24. Surfing in Heaven

“Heaven walks among us.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

(1)

Surfing in Heaven. Outrageous thought!
Or is it?

In the late 1940s when Dad surfed Malibu with his small band of friends who were lucky enough to have returned home from World War II (2), he told me he never went surfing in the winter. They did not have wetsuits then, so it was too cold to paddle out! Anyone who knew Dad would vouch for his hostility toward cold weather (or water). After he retired to Hawaii in the 80s, he would even ask for house slippers and sweatshirts for Christmas to stay warm.

Dad described standing on the beach at Malibu on a cold winter day, watching near-perfect waves rolling in without a single surfer in the water. That image has stuck with me. I fantasize about what it would have been like to paddle out in my toasty O’Neill wetsuit to have Malibu to myself back then. Just thinking about it gets me stoked.

It would be a surfer’s paradise.

For me, heaven brings that surfing paradise into sight. I can envision waves better than Malibu peeling off perfectly without a soul in the water. I am giddy with anticipation to paddle out. Getting a clear picture of my future in heaven has completely changed my perspective on life. For a God who moves mountains (3), waves in the world hereafter seem to be within reach.

Indescribable
The Bible paints a picture of heaven beyond anything ever seen or heard on earth. It is hard to grasp what God has waiting for us (4). “Indescribable” is the phrase used by those who claim to have been to heaven through a near-death experience. Being at home with God, creator of the universe, is beyond anything words can express.

My fascination with this idea has been running wild in my mind. For years, I have contemplated what heaven will be like. When it’s all said and done with this life I have been given on earth, heaven is all that matters. In my zeal to envision what awaits me, a sketch came together of how my odyssey will go. It flowed naturally and feels right. In the words of Rebecca Ruter Springer (5),

“I submit this imperfect sketch of a most perfect vision.”

Rewards
In Jesus’ final hours with His disciples before His death, He told them He was preparing a mansion for each one of them in heaven (6), and that they would have great rewards waiting for them when they got there (7). I believe my mansion in heaven will be near a beach, and my rewards will include surfing. That seems like an easy one for a God who created it all (8). To put it from a surfer’s perspective, if Kelly Slater (11-time world champion surfer) can create a near-perfect 6-foot barreling wave in a desert in California’s Central Valley (kswaveco.com), could not our great God fulfill the promise of heaven with something even better? I am betting on it and looking forward to getting wet when I get there! Grab your wax; I am excited you will be with me for the ride.

My portrayal undoubtedly will fall far short of the experience heaven will offer. Nothing in our human experience can reach the divine joy and beauty awaiting us there. I pray that this gives you hope and the will to accept God’s gift to ensure you will paddle out too.

So, here we go!

Jesus’ final dying words to the thief who was hanging on the cross next to Him provides the perfect opening:

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

My Imperfect Sketch
My time comes. The angels arrive to take me. Without thought, I float up and away from my physical body. I look down on my family as I assimilate a complete timeline of my life. Vivid images of home, family, friends, relatives, and so much more pass through me as I soak in the experiences they provided. Moving up and away faster than light, childhood memories I had forgotten come back as vividly as the day they happened. Each recollection is like a giant Kodachrome slideshow of my life. Tranquility envelops me as I see each slide in its perfect place. I am at peace and joyful. It is right with my soul. I am grateful for God’s hand in every part of it.

My sense of time disappears as my faithful Grandma Oa appears before me. Oh my! She is so young and beautiful, with her smile beaming at me. I am delighted to see her younger than I knew her.

“I have come to get you, Mike,” she says. “Everyone is so excited to see you!”

I know why without asking. Grandma faithfully prayed for me for many years. Tears of joy come to my eyes as I hug her. It goes beyond words to let her know how miraculous it is to see her again. We tightly embrace, feeling the love of God between us. Words are exchanged without talking. It’s as if we know each other’s thoughts before we think them. Our communication is perfect. There is no misunderstanding. Everything is right.

