“I don’t know what the future holds — but I do know who holds the future.“ ― John Wooden (quoting his father)
Today, kicking out is somewhat of a lost art in surfing.
It’s not often I see a surfer cleanly exit the wave they are riding while going over the backside to get a glimpse of any waves coming; positioning for a quick paddle back out. A good kick out leaves you in control of your destiny, but it is not a simple maneuver.
Kicking out at Playa Linda, Costa Rica (2019)
Prior to the advent of the surf leash and subsequent shortboard revolution in the late 1960s (see: Surfing Without A Leash), knowing how to kick out was a fundamental requirement for serious surfing. One had to master it to get back out into the lineup after a ride without losing your board. Diving off your board into the white water (something I see all too often today) was absolutely not an option in those days.
‘Senior Boys’ getting briefed before a heat in the 1964 San Onofre Surfing Club contest
While competing in the San Onofre Surfing Contest in the 1960s I learned the judges rewarded a surfer who could properly execute a clean and controlled kick out. This indicated good judgment to ride the wave to its proper ending while demonstrating control of your board and vision for your next ride. In those days, that was styling and the judges liked it.
Today professional surfers competing in the World Surf League are awarded points for a kick out based upon the degree of difficulty as well as how innovative and progressive it is. The following are some fun (insane!) shots from the 2015 Billabong Pro Tahiti (52-second video).
2015 Billabong Pro Tahiti — Air is IN!
Kicking out too early
Sometimes I kick out of a wave too early, anticipating a better wave behind. It is a gamble as I ride over the crest of the wave scanning the horizon for a bigger set coming. I realize that I should have enjoyed the wave I was on, and feel a sense of a wasted opportunity to think something better was coming.
On May 9th of this year a 26-year-old Santa Cruz surfer kicked out too early in life. Ben Kelly was fatally attacked by a shark while surfing at Sand Dollar, just south of Manresa State Beach. I was at work when I got word that a surfer had died from a shark attack at Sand Dollar. Since my son Matthew and I surf there (he had been there the day before), I immediately called his cell phone. It went to voicemail. I then called his work and after what felt like an eternity on hold, he picked up the phone and greeted me.
Thinking it was my son, even if just for a minute, gave me insight into the unimaginable pain of Ben’s family and friends.
I was touched by Ben’s story as more came out about his life. Ben was a seasoned surfer and board shaper who started his own surfboard company in Santa Cruz (Ben Kelly Surfboards). He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Vanguard University in Southern California where he was awarded the McNaughton Award, its highest honor for business and management students. He had recently celebrated his third wedding anniversary with his wife Katie, whom he met at Vanguard. Together they had founded a social media marketing company (Authentic Approach, Inc).
Ben was active in the Capitola Village Business Improvement Association, Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, Calvary Chapel in Capitola, and even selling surfboards at one point to support mission’s work in Africa. Ben was stoked about the life God had given him.
Ben and Katie Kelly
On May 21st a memorial service and paddle out was held in San Clemente to honor Ben on his 27th birthday (amazingly, my daughter Marisa was celebrating her 27th birthday that same day). The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors declared that May 21 would be “Ben Kelly Day”. The proclamation stated:
“Ben practiced his belief that surfing was so much more than just catching waves — it was about the people he met and the continuous grand adventures that made it fun while blessing others along the way.”
Walking the Talk
Ben’s love of Jesus was front and center. He did not just talk about his faith; he exemplified it by his character. In the words of a close friend, “Ben lived the way Christ wanted us to live”. His opening line About himself in LinkedIn boldly calls out his love for his Savior:
“Hello my name is Ben Kelly. Some of my life passions include: a love for my Savior Jesus Christ …”
Ben was not hiding who he believed was going to save him on his day of reckoning. Here’s one tribute from the Ben Kelly Memorial Fund website (fundraiser for his wife Katie):
“The most memorable thing about Ben was his unashamed, unrelenting passion for his faith and his relationship with Jesus. I don’t say this to somehow selfishly reassure myself or others that he’s passed on to Heaven. I don’t have to wonder whether he knew Jesus, or whether his faith was secure. It was. Everybody knew it. He truly lived his faith out. In nearly every conversation I ever had with him, he tied God and the redeeming love of Jesus into it.”
― Zachary Shull
My son Matthew at Sand Dollar reading the inscriptions on a driftwood memorial to Ben
In the book of Matthew, Jesus spoke about the importance of doing God’s will to reveal His love and presence in the world:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” ― Matthew 7:21
Jesus called us to act on the words of the Bible, to embrace them as our own so they are central to our day-to-day living. He said true wisdom is about actions of love, mercy and peace (James 3:17-18). It is not enough to say “Lord, Lord”. Ben Kelly has both inspired and challenged me in this respect. I find myself asking if this is how I am living out my faith. If my eternal day of reckoning came today, how confident am I?
