in the ocean, warming up and drying off in the sand, and then eating and drinking whatever Mom and Dad happened to throw into the car that day (which was not much, if it was just Dad!).
The Greatest Generation, a book written by Tom Brokaw, is about those who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression, and then went on to win a global war that cost 60 million lives. In the opening chapter, Brokaw declared:
“I think this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”
Both my father, Jack Mulkey, and father-in-law, John D’Zurko, were a part of this fraternity, born into the false sense of prosperity of the 1920s, raised through the depression in the 1930s, and sent overseas to fight for global freedom in World War II in the 1940s. They were humble Americans who did not ask for a pat on the back for what they had accomplished for us all. Both were bound by common values of loyalty to their country, selfless service, and a desire to preserve world order.
When my son Matthew turned 16, I looked long and hard at him to try and conceptualize the decisions and experiences Dad had at that age. Imagine writing this letter to your widowed mother about vanishing from your home to fight in a world war :
I have joined the navy with Todd. I just couldn’t turn down an opportunity like this to join with a good friend the same age as I am. We are leaving for San Diego this morning. I know you want me to make good and this is the only way I will ever do it, don’t worry about me I am in the best hands in the world. I will probably be home in about 21 days because I will be in quarantine for 3 weeks (looks like I’ll miss UCLA’s opening game with T.C.U.). I will write first chance I get don’t worry about me.
P.S. I am now 17, so any body that you talk to or asks you I am 17 and you signed for me, this will help very much.
P.S. You can get Sam to do the work around the house he’s a pretty good gardener and would be glad to work around the house.
 Unedited letter written by my father, Jack Mulkey.
Dad’s home life in the 1930s had its hardships beyond the Great Depression. At age 13, he lost his father to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), leaving him to grow up fast as the only man in the house (older sister Sallye was a big help). Three years later after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Dad and his good friend Todd Bernarding enlisted in the U.S. Navy (a month shy of his sixteenth birthday).
Both lied about their age (you had to be seventeen to join), signed each other’s enlistment forms, and the next thing Dad knew, he was headed to the U.S. Naval Training Station in San Diego for two weeks of basic training. Amazingly, no ID was required through the entire process. As Dad would tell it, “At that point of the war, we were simply throwing bodies at the problem in the Pacific.”
After surviving basic training his life was dramatically altered in a mind-boggling way. He was first shipped to the Naval Air Radio School in Alameda, California for a month to get schooled in Morse code. Then back to San Diego (Naval Air Station North Island) for a week of skeet shooting under the command of Lieutenant Robert Stack, who starred in the television series The Untouchables.
Once he had mastered the art of hitting a moving clay target, he traveled back to San Francisco for his official ship assignment as an Aviation Radioman Petty Officer 3rd Class sailor. Suddenly, he was with 2,000 others on the 488’ Dutch Freighter Bloemfontein, cruising out of San Francisco Bay to Noumea, New Caledonia, an island 900 miles off the east coast of Australia. He was below deck seasick for the entire two-week journey! Somewhere in there his sixteenth birthday came and went.
From Noumea, Dad climbed aboard the monstrous aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, which had by chance been in San Diego harbor at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Before he knew what had hit him, he was flying off the Saratoga’s deck in a two-man Douglas SBD Dauntless aircraft on submarine patrol missions while manning the trigger of a twin 30-caliber machine gun. His initial flight at sea was the first time he had flown in an airplane. Ever.
Here is an excerpt from a handwritten note  Dad sent me describing his experiences:
As I remember I went to radio school for about 1 month, mainly to learn Morse code. Then went to gunnery school for a week on North Island [San Diego] where I shot 1,000 rounds of skeet. Really sore shoulder! That’s where my deafness started. When I finally got on the Saratoga & started flying there was a radio silence & no contact was allowed between plane & ship. So much for radio school. I think I flew about every other day. This was for submarine patrol to guard the fleet (at like 4 hours a flight). You just hoped you had a good navigator for a pilot. With no ship to plane contact, and the fact that you were well out of sight of the fleet most of the time, if you missed the fleet on return ‘that was all she wrote.’