She leads me down a long path of the most beautiful grass I have ever seen–a brilliant shade of green that rivals the greens at Pebble Beach. It feels like velvet under my feet as we walk. A wondrous variety of plants and flowers surround us, so bright and colorful that I want to stop and inspect each one. They are perfect and appear freshly-bloomed. Everything is pure and clean as if bathed in an afternoon shower. Tall, majestic trees tower above us with hanging branches like weeping willows laden with white flowers of every variety imaginable. Beyond the trees, I see orchards of ripe fruit-bearing trees with a translucent river meandering through. Waterfalls roar in the distance from lush mountains capped with white snow. I want to take a picture. Small birds in the trees are singing joyous songs of heaven’s praise. They drench me with their melodies from above like a mountain thunderstorm. It is breathtaking. The music embraces my soul as I behold an overwhelming feeling of harmony with nature (9). I have never been more alive in my life.

I want to stop and explore the depth of what I am experiencing, but we continue walking, floating among this stunning scenery. I marvel at the perfection; a master gardener is in charge. We reach a rushing creek with water as clear as crystal running over brilliant stones of gold, silver, jasper, emerald, and pearl—even more stones than I can identify. It’s as if a pirate’s treasure chest has poured into the stream’s bed. Beautiful soft music soothes my spirit as we wade along the creek. It is a most breathtaking scene. Time is irrelevant. I could walk here forever.

The sky above is overflowing with brilliant new colors, brighter than a noonday sun. I see no sun; a golden radiance fills the sky, like the afterglow of a sunset in Hawaii, although more intense. Grandma and I are not talking, yet our communication is complete. She knows what I am feeling. “It is well, Mike,” she reassures me. It is well.

Our path opens onto a massive beach with sand like freshly fallen snow. I pause to contemplate how it could be. The sand is warm and sneaks between my toes to nuzzle and comfort me. The air is soft and balmy, giving me energy and vitality. A light breeze feathers my face. I want to lie down and soak all this in, as I would in my youth on a hot day at Big Corona State Beach, where I grew up.

As we cross the sand with freshly-laid footprints, I see a structure that reminds me of the surf shack I’ve known so well at the San Onofre Surfing Club. Its design is perfect, with beautiful wooden surfboards lined across the side and a large white cross on top of a humble wooden steeple. I feel myself being drawn to it as we walk.

The surf shack at San Onofre is a haven of memories over the years.

Approaching the structure, I see it is made from living trees that resemble palm trees growing in the sand. Their leaves naturally cover the roof, allowing the right amount of light inside. Dazzling multicolored flowers like Hawaiian leis grow from the tree limbs and branches. They are intricately woven around the steeple and roof. The air is full of sweet smells like gardenias, which engulf me as I am lured inside.

Euphoria overwhelms me as a hoard of family and friends are there to welcome me. It is the finest homecoming party ever! One by one, they greet and embrace me in mutual joy and wonder of shared experiences. Words cannot describe my feelings. I see mom; how glorious she looks! Her smile and laugh knock me over with emotions. We embrace as never before. Then Grandpa Cannon, Aunt Kathryn. Grandma Mary and Grandpa John wrap me in their arms! It’s as if they all have been friends forever. Then Aunt Sallye and Aunt Norma, my delight is breathtaking. Friends from our church, our pastor Doug Goins, and even a classmate who passed away in junior high school, Scott Lusher. Holy cow!

Then I see the coach himself, John Wooden. Oh my! He looks at me with that Coach Wooden sparkle in his eye and says,

“The most important thing in the world is family and love.”

Everyone is jubilant. The feeling of love consumes me. We gather in the delight of it all for longer than I know as more people continue to arrive. Even our dogs Riley and Redwood playfully push their way through the many people to nuzzle me with cold, wet noses, tails wagging with zeal for a scratch. I immediately roll onto the ground to grab them in playful hugs. Nothing could be better. I hear the words singing in my soul,

“His love endures forever.” (9)

Time stands still. Nobody is rushed or in a hurry to leave. I have lived my whole life for this. It is heaven on earth!

Beyond our gathering, I notice the ocean beyond with perfect eight-foot tubes curling in. Huh?