Though he never saw it coming, Ben Kelly kicked out of this life with full control over his destiny. His future was secure. I believe Ben is now surfing in heaven. Jesus says that He is preparing a place for each one of us in heaven (John 14:2), and that great rewards are waiting for us there (Matthew 5:12). Surely the God who created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) could arrange for a little surfing. What awaits us in heaven is far greater than we can let our imaginations explore (1Corinthians 2:9).
Ben loved the ocean and surfing. He had that surfer’s “stoke” about him. Some called it his good vibes. But those close to him knew it was fed by his faith. Ben hoped in a God who created the heavens and the earth. He wanted to live his life honoring God, knowing his rewards would be in heaven.
I praise God for the example Ben Kelly set for us.
“Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23)
– Surfing in Heaven (Part I) – if you are wondering what it would be like, I wrote these two blogs from a vision I had of my entry into eternity. Surely this vision falls far short of the divine joy and beauty that awaits us there, but it felt right to dream about what it might be like.
I see a long strand of glittering white sand several hundred feet wide extending into the horizon. Perfect waves are rolling in like clock-work on both sides; right-facing waves on the left side of the strand and left-facing waves on the right. A perfect point break wave without a rock in sight. I am stupefied as I watch unbelievably clean barrels peel off in succession for as far as I can see! There is no lull. I cannot imagine a more ideal surfing spot.
Point breaks like Skeleton Bay in Nambia can provide the longest rides on earth today
As Uncle Charles, dad, and I step into the water on the left side of the strand I immediately notice its crystal-clear clarity. Lying on our boards ready to paddle out, the three of us are a picture of God’s joy. Beaming smiles in anticipation of what is to come. As the first wave rolls softly over me, the water has a sweet smell and flavor so appealing that I open my mouth to drink it in and am refreshed by its taste. The water is warm on my body and invigorating to my senses. The air feels the same. A gentle offshore breeze warms me from within. It feels right to be here; this is where I belong. It comforts me deep in my soul. I look down and notice I’m wearing my yellow “Hang Ten” surf trunks from my grammar school days. I chuckle to myself, thinking how much I love them.
We easily paddle around the breaking sections of each wave with Uncle Charles leading the way, even though there is a constant outpouring of flawless tubes going by. The interval between each wave seems to vary as if the ocean knows we are trying to get out, giving us a break when we need it. I gasp at the scene of all before me and give all the glory to God; only He could have orchestrated this.
As I paddle over a feathering lip I notice that the white water of the breaking wave is whiter than I have ever seen. Light of day is radiating from the water when a wave breaks, as if light-emitting plankton are on steroids! The contrast with the perfectly clear water is out of this world, like painting daylight onto the night sky.
Paddling is effortless, an underwater current is pulling me out. There is no drop-off in the ocean floor and no end to the strand of pure white sand; waves are breaking on the horizon as far out as I can see. The offshore breeze is blowing the breaking lip of the wave into a stunning rainbow of colors I have never seen. I pause to take it in and notice the symphony of music synchronizing to the pattern of the waves. It is all connected!
Below the surface are an extraordinary variety of plants, fish and glowing rock formations emitting more light. Watching a bright kaleidoscope of life in a fantasy of color as I paddle by. It reminds me of a coral reef in Hawaii, but so much more intense and vivid, as if I am seeing HDTV for the first time. I can’t take my eyes off of it. Dad and Charles are laughing as they see me try to take it all in. Dad calls out,
“It’s as if the earth was a black and white movie, Michael.”
The ocean life in heaven will make a scene like this look pale in comparison
I can’t resist diving off my board into the depth of the thirst-quenching water. Astonished, I can see perfectly and continue to breathe and laugh out loud underwater. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?” Fish of unimaginable varieties and sizes and colors swim up to me as if they are a part of the homecoming party. Its like LED lights within them are illuminating their brilliance. It is sensational to see and quite difficult to comprehend. Excitedly, I swim to the surface to tell Charles and dad; they look at me and laugh as they continue their paddle out. “Welcome to heaven!” Charles calls back.
I am well over a mile out from the surf shack, yet the sparkling sand of the strand is just a short distance from my position in the water. I feel no tiredness from the paddling, just invigorated and excited. I sit up on my board. There is a deep inner sense of peace and tranquility within me. There is no sun, but the air is warm on my skin and the golden glory of the sky is more powerful than a noonday summer sun in Hawaii. Clouds of unimaginable variety streak through the sky like a Matisse painting with a pallet of unlimited color. I could spend my life right here. I begin praising God for such a day:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away …” (Revelation 21:1)
Time is lost. I have no idea how long I am sitting on my surfboard and singing to God. It doesn’t matter. The ocean and I are one. I have no questions. Everything is good.
I look up to catch a view of dad crossing a beautiful peeling wave that is well overhead and feathering a rainbow of dazzling colors behind him. He drags his foot off the tail of his Simmons Foam Sandwich to make a sweeping bottom turn and lets out a hoot to me as he sails by. A sight to behold.