When I first got on the Saratoga we were the only main line carrier afloat. The rest were all in dry dock being repaired. So we would try to let the Japanese see us and [then] take off, hoping they would think we had more than one carrier available. That was ok with me.
It is hard to comprehend what would go through his head in all this. Surely it was a bit of a blur. He told me about shipmates whose aircraft never did find their way back to the Saratoga. At the battle of Rabaul in the Caroline Islands (covered by Times and Newsweek), their planes would have just enough gas to sputter back onto the carrier deck. Ironically, that area where those battles took place (Truk Lagoon) is now a major tourist attraction for scuba diving among the many shipwrecks left behind.
After somehow surviving his service on the USS Saratoga, Dad was assigned to a Carrier Aircraft Service Unit (CASU) by his request. These ships were highly strategic to turning the tide against Japan in the Pacific by providing a mobile organization to keep U.S. Navy planes in the air. Dad was stationed at several locations on the west coast of the U.S., including San Nicolas Island (75 miles off the coast of Los Angeles).
At the time the war ended (VJ-Day on August 15, 1945) Dad’s CASU was in transit to Adak Island in Alaska, which he suspected was preparation for an invasion of Japan. They spent a month in Adak before returning to San Francisco to celebrate the end of the war.
He received his Honorable Discharge (C1766958) on November 18, 1945, three years following his enlistment, and just after turning nineteen. Like others so lucky to return home, Dad took advantage of the G.I. Bill to test out of high school and enroll in college while living “high off the hog,” as he described it, on $20 per week compensation from the U.S. government.
The G.I. Bill covered him for two years at Santa Monica City College and two years at UCLA. Below is a picture of dad taken at Ciros Night Club on Sunset Boulevard (circa 1944), which was the place to be seen during that era in Los Angeles.
Following the war, Dad became part of a select few individuals who were pioneering the sport of surfing in Southern California. Malibu was the place to be for post-WWII era surfers when summertime south swells swept up the coast for a long day in the water while the heat of the white sand beach awaited to warm you back up. It had to seem too good to be true after all he had been through.
As Charley French told me the story of making these two boards pictured above, he and dad went to General Veneer Manufacturing in L.A. to purchase the balsa wood which they then glued together into large planks. They hauled them over to Bob Simmons’ house and watched as he shaped them into the concave surfboards. Dad and Charley then took the finished boards home to be glassed and sanded in the backyard, ready for the trip to Palos Verdes (above).
As the world recovered from the ravages of WWII, these early trailblazers of surfing at Malibu had an ideal setting for the birth of a craze that would quickly sweep across the globe. Surfrider Beach at Malibu had the ideal weather, a long stretch of fine white sand, and waves as clean and perfectly breaking as one could find along the Southern California coast.
A spirit and camaraderie developed among these early surfers which boiled life down to its most simple elements. Many called this the birth of the surf culture, a new way of life outside the usual societal boundaries in Southern California at that time. Dad never spoke of it that way. They just survived a world war, many of them in a direct line of fire. It was the freedom they had fought for, and they were going to make sure they enjoyed it.
As progress would have it, this unique setting did not last long. With the popularity of the Hollywood movie production Gidget (along with several others that followed), thousands were soon flocking to Surfrider Beach at Malibu to test their skills at the new emerging sport. In 1959 our family moved 55 miles down Pacific Coast Highway to a sleepy beach-side community, Corona del Mar (CdM). Mom and Dad found a quaint beach house just four blocks from Big Corona State Beach. It even had a shower in the garage to wash the sand off. It was a dream come true!
The beach soon became my home base. It was where my friends and I always seemed to end up when we had free time. It was ground zero for the path my life took until graduating from Corona del Mar High School in 1973.
“Dear Mom” letter:
2. This handwritten note was unedited.
3. The picture on the cover of surfingforbalance.com is the only picture I have of my dad, Jack B Mulkey, surfing. It was taken at Malibu circa 1949 by Doc Ball. Doc was an early pioneer in surfing photography and was one of the leaders in establishing surfing on the west coast. He helped organize the Palos Verdes Surf Club, where dad often surfed in the late 40s and early 50s. Here is the original photo:
Dad is riding a 10’9″ Bob Simmons Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”). This surfboard was a major breakthrough from the Redwood Planks they had been riding, which could weigh in over 100 pounds. An exact replica of this surfboard sold for $40,000 at the Hawaiian Islands Vintage Surf Auction in 2009. Dad did not even know this picture was taken but ran across it in a photo album at a party at Doc Ball’s house. As he told me the story, a friend yelled out to him, “Hey Mulkey, check this out; your picture is in here!”.