I move in that direction, savoring the warmth of the sand on my toes. Nearing the water’s edge, I see three surfboards lying in the sand. I am overwhelmed by the scene before me. Angels are singing my praises to God.

I look up to see Dad next to his Bob Simmons surfboard. We embrace forever. Joyful tears run down my cheeks. He is healthy and robust with a tan as dark as a native Hawaiian. I am so glad to see him. Without speaking, he tells me he is sorry. Words cannot express my wonder. There are no longer any barriers between us. It all makes sense now.

Uncle Charles learned the Haka dance on his mission in New Zealand.

Next to Dad is my uncle Charles, his face painted like a Māori warrior, looking as if he is right off the mission fields of New Zealand, strong and full of energy. His board must be twelve feet long of the most beautiful, laminated woods I have ever seen. It is polished to a shiny gloss and looks like a surfboard Duke Kahanamoku would gloat over. He tells me that Dad taught him to surf and then calls out to me in his Māori tongue:

“Me haere ki te ngaru Mike!”.

I somehow know he said, “Let’s go surfing, Mike!”

Dad hands me the third surfboard and I am aghast to see my Hobie Corky Carroll “Super Mini” model that he bought me at the Hobie Surf Shop in San Clemente in 1968. What? It’s as new as the day we picked it up, with the exact blue, yellow, and green acid splash color design. The bright colors radiate between the pure white foam. This thing would glow in the dark! Picking it up, I realize it is lighter than any surfboard I have ever held. I can’t wait to catch my first wave on it. It is ready to go. I call back to them,

“Cowabunga dudes, let’s go surfing!”

Surfing in heaven? You must be kidding me!
It is a dream come true.

Gazing out, I see a long strand of glittering ivory-white sand extending to the horizon with perfect waves rolling in like clockwork on both sides of the strand; right-facing waves on the left and left-facing waves on the right. I watch the waves on both sides, stupefied. Unbelievably clean barrels are peeling off in succession for as far as I can see. The wave is a flawless combination of a point-break shoulder with a reef-break curl. I could not imagine a more ideal surfing spot. It is too good to be true.

“Lefts or rights?” I call out to them as we pick up our boards. In saying that, I quickly realize that we can go either way—there is no such thing as a goofy foot in heaven. I laugh out loud.

Stepping into the water, its clarity immediately catches me as it washes over my legs. As I wade out, I see a bright, multicolored coral reef with a myriad of neon-colored fish hoovering over the rocks under the crystal-clear water. I pause to comprehend it all while pinching my arm to remind myself that this is not a dream. I am going surfing in heaven.

The three of us are a picture of God’s provision as we beam smiles of joy in anticipation of what we know is coming. “Yeehaw!” I call out as the first wave rolls over me with a sweet smell and flavor. Its taste refreshes me as my body rinses completely dry like water off a duck’s back. Huh? Paddling over my next wave, I am sprayed by a feathering lip that trails a spectacular rainbow of colors in its wake.

Looking down, I notice I’m wearing my yellow “Hang Ten” surf trunks from my grammar school days in Corona del Mar. I chuckle, thinking how much I love them.

We quickly stroke around the breaking sections with Uncle Charles leading the way. I joke to Uncle Charles and Dad as we crest over yet another feathering lip,

“Only in heaven would I let that one go by!”

The white water explodes in brilliant white light as each wave breaks, as if light-emitting plankton are creating the light of day in the foam. The contrast with the exceptionally clear water is literally out of this world, like painting daylight onto a nocturnal night sky. I gasp at the beauty of it all before me and give the glory to God:

“His love endures forever.” (10)

Paddling beyond the impact zone, I can see no end to the strand of bleached white sand, with waves breaking on the horizon as far as I can see. Only when I decide to sit on my board to pause and take it all in does it hit me that everything in heaven is interrelated. It blows my mind to consider the implications.

Below me is an extraordinary collection of colored plants, fish, and rock emitting light rays as bright as daylight. It reminds me of a coral reef in Hawaii, but so much more intense and vivid. I can’t take my eyes off it. Dad and Charles are laughing as they see the grin on my face.