Dad learned to drag his right foot off the side like a rudder from his days on the Simmons Foam Sandwich
A large formation of white birds with golden streaked wings appears on top of the next wave coming. I know this is my wave, as I swivel my board around in anticipation. With a paddle I am all at once lifted up and rushing with the swell, sensing the tremendous speed and power as I drop in over the feathering lip. The offshore breeze fans a rainbow around me as the spray pelts my face with the sweet taste of the crystal water. The birds sweep into the sky in perfect unison, as if they are kicking out, giving me my first wave in heaven. I stand up and realize my balance is perfect and feet are firmly planted. There is no fear of falling. Exhilarating beyond my wildest dreams. I howl out my praises to God,
The offshore breeze created a rainbow of new colors
Howling without losing breath as I fly down the face of the wave and plot my first bottom turn, I look through the wave at a complex pattern of colors and lights below. It is as if I am gliding down a large glass mountain with the brilliance of the sea life below me lit up like a French cathedral at night. I carve a long effortless turn off the tail of my Hobie Super Mini and immediately am propelled forward even faster as I sense the wind in my face and see schools of fish lighting up the face of the wave ahead. In awe of the oneness I feel with my wave, I stare down the steep shoulder ahead with a sense of readiness for what is coming. Slicing a second turn off the lip of the wave I notice it is well overhead as the spray from my board blows off the lip in brilliant color.
I turn several more times, propelling up and down the wave when seven white dolphins with royal blue fins suddenly swim into the wave from behind. Like the Blue Angels, they are gliding effortlessly in perfect formation, as if they are leading the way for me. I seem to know they are angels from heaven; white as satin and magnificent in their size and beauty. They come in and out of the wave together, looking at me like they know my every move. It is magnificent to see their beautiful symmetry and the elegance at which they are surfing the wave. I follow their lead, turning with them as we zig-zag back and forth on the wave. They are laughing. I am laughing too! We make more turns than I can count, enjoying the perfect harmony of God’s creation. God’s animals are part of His plan for eternity. It is heavenly! The music praises God and we savor His creation.
A dozen dolphins surfing together (on earth)
The wave transforms into a soft shoulder and I jet out ahead of the break to carve a cutback that makes a complete half circle around the dolphins. They jump into the air in perfect formation. I have never seen anything like it; I howl as I crank a floater off the brilliant white water and turn back into the face of the wave building up again along the strand. The sand is glimmering in the shore break like diamonds as I fly by faster than I have ever gone on a surfboard.
The dolphins take another jump in unison before making their exit. I crank another bottom turn as I go deeper into the curl and in an instant everything around me turns bright florescent green. I am getting barreled as I maintain just enough speed to stay ahead of the peeling lip. I sense no danger of wiping out. I just go, firmly planted on my board as the surge of the wave propels me forward into a dense cloud of green spray, enveloping me. I am able to sense every cell in my body. Suddenly I am flying out of the tube onto a soft shoulder like a fireball shot out of a cannon. My face is frozen with an ear-to-ear smile. I want to tell the Hodads about the green room in heaven!
Shooting across the shoulder onto open water like a water skier I leave the breaking section of the wave behind. I do not slow down as I crank another bottom turn on the open sea, looking ahead to see the surf shack in front of me. Mom is watching from the shore with her patented Charlene smile looking as though she is at Malibu in 1953. I make my final cut back on flat water toward shore to carry me onto the soft white sand as the cool crystal water rushes up the beach.
I feel more alive than ever. All my worries, anxieties, and concerns are gone. Finally, I am home. This is where I belong. Halleluiah Lord Jesus!
I ponder at how this changes everything. This is indeed the life that God intended. Oh, how my life on earth would have changed if I had truly believed the glorious wonder of what God had waiting for me in heaven. I am overwhelmed with such joy and gratitude and love for a God who could provide such perfection. I want to go back and shout the truth of it all.
In my earlier blog “Begin with the end in mind”, I discussed a life better than we can ever imagine awaiting us in Heaven. The very best we may have experienced here on Earth will pale in comparison to what God has planned for us in eternity. Most of us really do want to go to Heaven, and I believe God desires for us to use our imagination to anticipate the beauty and wonder and joy of what awaits us there.
In Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV), Jesus commands us to set our hearts and minds on heaven above:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Of all the books on heaven v5.5 that I have referenced, this one was the most captivating to me. Published in 1898, Springer writes of an experience or dream she had while seriously ill in a care facility. It is a short read and quite beautifully written telling how she was able to experience the renewed earth. For me, it reads like poetry of the life that awaits us in heaven.
Well, I’ll just start by saying that I can’t put into words how much I miss dad. There are so many emotions around the void I feel without him. It’s been quite a change in life for me.
Dad was a man’s man, that’s for sure. And I guess I lucked out by being his boy. We didn’t have to talk things out. In fact, never really did as far as I can remember. Life with dad just happened. Hanging out doing things guys do together, largely around sports. He taught me most of what I know about surfing, tennis, skiing, football, baseball, basketball and more. But I don’t mean that he instructed me – that definitely wasn’t dad. It was just about being together and doing whatever it was we were doing, and then I learned through that experience. It’s been a good lesson for me in life. I wouldn’t trade that time with dad for anything.