“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” -Russell Crowe as Maximus in, Gladiator
When Heaven comes calling, I am counting on being able to surf. That vision has transformed my walk here on earth. Surfing in Heaven is my ultimate goal.
As a lifelong surfer, my world has been a series of waves rolling through my life at varying intervals. Each wave is unique as it parades in a band of swells toward my beach of choice on any given day. Surfing, for me, has been all about the ride. One good ride can easily highlight my day or even my week. There is something extraordinary about paddling into a swell created deep in the ocean and riding its natural energy into the shore.
I often daydream of the perfect wave as I sit, testing my patience during the lull between sets. I fantasize that it will be my best ride ever, beyond epic. That vision keeps me searching the horizon for an early sign that it might be coming. I want to be ready! It will be a dream come true.
Growing up at the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960s was an idyllic environment for a surfer grom like me. We had a tight-knit community of friends who gathered daily at the beach, constantly anticipating the next big south swell. Best of all, my dad was a surfer. He was one of the few who returned home unharmed from WWII and found a surfing lifestyle at Malibu while benefiting from the GI Bill. He had me out on his Dave Sweet surfboard riding waves at San Onofre earlier than I can recall. My time surfing with Dad on the weekends at San Onofre most influenced my early years of life. As I grew into adulthood, I realized that I was at my very best in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity.
The surfing culture I grew up with soon clashed with my adult career when I relocated to Silicon Valley in 1990 to become a cog in the high technology revolution, which was taking off like an Elon Musk rocket ship. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself embedded in the innovation capital of the world, where there was no longer enough margin in my day to hang out at the beach and wait for waves. Life was full.
From floppy disks to flash memory over the next quarter-century, I found myself in a marketing career at Sun Microsystems and Oracle Corporation that paid me well to drive the network computing revolution for the emerging worldwide web. We even called ourselves “the dot in dot com” at Sun. Flying high in jet planes around the world, I was in a constant struggle to balance the demands of my career with the needs of my health and the joy of raising our young family, including my beautiful bride Marla (now of 30 years) and two wonderful children (Marisa and Matthew).
Surfing became my escape from the incessant “real-time” processing of Silicon Valley. Like the pressure release valve at the San Onofre Nuclear power plant, the ocean set me free from the stress of my career while providing a connection point for my kids to join in. As this inner battle of work/life balance consumed me, I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to blog about my passion for keeping it all above water. That blog eventually led me to write this book, Surfing in Heaven, to consolidate my learning through this time and offer it to a wider audience.
Surfing in Heaven is both a metaphor and a vision for how I invest my time and energy each day. It shifted my focus from the wave I was riding to the ultimate ride, my eternal destination in Heaven. As I poured myself into the blog about my struggles to find balance, I kept coming back to the Bible and what God’s Word said about Heaven. Jesus often spoke about storing up treasures in Heaven rather than investing in what we have here on earth (1). Like the sharp sound of cymbals in a symphony, this rang loud and true for me. By starting each day with my eternal future in mind, I found myself able to navigate the many perilous waves I was riding. Heaven became a game-changer.
As the proverbial waves kept coming toward me with increasingly shortened intervals, I was able to gain a radically new perspective on how I invested my time and energy. The chaos of the storm settled. It was like going back to the 1960s and surfing without a leash. My life became untethered from earthly expectations as I focused on this beautiful eternal future and what I had to learn along the way. Laying the groundwork each day for my life to come in Heaven provided peace of mind. I was stoked!
To be clear, when this life on earth ends, I believe that I will go surfing, in Heaven. Surely the God who created the Heavens and the earth (2) could arrange for a bit of recreation up there. What awaits us in Heaven will be far greater than what our imagination can explore (3)—more on that coming.