Dad calls out, “It’s as if the earth was a black-and-white movie, Michael.”

I can’t resist diving off my board into the depth of the rejuvenating water. Astonished, I can see perfectly and continue to breathe and talk underwater. “This is crazy!” I shout. Fish of unimaginable varieties and colors swim up to me as if they are a part of the homecoming party. I swim to the surface to tell Charles and Dad about my discovery.

They call back, “Welcome to heaven, Mike!”

Sitting on my board, I can see this is a surfing photographer’s dream, yet taking pictures no longer matters. The golden glory of the sky is powerful without any heat or sense that I could get sunburned. Clouds of unimaginable variety streak the stratosphere like a Matisse painting with colors I have never seen. I am at total peace to know I am home. I lift my voice to praise God for it. Heaven is way more than I could have imagined.

Time is lost, but irrelevant. There are no boundaries around how long I have been out. The ocean and I are one.

“His love endures forever.” (10)

I look up to see Dad crossing a beautiful deep blue breaking wave that is well overhead and feathering a rainbow of vivid color behind him. He drags his foot off the tail of his Simmons Foam Sandwich to make a sweeping bottom turn and lets out a loud hoot as he sails by me, drawing a straight line across the face of the crystalline water. It is a sight to behold. My dad, ripping across an eight-foot wall on a 1940s vintage balsa surfboard. I howl at him, “Yeehaw!”

Dad surfing Malibu circa 1949 on a Bob Simmons Foam Sandwich surfboard.
(photo by Doc Ball)

Behind him, seven blazing-white pelicans with blue-tipped wings appear in perfect formation, gliding just above the lip of the next wave. They are telling me this is my wave! Swiveling my board around in eager anticipation, I push off, and suddenly am flying down the smooth face of a double overhead peak. The pelicans sweep into view, marking that my time has come.

I stand up and realize my balance is solid, and my feet are gripping my board, as if with booties. There’s no fear of falling. I howl praises to God,

“How great thou art, Lord!”

Screaming across the towering face of the wave feels like I am racing downhill from the top of a snow-covered mountain on skis. The brilliance of the sea life underwater lights my path as I lean right and carve a long, effortless bottom turn. My speed thrusts forward like the afterburners on a jet plane as I stare down the thick lip of the wave ahead, wondering if I can make it.

I begin turning up and down the wave in total confidence of my abilities when seven pure white dolphins propel into my wave from behind as if waiting for me. They cruise in formation leading the way like an escort of military fighter jets. They are guardian angels, magnificent in size and beautiful. In and out of the wave together, they gaze at me and know my every move. The symmetry and elegance of their surfing are beyond words. I follow them turn for turn as we ride along the shore of the strand. They laugh, and I laugh. We make more turns than I can count. We share the perfect harmony in God’s eternal creation.

A dozen dolphins surfing together.

The wave transforms into a soft Steamer Lane-style shoulder as I jet out ahead of the break to carve a roundhouse cutback that makes a complete half-circle around the dolphins, back toward the curl. My trail is marked in the brilliant white light of the foam. The dolphin’s launch in perfect formation as I fly by their glimmering hulks.

Cranking a floater off the white-water lip turns me back into the building face as the dolphins shepherd me into the next section of the wave. The sand is glimmering in the shore break as I streak by faster than ever before on a surfboard, catching a glimpse of dad watching from the shack in his beach chair. He beams a broad smile as I consider how many times he watched me over my life.

Then it happens. In an instant, everything around me turns a glorious fluorescent green as the double overhead curl completely covers me, as if the wave is closing out. I center myself into the barrel of the wave, perfectly balanced against tremendous force. As I speed ahead, fear washes away. The surge of the wave carries me forward in a dense cloud of green spray. Time has stopped. I sense every cell in my body. A brilliant light leads me. I feel perfect. Love permeates my being. It is nirvana. I have never felt better. Thank you, God! Why did I doubt? Words cannot describe my connection to God. Like Moses at the burning bush, I am standing on holy ground. (11)

“His love endures forever.” (10)

Unaware of how long I am there, I am next airborne, launching out of the green room like being shot out of circus cannon. I land softly on the shoulder of the wave and look around to understand it all. An ear-to-ear grin is frozen on my face. I can’t digest what just happened. My soul is at peace. My joy is complete.