I know this won’t surprise those who know me well, but I look very forward to going to heaven, which is a nice way of saying that I look forward to dying. I have a firm belief in the truth of a glorious life in heaven awaiting us. For eternity. I’ve read so many books on it, and of course, the Bible is so crystal clear on the joy and peace that awaits us. There in heaven, I believe I will be reunited with dad again in the prime of his life. It will be a joyous reunion that I look very forward to. I am imagining of course that he is going to say,
“Michael, let’s go surfing!”.
Until then, my hope is that I can have as much of an influence on people as dad did on his friends and family and neighbors in Kona. Somehow, he seemed to rub off on everyone, even on people he would seemingly completely ignore. A good example of that was a neighbor of his at the Keahou Kona Surf & Racquet Club who gave him a case of Coors Light for Christmas one year. He simply returned it to them and said he didn’t drink Coors Light.
That was dad.
I think we all would agree that dad left quite a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.
I thank God for this opportunity to summarize a few of the areas from dad’s legacy that I think his grandchildren should take note of. I like to think of it as the passing of the baton to Marisa, Matthew, Brennan and Hayley. They are all quite simple, not anything that would surprise those who knew dad. But I think the combination of them together is what really set dad apart. He lived each one of them to the fullest.
So here they are — 6 lessons for the grandchildren from Kona Jack.
#1 – Keep your sense of humor (even into your 80’s and beyond!)
“You should have seen the OTHER guy!”
In my opinion, this had to be the top lesson from dad for all of us!
Plain and simple, he was hysterical with his many dry comments that seemed to always come out when you least expected it. He had an amazing wit, and used it all of the time, on anyone! It didn’t seem to wane at all as he launched into some challenging times in his 80’s. There are so many examples to cite. Dad was a walking comedy act in my book, and I appreciate that now more than ever…
On my last trip over to Kona to see dad, I had come to rescue him after he took a pretty serious spill walking down the hill from KTA with a bag of groceries. He was quite bandaged up, head to toe, not moving too well, when he asked me to take him to town for a haircut. As we entered the barbershop, dad was shuffling slowly through the door as a customer was holding the door open waiting for dad to get by. Suddenly out of nowhere, dad looked at this guy and blurted out,
“You should have seen the OTHER guy!”
I had to really think for a minute or two what the heck he was even talking about. Then suddenly as I took my seat in the barbershop, it hit me. I almost started crying I was laughing so hard.
His many sticky notes in the mail to Terry and I were also famous for these dry comments. Here’s one he wrote on an article he was sending me:
“Hey, its not all wine and roses over here! This can be a very tough life, especially if you’re in your late, late eighty’s. I messed up cutting these articles out of the paper but I’m sure you’ll get the drift.
Another sticky on a rather lengthy New Yorker article he sent me about Apple and the upcoming iWatch:
“ Mike – I don’t want to over burden you with too much shop talk, but thought this might be of interest. It’s a little long and drawn, but does have its highlights, and it’s a good inside look into Apple’s modus operandi. In any event, you’re stuck with it!
P.S. For your appreciation of my sending it, you can give me an apple watch for father’s day.”
Ok, final one!
Another note on a copy of the Santa Monica High School alumni newsletter which included some photographs of his classmates:
“Mike: I have enclosed 2 xerox’s from the recent Viking news, which is a quarterly published for SMHS alumni. One is a recent picture of Charlie French, which I thought you would like to see. The other caught my eye because I knew everyone involved from my Malibu days. Dave Rochlen is the founder of Jams, and Peter Cole and Buzzy Trent were famous big wave riders (Buzzy looks like he had a couple of 20 footers break on him).”
And looking at the picture of Buzzy, I had to agree!
#2 — Sleep trumps diet
Sneaking in a nap just hours before the wedding bells ring!
I believe a big key to the long and healthy life dad lived was his ability to sleep, anywhere at any time. He often took 2 naps a day, and never (that I can remember) had a hard time getting a full nights sleep. I even remember our wedding day, when I walked into the bedroom in Jack Schott’s house to get the Tuxedo on, and there was dad on the floor lying down for a nap. Of course, I think that is one area where he would agree that his lack of hearing was a real advantage!
I believe his sleep had a LOT to do with countering his daily nutritional habits, if you can call it that. Dad was a walking miracle based upon the food he was eating on a daily basis. He could have written the book on “how to live a long and healthy life while eating and drinking anything you want.”
I will always remember the trip we took back from Honolulu after being air Evac’d there for surgery to implant a stint in his main heart artery (early 90’s). After rescuing him from 2 days at Queens Medical Center (which believe me, was a story in itself!), we flew to Kona and were on our way home in the car when he requested that I pull into the Harbor House in Kealakehe Harbor (one of his favorite spots) for a giant schooner of draft beer and a large plate of french fries (which he proceeded to salt heavily and cover with catsup). I remember trying to tell him the doctor said not to lift anything over 10 pounds, and that the beer schooner was surely well over that! He looked at me like I was crazy, holding the giant glass mug with both hands shaking as he lifted it to his lips.