Waxing Up Waxing up a surfboard is an often-overlooked component of surfing that helps to chronicle this time of preparation for the life to come. When I am going out at Steamer Lane in a large northwest winter swell on a cold January day (a birthday tradition), waxing up is a strategic time to get ready before paddling out. This process starts by closely reviewing the elements (surf, tide, wind, crowd, and currents) to determine my tactic for paddling out. Next, I thoroughly wax the top of my board with the amazing variety of surf wax available today (by water temperature), taking just a minute or two. Finally, I firmly attach my leash and launch.
In the 1960s, waxing up was much more involved. For one, longboards required a lot more wax. Without surf leashes, waxing up was critical to hanging on to your surfboard. Parowax (called “paraffin”) was the only choice for wax and was a far cry from today’s sticky surf wax. Paraffin was hard as a rock, so you first had to soften it up in the sun to avoid shaving off the wax that was already there. Then you would dip your board into the ocean to harden the surface wax while roughing it up with wet sand. Applying the paraffin required serious elbow grease, being careful to cover the nose (for hanging five), the tail (for cranking bottom turns), and the rails by the nose (for turtle diving big waves as you paddled out). Extra wax was needed there.
I would then walk the top of my board a few times with bare feet at the edge of the shore to get some of the wax onto the bottom of my feet (there were no booties back then) while rubbing in more wet sand to rough the surface one final time. I carried an extra bar in my trunks, as you had to repeat the process a time or two if you were out for a long surf session—especially if you lost your board to the beach (the ride in would slicken the wax). Suffice it to say, paraffin was better suited for candle-making!
Like properly waxing up for a good surfing session, I believe in this life, we are laying the groundwork for our life to come in Heaven. In a sense, it’s our dress rehearsal. We are waxing up for our eternal ride home. This is not our home; Heaven is our final destination. Our life here is very short (4), but what we do while we are here really does matter (5). Big time. Jesus emphasized this to His disciples at the last supper just before His death when He told them He was preparing a mansion for each one of them in Heaven (6). He is doing the same for each one of us.
I hope you can embrace my journey while catching a few waves with me along the way. When you kick out of your final wave, I pray that you will see that Jesus Christ is whom He said he is.
Time to get out your wax and prepare for the ride of your life!
Life moves quickly today. We can do so much in little time. It is exciting for a Type-A person like myself who loves to be efficient and blast through the to-do list. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic on Highway 17, and view a live camera of Steamers Lane — all with a finger tap or two on my iPhone; while I am shopping for my grocery list at Trader Joe’s!
It’s fantastic. But like the groceries, it comes at a cost.
“… The world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness.“
(Let’s add “stress” to that list …)
Slow down, emphasis on “now!”
The most important thing I have learned in my coaching profession is the need to slow down.
It is difficult to coach a client who is traveling through life at today’s pace. It’s similar to diagnosing car trouble with no dashboard to tell you what is happening under the hood. The speed and intensity of life seem to require that we lose touch with our inner being (we are too busy for that). I often prescribe meditation to help my clients Stop and Smell The Roses. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we take the time to listen.
A close friend told me a story underscoring how the speed of life today is impacting our youth. His son hit a rough patch in life after high school and developed a serious alcohol/drug habit. It was not pretty, but he got himself into a long-term rehab center and is now doing great. With a dozen or so other young adults, the leader asked what they thought led to their addiction. It was their deep internal need to slow down. Each one of them agreed, life was moving too fast and they could no longer cope, so they began to deal with it by taking alcohol or drugs. I can sure relate to that. My coping mechanism just happens to be exercise.
For me, slowing down was what put me on the path to become a New Ventures West certified coach. After twenty-five years in Silicon Valley riding the Express train, I had been laid off from my job at the age of sixty-two. The train had stopped, so I got off and explored my options. It was like Surfing Without a Leash. Suddenly I was empowered to experience the freedom of who I was deep inside without being tied down to a career. Although painful at first, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years. It is now my passion to coach others who struggle to slow down, and discover what is going on “under their hood”.
Surfing for Balance
Growing up at the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960s was an ideal environment for a young grom like me. We had a tight-knit community of friends who gathered daily at the beach, constantly anticipating the next big south swell. Best of all, my dad was a surfer from Malibu in the 1940s, and it was my time surfing with him on the weekends at San Onofre that most influenced my views on keeping work and life balance. As I grew into adulthood I began to realize that I felt at my very best when I was in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity.