The Hodads will have to hear about this one! The green room is much more than I could ever have imagined. I want to go back in, but the wave keeps me accelerating forward.

The dolphins take a final jump in unison as they kick out from the back of the wave while I reflect on the moment that just passed. I hear the praises of their work from above:

“Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth” (12)

Gliding across the shoulder onto open water like a water skier on Lake Tahoe, I leave the breaking section of the wave behind at full speed, as if I am kicking out. My speed continues as I crank another turn on the glassy open water. I see mom watching from the shack with her patented Charlene smile, looking like she is at Malibu in the 1950s. I make my final cut back on flat water toward shore that carries me onto the warm white sand as the cool crystal water rushes up the beach.

I feel more aware than ever before. All my worries, anxieties, and concerns are gone. Finally, I can rest. This is where I belong. Hallelujah to our Lord of creation!

I ponder how the reality of heaven changes everything. This is the life that God planned. Oh, how my life on earth would have changed if I had genuinely believed in the glory of what God had waiting for me. I am overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and love for a God who could provide such perfection. I want to go and shout the truth to every surfer I know.

Colossians 3:2 (TLB) becomes my mantra:

Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here.”   

Thank you, Lord Jesus!

————-Footnotes——–

  1. Silhouette of a Surfer by Jean Beaufort – Source Public Domain Pictures:
    https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=448973&picture=surfer
  2. Chapter 1: Malibu and the Greatest Generation
    Source: https://surfingforbalance.com/2021/10/20/2-malibu-and-the-greatest-generation
  3. Matthew 21:21 (NIV):
    “Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.”
  4. Revelation 22:21-25 (NIV):
    “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.”
  5. Author of: “Intra Muros, My Dream of Heaven,” 1898. Rebecca Ruter Springer captured a unique atmosphere of life in heaven like no other book I have come across. Published 120 years ago, she writes of an experience she had of going to heaven while seriously ill in a care home in Kentville, Illinois.
  6. John 14:2 (KJV):
     In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
  7. Chapter 17: Heaven Can’t Wait
    https://surfingforbalance.com/2022/07/18/17-heaven-cant-wait
  8. Genesis 1:1 (NIV):
     “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. ”
  9. Job 12:7-10 (NIV):
    “But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
        or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
    or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
        or let the fish in the sea inform you.
    Which of all these does not know
        that the hand of the Lord has done this?
    In his hand is the life of every creature
        and the breath of all mankind.
  10. Psalm 136 (NIV):
    “His love endures forever.” (Repeated 26 times in Psalm 136)
  11. Exodus 3:1-5 (NIV):
    “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
    ” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
    And Moses said, “Here I am.”
    “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” ”
  12. “Angels from the Realms of Glory” is a Christmas carol written by Scottish poet James Montgomery. It was first printed in the Sheffield Iris on Christmas Eve 1816
    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_from_the_Realms_of_Glory

—————————

**Authors Note**

“Contact Mike” at surfingforbalance.com if you want to know more about heaven or if you would like a list of books I recommend on heaven.

Will there be seas in heaven?

Revelation 21 (the second-to-the last chapter in the Bible) describes how Jesus sets up his kingdom of heaven on the New Earth and calls it the “New Jerusalem.” This New Jerusalem is where believers will spend eternity with God in their resurrected bodies. In essence, heaven returns to earth with Jesus as our King.

This chapter contains a detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like, including this statement about the absence of a sea:

“and there was no longer any sea on the new earth.” – Revelation 21:1 (NIV)

Throughout Scripture, the “sea” is symbolic of chaos and disorder, which will be absent in the New Jerusalem. Many Bible scholars believe this is the meaning of Revelation 21:1; the turbulence of our present age on earth will no longer be present in the New Jerusalem. We will be at peace in heaven.