And of course, there was the infamous grocery list he gave Marisa for her trip to KTA one day:
– Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, Ranch-style Doritos, Eye of the Hawk beer, Laughing Cow cheese, Frosted Flakes, Half n Half, and a Snickers bar.
On a thank you note he sent Terry, he outlined what would happen if money were no object in Kona:
“Terry, I want you to know that I had a big time blowing away your gift certificate at Drysdale’s: 1 beer, 3 Rob Roy’s, 1 Stinger on the rocks, and the Shrimp basket.
So thanks a lot. I hope I can repay you if you make it over in December.”
I’ll bet he slept good that night!
In fact, it really seems quite appropriate that he passed in his sleep after a Father’s Day meal of fish & chips and a Rob Roy (at the old Drysdale’s of course!).
#3 — Keep life simple
Dad’s wardrobe for the week, hanging on his bathroom towel rack
I think we ALL were extremely envious of the fact that dad lived about as simple a life as one could imagine. And for the past 27 or so years after moving to Kona, he probably should have won an environmental achievement award for having the lowest carbon footprint in the state of Hawaii. I clearly remember the day I took him to the airport in L.A. for his move to Kona from Newport Beach at Park Newport. He had sold everything for the move, including his car. But when he put a single suitcase into the car I seriously thought he was kidding.
“Dad, where’s your stuff?! Did you ship it?”
And of course his response: “This is it Michael. I got rid of everything.”
And he stayed that way – never succumbing to a life of possessions and complexity. His place was a perfect example of that. A couple of $3.99 Wal-Mart Chairs around a $4.99 Wal-Mart table was about the only furniture he needed. He didn’t seem to mind that when we came to visit we all had to stand around to talk with him. In fact, I think he liked the fact that you were never going to stay long if you didn’t have somewhere to sit. I tried to buy him a Lazy Boy chair more than once, just to get his feet up. “If I want to lay down I’ll just go out to the pool”, he quickly shot back in response.
Dad’s amazing ability to keep life simple and avoid the stress that often is attached to the things we accumulate truly was something to be admired.
Here’s a note he wrote us on the back of his race number for the Keahou 5K – effectively re-using the race number as a note card:
“Hi Gang: I picked up my race booty, which consisted of two T-shirts in addition to the race shirt (I may not leave much money, but I’ll leave a lot of T-shirts) a twelve dollar gift certificate at Drysdales (that’s 3 Rob Roy’s) and a medallion on a blue ribbon…. The weather has been great. Highs in lo 80’s; lo’s in high 60’s with afternoon clouds and no vog. The snow bunnies are real happy!”
And yes – he did leave us lots of T-shirts.
#4 – Exercise for life!
Still playing solid tennis well into his 80’s!
If there is one quality that most influenced me, it was dad’s example with consistent exercise throughout his entire life. This was probably one of the few areas where he did offer advice to Terry and I as we were growing up. Whether it was his tennis, surfing, skiing, or even jumping rope in the living room when we were growing up, dad believed exercise was a true fountain of youth. And he was pretty good living proof that it worked!
This hand-written note of his on the back of a re-used Christmas card pretty much says it all:
“Dear Marla and Mike: Thought I’d take just a second to wish you the best of everything for 1993 and to thank you again for the running shorts and socks. Trust me, you could not have done better. Wish I could send you a sample of this year’s eggnog. It is arguably one of my best blends yet.
Life here goes on! Following is my current schedule:
Monday: work 9-12:30. Tennis 3-5.
Tuesday: Bike to the village. Coffee at the Pub. Work out at the club and a run. Bike back to the pool.
Wednesday: Tennis 2-4.
Thursday: same as Tuesday
Friday: same as Monday
Saturday: same as Tuesday and Thursday
Sunday: rest it up at pool. Tennis 3-5.
Of course there are variations, but not many. I’m sure you get the idea!
#5 — Enjoy life
Never one to miss an ice cold beer after a round of tennis.
Following on that theme, I think everyone would agree that dad set the stage on how to enjoy life. It did not matter whether it was a classic Kona sunset, a cold mug of draft beer, or a well played football game on TV — he enjoyed it to the fullest, and let everyone around him know it. It was a very nice & healthy quality of his, and something that I already miss a great deal. There is definitely a part of it that has propelled me into the work/life balance coaching arena. Dad simply never let work distract him from enjoying life and kept a keen eye on those who did the same.
Here’s an insightful comment he made on Bob Simmons, a fellow Malibu surfing pioneer, in a note to me about a recent surf auction of a Simmons surfboard for $40,000:
“This is the same board I’m riding in the Malibu photo. I’m not sure how many of these Simmons made, but don’t think it could be more than 5 or so. I can only remember seeing one other that was owned by Jim Arness. Bob was anything but a grinder when it came to making boards and never let work interfere with his surfing. There seems to be a lot of money out there for old surf collectibles. I may be sitting on a fortune!”