Our surfing adventures to Baja in the early 1980s provided plenty of time to slow down
When I first transferred to Silicon Valley in 1990 I wondered what everyone did when they weren’t working. It soon became apparent that when you were working for a computer company in the innovation capital of the world there was not a lot of time to hang out at the beach. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself continuously fighting a battle to stay healthy and balanced.
Although it took a couple years to get used to the cold water (thank you, O’Neill wetsuits!), surfing soon became my relief valve from the hectic pace. I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to begin blogging about my struggle to stay afloat as a way to apply my voice to the work-life integration challenge in Silicon Valley.
Writing about the nonstop juggling act between work, family and self began to parallel my training for a triathlon. I was constantly balancing my time to make sure each event got its allotted time. I soon created the Circle of Life as a tool to provide my own emergency warning system when one area got out of whack (work, family, or self). A story from my early career with ROLM is an example when my work was taking over.
I Have Become That Man!
ROLM was a dream company to start a career, and they were led by one of Silicon Valley’s great pioneers, Ken Oshman, who established “Great Place To Work” (GPW) as a corporate goal at ROLM in the early 1970s. I was later managing a global product development team with Siemens ROLM in 1990 when this story takes place.
ROLM set the stage in Silicon Valley as a center of innovation years before others came along
Our product teams were split between the U.S. and Germany, requiring me to fly to Munich quarterly to help coordinate development activities. Waiting at San Francisco International Airport to board my flight to Munich, I was strategically positioned next to the only power outlet in sight for my laptop. Typing out urgent last-minute emails to my team, I likely had veins popping out of my forehead as I raced against to call to begin boarding.
An older businessman suddenly approached me, clearly wanting to chat. Probably in his 60s with grey hair, he wore a smart suit and tie and patiently waited for me to pause from my furious pace. When I finally looked up he blurted out that I reminded him of whom he had been twenty years before. Then he paused, as if that needed to sink in.
He said he was stopping by to tell me to relax, to slow down; “Stop and smell the roses,” he said. He then assured me it all would be waiting for me when I landed in Munich. He said all this in a very relaxed and purposeful manner, looking me straight in the eye. He finished with,
“You’ll see when you’re my age, that it really doesn’t matter.”
I was aghast he had the audacity to tell me this when he had no idea who I was, who I worked for, or where I was going and why. Yet I had an immediate sense that he was absolutely right. I remember his words playing back to me over that long flight. I never saw him again. I believe he was an angel sent to help me slow down. Many years after that incident, I have become that man!
Thirty-five years into my life and launching my career in high technology, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Since then I have been on a walk of continual growth in understanding the plan God has for my life, realizing I am not actually the one in control.
Maybe I am losing some who do not believe the Bible, and I fully understand. Many in the surfing community are not followers of Jesus. Stick with me, as we all wonder at times about the truth of scripture.
As a life-long surfer who grew up without a church background, I became a student of Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) to better understand God’s word. BSF soon led me on a path to knowing God through my eternal destiny: heaven. Belief in the glorious wonder of what God has waiting for us has been a lightning bolt of change for me in my faith. In anticipation of heaven, I have found the perseverance to handle today’s challenges, and hope for what tomorrow brings. As crazy as it sounds, I believe we could be Surfing in Heaven when we get there!
What a story!
Julius Achon is my hero.
This book is an inspirational true story of how Julius went from being a 14-year old Ugandan boy soldier during the terrible Idi Amin era to an Olympic runner and then found his calling with an African children’s charity. I could not put it down!
The author of this book (John Brant) wrote my other favorite running book, Duel in the Sun. Brant is a longtime writer-at-large for Runner’s World and knows how to write about running.
A unique recommend on my part, but this book ties into my piece on Steve Jobs (Heaven Can’t Wait). It is the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who was Steve Jobs’ first child, although he was not always willing to admit that. This was a well written and candid insight into the anxieties of a child who comes into the world as an inconvenience to her success-focused father.
“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!
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.
“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.
“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.