Even if we assume this statement means that all saltwater seas are removed from the earth in New Jerusalem, it does not necessarily mean that all large bodies of water and beaches are gone. For example, the book of Revelation speaks of a great river flowing right through the New Jerusalem:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.” – Revelation 22:1-2a (NIV)

Surely that river has a source and a destination which ends in a large body of water. Perhaps there will be lakes like we have on earth today. Larger lakes act as freshwater oceans on the New Earth. The Great Lakes region of North America is an example. As we have today, the opportunity for waves to ride on a surfboard seems feasible.

In his book Heaven, Randy Alcorn makes an additional argument for having large bodies of water in heaven:

“Another reason I believe the New Earth will have large bodies of water is that, as I argue in chapter 39, the same animals that inhabit our current planet will inhabit the New Earth. Most animal species live underwater, not on land, and most of those live in the ocean. (It would certainly be no problem for God to refashion such creatures to live in freshwater.).”

7. Circle of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was brilliant!

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

A marriage, two kids, and two jobs later.

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

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

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

I won the lottery!

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

Holy cow! 

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

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

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

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

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

I was speechless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give it a try!

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

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

Work-life balance in Silicon Valley (podcast)

This wedotalk podcast by good friend and running partner David Jaques provides an overview of my journey of surfing for balance in Silicon Valley.

Enjoy!

David Jaques
Mike Mulkey
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAF2F6B4mfuuFw8blXXWPii_1MhWxrw0X

Slow down, you move too fast …

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
― Lily Tomlin

Life moves quickly today. We can do so much in little time. It is exciting for a Type-A person like myself who loves to be efficient and blast through the to-do list. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic on Highway 17, and view a live camera of Steamers Lane — all with a finger tap or two on my iPhone; while I am shopping for my grocery list at Trader Joe’s!

It’s fantastic. But like the groceries, it comes at a cost.

Dr. Richard Swenson puts it this way:

“… The world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness.“

(Let’s add “stress” to that list …)

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!

Heaven Can’t Wait

Thirty-five years into my life and launching my career in high technology, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Since then I have been on a walk of continual growth in understanding the plan God has for my life, realizing I am not actually the one in control.

Maybe I am losing some who do not believe the Bible, and I fully understand. Many in the surfing community are not followers of Jesus. Stick with me, as we all wonder at times about the truth of scripture.

As a life-long surfer who grew up without a church background, I became a student of Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) to better understand God’s word. BSF soon led me on a path to knowing God through my eternal destiny: heaven. Belief in the glorious wonder of what God has waiting for us has been a lightning bolt of change for me in my faith. In anticipation of heaven, I have found the perseverance to handle today’s challenges, and hope for what tomorrow brings. As crazy as it sounds, I believe we could be Surfing in Heaven when we get there!

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…
Matthew 5:12 (NIV) 

** Resources **

The Boy Who Runs by John Brant

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. 

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

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.

 

 

The Circle of Life

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

Circle_of_life_pic
(click image for “Circle of Life” quiz)

Prologue (4.2)

To me that it’s the simple things in life that can make the biggest difference.

This story starts with a bit of an epiphany I had one night while in graduate school at Golden Gate University in Los Angeles.

As I was launching my career in high technology with ROLM, it became apparent that my Sports Management degree was only going to take me so far. After successfully navigating the transition from tennis club into telecommunications, I enrolled into a Masters degree program at Golden Gate University to both learn about the industry and open opportunities for advancement in my career. Over the course of what seemed at the time like an eternity (eight or so years of night school), I completed a Masters Degree in Telecommunications Management.

golden_gate_logo

One of those evenings in class as I was sipping a hot chocolate to wake up after a long day at work, I discovered something that was to stick with me for the remainder of my career in high-tech.

It was the first day of a Telecommunications 101 class, and the instructor walked into the room to begin. He proceeded to pass out something completely unrelated to the class syllabus. He called it the Circle of Life.

Wait, what!?…
This caught my attention.