Another quality I especially noticed later in dad’s life was that he was not a complainer and seemed to find pleasure and humor during the difficult times. Don’t get me wrong, he let you know if he didn’t like something or if something had not gone well, but he never dwelled on it – and seemed to just let the hard times pass, soon making light of it after. That was especially evident to me when we made those two trips back to Queens Medical Center in Honolulu for his bladder cancer surgery, while carrying a catheter bag with him along the way. He truly was amazing on those trips with how he kept his spirits up and maintained a sense of humor about it all. I could cite so many examples, but one that sticks out was a vivid memory I have of him enjoying a beer in the Kona airport after security had given him the complete shake-down in the TSA line.
He is taking a long draw of the beer, and saying:
“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one Michael.”
Of course, I was looking at him holding the catheter bag as he drank the beer in amazement, thinking, how could he possibly be enjoying a beer right now?!
#6 — It’s ok to be sentimental
West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii
We all know about dad’s goodbyes. Plain and simple, they were painful for those of us who were trying to leave! I dreaded it every trip over as he always fell apart and started to cry when I left. Interestingly, my last trip over was the worst of all. He really did act as if he knew he would not see me again, finally almost yelling at me to leave…
Its hard to say much more on this one – but I think the point for the grandkids is to not hold your emotions in – but to let it go. I wish I could be more like that.
Here are a couple notes he wrote me which show different aspects of his sentimentality:
“ Mike, this is pretty good. I must confess your re-capitulation of a trip to SanO brought tears to my eyes. I’ve out-grown my motion sickness, but it doesn’t look like I’ll ever [out] grow my sentimentality, which I for sure inherited from my father.”
A short note on a bank statement he sent me (and I know he felt exactly the same about Brennan and Hayley):
“Mike: this is not very legible, but if there is any questions I’m sure we can straighten them out on the phone. Also, I wanted to give you and Marla my sincere congratulations on the way you have raised your two kids. Believe me, they are the absolute tops.”
Here’s one Terry and I discovered after dad’s passing. He had taken a 3-week solo trip to Australia after his retirement from General Telephone in the mid 80’s, and the airlines lost his luggage on the flight over. We were surprised to find a fairly detailed daily journal he kept from that trip where he periodically lamented over the loss and its impact on his trip and on his emotions, until seemingly getting over it on his final week or so on the trip. The final entry in the journal was as follows:
“Checked with Quantis about my suitcase and no luck. Someone else is wearing my snappy clothes and it pisses me off to no end!
And finally, a birthday card he sent me shortly after college (early 1980’s) – but I don’t think this one was re-used:
“Hi Mike – They do roll around awfully fast don’t they. I hope you have or had a real good one! This is one birthday that always sneaks up on me. I am watching the U of U – San Jose St. basketball game from Utah and couldn’t help but have a flash-back to your graduation. You can be real proud of what you accomplished then, and what you have accomplished since. To put it mildly, you have done quite well; and I’m a very proud father.
[now, mind you — next sentence in this same note]
Utah seems to have one of their better teams and I cant look at Tarkanian without thinking of Woody [our tax accountant – who did in fact look like him!].
“Fresno State has a 26 to 11 lead and the Utah coach is having kittens!
Love, Grandpa Jack”
June 20, 2016
This post is in honor of our father, grandfather, and good friend,
Jack B Mulkey *
U.S. Navy recruit for WWII Jack B Mulkey
On the night of a full Strawberry Moon, Kona Jack, as he was known on the big island of Hawaii for the past 27 years, passed away peacefully in his sleep, just 4 months shy of his 90th birthday, and after spending Father’s Day with his daughter Terry, and her husband, Bob Hankenson. He was in fact doing fantastic that entire week, still living the independent life he loved at the Keahou Surf and Racquet Club in unit #29. But he always told us that he never did want to reach 90.
Kona Jack ready for sunset at the Keahou Surf & Racquet Club
I should add that his Father’s Day included Terry washing his feet (they needed it!), his favorite meal, fish and chips; and his favorite cocktail, a Rob Roy, served “up with a twist”. He even completed the day’s crossword puzzle in the Honolulu Advertiser!
It’s safe to say he passed on exactly as he would have wanted.
Father and daughter out for breakfast just a few days before Father’s Day.
Today’s Crossword Puzzle
* Dad will be laid to rest in a ceremony at the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery on Friday, October 28th (9am). A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, October 29th at the Keahou Surf & Racquet Club in the late afternoon. Please let me know if you would like to join us! (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dad and the 1936 Ford Cabriolet Convertible he used working for a fried chicken delivery business following the war
The following obituary ran in the Hawaii local newspapers on July 15, 2016:
Jack “Kona Jack” B Mulkey, 89, of Keauhou died June 20 at home. Born Oct. 30 in Santa Monica, Calif., he was a maintenance helper for the Keauhou Surf & Racquet Club, retired right of way agent for General Telephone Co. in California, surfing pioneer and U.S. Navy World War II veteran. Service information at surfingforbalance.com. For info, call 650-799-3292 or 805-252-5376. Survived by daughter, Terry (Robert) Hankenson of California; son, Michael (Marla) Mulkey of California; four grandchildren. Arrangements by Cremation Services of West Hawaii.