I sat back trying to understand why he was talking about “life” beyond telecommunications. Yet as he spoke, I realized that he was quite serious about this and in fact it made good sense.

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

What a novel thought. So simple, yet so true!
Best of all, he backed up his claim with a quiz he proceeded to pass out to test us on just how well we were doing in the area of life balance right now. We had immediate feedback on the life we were living. For me, it stuck.

Then he moved on to the class syllabus for Telecommunications 101 and I went back to my hot chocolate.

I’d like to tell you that my life changed that very moment as I reviewed the results of my Circle of Life quiz and began thinking about the areas where I wanted to focus to achieve better balance in my life. But in truth, that handout went into my class binder and did not come back out for many years later.
In fact, a marriage, two kids, and two jobs later.

When it finally did surface, I was working for Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park in 1999, riding the high-tech Silicon Valley bubble. I leveraged my telecommunications skills to join Sun’s new and emerging “Netra” division, and they were selling servers like In-n-Out sells hamburgers. We couldn’t build them fast enough.

sun_logo2

As the story went, Scott McNealy provided a $1 billion credit line to a senior executive at Sun by the name of Neil Knox to bring a family of telecommunications grade servers (Netra product line) to market for Sun — FAST. These early days working for Neil and his Netra product team in Menlo Park were high-flying and very fun times. Sun had been labeled “the dot in dot-com”. They had invented Java. Scott had even coined the term, The network is the computer, and that was BEFORE we had the internet. It just didn’t get any better than this as far as I was concerned from a professional standpoint.

ironman_logo

Congratulations!
During this very hectic time at work, I received the highly coveted acceptance letter from Ironman Hawaii announcing my lottery number had come up, and I was accepted to compete in the 1999 Ironman Hawaii Triathlon.
Whoa…!  How I would possibly find time to do the necessary training without losing my job or my family!?

Fast-forward four months down this path and things seemed to be working out Ok. Or, so I thought…
Then my wife said something to me, which really captured my attention.
We were discussing making family time a priority on weekends when she suddenly blurted out,

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

Gulp.

Now mind you, I am pretty good about that balancing act between work, family and play. But that one really stuck.

Enter the Circle of Life.

Clearly my life was revolving around my job and my triathlon training, and not much else, other than the necessary sleeping & eating to keep it all going. Family had taken a back seat. Once I pulled out the Circle of Life and mapped it out – it was clear as the light of day to me. And worst of all, I had been in a cloud of denial about seeing it.
Thank God my wife brought me to my senses.

This is a discussion much larger than just triathlon training, but it helps make the point to use this example. Just like the three events of a triathlon (swim, bike, run), I needed to equally balance the time and energy I was spending in each area of my life (Work, Family, Self) in order to come out with the best overall performance.  But I also needed time to rest and have some inner quiet time (in the words of Dr. Richard Swenson, margin), to feed my soul and attain an optimum performance in the triathlon.

And most importantly, this was about not sacrificing my family.  I truly believe that the family is the key to our future.  There is a saying that:
“If things go well with the family, life is worth living; when the family falters, life falls apart.”

Whether it was work, sport, or maybe something else, keeping my family a priority is something that would be important to me for the rest of my life, as well as something I would model for my children.
I had to make some changes – right away.

Here is a 5 page document called the “Circle of Life” quiz (pdf file).
It is best if printed so you can fill it in and keep it with you.

Give it a try!
It has helped me several times get order back into my life. As my instructor stated in that Telecommunications 101 class many years ago,
“If you are able to keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person”.

He was right. I have experienced both sides, and I can tell you that a balanced life not only feels good, but it just plain works!

** Resources **
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2016: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles
Amazingly, Richard Bolles has been updating this book since 1975, when it was first written.  In spite of the dramatic changes in the job market today – driven largely by the emergence of the Internet and social media tools like Linked-In, his principals pierce time and are life changing if properly applied. Most importantly, he does something that many of these job seeking books miss.  Richard makes a strong case for taking a thorough inventory of who you are, before embarking on your job search.  In other words, what color is your parachute.

What_Color_Parachute