These blog posts below are dedicated to dad’s memory, for all the wonderful lessons in life I learned from him through the sport of surfing and balancing life. If you would like to read more about the blog, click on “About”. And if you would like to read more on dad’s history with surfing in California, click on “Malibu and The Greatest Generation”.
Dad was a huge John Wooden fan from the day he took the helm as head coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team in 1948 when dad was attending there on the GI bill from WWII. As I was looking through some of the hand-written notes dad had sent me over the years, I found this one in response to reading one of Wooden’s books I had sent to him:
“Mike: It all boils down to preparation, details and work, work, work. No wonder I was never successful! Everything the man says makes so much sense that I can’t believe so few coaches have followed his philosophy. I suspect because it involves too much work.”
This post below (Peace of Mind) was in queue for dad’s review at the time of his passing.
I am publishing it today in his memory.
While Corona del Mar provided a near ideal beach community for a young grom growing up in the 60’s, it was my time with Dad on the weekends at San Onofre that most influenced my views on work/life balance today in Silicon Valley. Just mention the words San Onofre Surfing Club (SOSC) and it brings on a rush of heart-felt memories of my childhood, living an unencumbered life on the beach in Southern California. San Onofre (“SanO” or “Nofre” as the locals called it) was truly a slice of heaven. The story of how the San Onofre Surfing Club was formed, the growth of membership through the 60’s and 70’s, and how its future was directly impacted by the 37th President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, is in one of the more colorful and engaging stories of surfing history in California. Looking back on it today, it seems completely inconceivable that a group of surfers could arrange to lease a pristine and secluded surfing and fishing beach from the U.S. Marine Corps for exclusive access (surfers only) for an annual lease of $1 a year!
Following is a quick overview on how this came about, along with a perspective on the lifestyle that greatly influenced me.
The sudden attention brought on to Malibu in the post World War II era (see “Malibu and The Greatest Generation” post below) by Columbia Pictures’ blockbuster film “Gidget” was beginning to overrun Surfrider’s Beach with crowds of surfer “wannabes”. The days of sharing Malibu among a small crowd of friends in the water were gone forever. However, 90 miles south of Malibu near the San Onofre railroad station, a unique surfing beach environment was beginning to evolve, which drew the attention of many of Malibu’s original surfing crowd. Dad was fortunate enough to be a part of that crowd, and we started surfing San Onofre in the early 1960’s, after moving south from Santa Monica to Corona del Mar in 1959.
This all started with the San Onofre fishing camp, which had been leased from the Santa Margarita Ranch for day usage in the 1930s. And while the corbina, sea bass and halibut fishing were excellent, it was soon discovered that this beach had a very unique environment for surfing. The seabed is a collection of bottom rocks mixed with sand that produced amazingly consistent waves for surfing. The waves were of a long peeling and gently sloping nature, similar to those at famed Waikiki beach in Hawaii. Word quickly spread among the surfing crowd of this gem of a surfing beach down south.
Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison, a long-time SanO regular, tells the story of how he started surfing San Onofre regularly in the mid-1930’s after the new jetties in CdM had destroyed the surf there. Harrison, along with Pete Peterson, had traveled to Hawaii and brought back a slice of the aloha-spirit to San Onofre. It was a perfect fit for the setting on this secluded stretch of beach, over a half mile long, and backed up by dirt cliffs to maintain a sense of exclusivity. There was even a palm thatch shack right on the sand, which had been left behind by a film shoot from a Hollywood movie company. By the late 1930’s 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 true community atmosphere.
But the approaching storm of World War II was soon to disrupt this idyllic community on the beach, changing everyone’s life.
In February of 1942, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced that Santa Margarita Ranch would become the largest Marine Corps base in the country. It was named Camp Pendleton, after Major General Joseph Henry Pendleton (1860–1942), and on September 25, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially dedicated the base to train U.S. Marines for service in World War II.
Surfing and fishing at San Onofre was mostly curtailed during the war years. Dad told me how even just driving that part of Coast Highway between Oceanside and San Clemente required one to tape paper over the headlights at night for fear the Japanese were going to attack. Soon after the war in late 1945, the USMC began to allow access to the beach again for surfing. Most of these surfers were the lucky ones who had just returned home from World War II (over 400,000 U.S. soldiers lost their lives in WWII). These guys had just saved the world from Japan and Germany! It seems quite reasonable that the U.S. Marines in charge of Camp Pendleton might have been willing to work with them, understanding the sacrifices they had made to preserve the freedom of our country. There were even a few stories documenting the Commanding Officers (CO’s) on the base having a ‘look the other way’ approach to it. It’s like the dog that fought off the fox to save the hen house – surely you are going to let the dog in now and then to have a free egg or two.
Yet, that is also when things got interesting, as even surfers back then were prone to stretching the rules a bit. There are some very funny stories of the shenanigans that took place in those early years between the surfers and the CO’s of Camp Pendleton as they worked out their differences over access and care of the beach. The San Onofre Surfing Club published a 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album in 2002 that has the best accounting of what went on during those early years leading up to 1951 when the club was first formed, including some amazing photos of the lifestyle that was forming on the beach there. I highly recommend it if you are interested to learn more.
(Following is a quote [p. 36], which sets the tone for life at SanO during that time)
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 shack at Old Mans – circa 1949
In one of the more amazing stories of collaboration and 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 agreement was that they would take responsibility to maintain the membership, keep the beach clean and orderly, and pay what turned into a $1-a-year lease with the USMC. Two long-time San Onofre surfers, Dr. A.H. “Barney” Wilkes (a San Clemente Dentist), and Andre “Frenchy” Jahan (SOSC’s first President), are two of the hero’s that made it happen. Club by-laws, membership cards, auto decals, and rules of conduct were established at the first formal SOSC meeting on the beach on April 24, 1952.
San Onofre Surfing Club 50th Anniversary Decal
This was the beginning of an era at SanO that had roots firmly planted in a simple lifestyle of community, surfing, group games and contests, good food, and lots of rest. These would become traditions that would continue to represent the overall lifestyle at SanO for decades to come.
To quote from the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album (p. 44):
“The simplest way to describe San Onofre is a way of life”, says pre-WWII surfer and longtime Nofre observer, Art Beard. “We were all just raising our families, and it was a cheap, easy and fun way to do it.”
The SOSC was officially off and running with its own surfing beach and soon-to-be, well-entrenched “big family” lifestyle. There were no lifeguards, no running water, and no way to take a phone call – just an idyllic world of sun and surf and good friends at the beach in a serene setting.
Entrance To San Onofre Surfing Club via the U.S. Marine Corps Guard
There was nothing I looked more forward to on the drive south from Corona del Mar than that guard giving you the official military salute to gain entrance to Camp Pendleton. My friend Johnny Park and I used to laugh hysterically at each other as we attempted to duplicate that fancy salute he would make with the hand to signal us by the USMC entrance. As shown, those windshield decals became a source great pride among the surfing crowd to signify your status as a member of the SOSC over the years.
Dad had a routine we would usually follow on the weekends — leaving CdM in the morning in his 1948 Plymouth Woodie with the boards on top (Dad’s 10’+ Simmons Foam Sandwich and my 8’+ Dave Sweet “pop out”). Our first stop was the Laguna Beach Arts Festival grounds in Laguna Canyon, where Dad would play a couple sets of tennis with his good friend Jack Upton. I would pass that time somehow, constantly hoping it was match point. I knew they were done when the cold Tab came out over ice in the metal tennis cans.
Terry, Mike, Charlene, and Jack loading up the Woodie for a trip back home from Salt Lake City
“Aahhhh!” Dad would belt out after each gulp of Tab while working the three-speed column shift through the maze of Laguna Beach traffic. We were on our way to SanO! I would always keep a look out for the Laguna Beach Greeter in his red coat, who I just knew recognized me, as he would always give me that wink and point right at me. Then there was the car overturned up on a cliff by Poche Beach along Coast Highway, which I’d use as a marker that we were getting close. We made one 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 maybe a couple of grapes for nutrition. Tony Duynstee, the owner of the El Camino Market, was always there to cheerfully greet us at the cash register. Amazingly, I found Tony still there as if he never left when we took our kids in to show them the market almost fifty years later!
Here is an article on Tony and the market – which he finally sold to a real estate developer in 2013.
Tony Duynstee at the counter of El Camino Market summer 2012
Basilone Road was where we got our first taste of the surf overlooking trestles, and regardless of the conditions, my blood really started flowing at that point. Then the final hand wave by the USMC guard at the Camp Pendleton entrance and we were in! We parked at Old Man’s, where Dad knew the crowd, and set up base camp, which consisted of a “Coast Hardware” insignia beach chair, beach towels, the LA Times, and a foam ice chest preserving the Mug Root Beer and a couple of grapes.
Dad usually would check in with a few friends before suiting up to go in the water. Charley French is one we would often see. Both Charley and Dad were part of the Malibu crowd, who had survived WWII, and came back to surf at SanO in the summer months. There were no wetsuits back then, both of them worked together as Ski Patrolmen at Mount Waterman on weekends in the winter to get some free local skiing in.
Mom and her sister Kathryn suiting up [with Dad] for a powder day at Alta. Not quite sure how our Plymouth Woodie got there — but from the parking job it looks like there were other priorities.
Charley was my saving grace one day at SanO when I showed up, only to realize I had forgotten to put my surfboard on top of the car. He was nice enough to loan me one for the day without asking questions (about the new girlfriend I had brought along)…
In my younger days I had to wait even longer, as dad to go in surfing first, so he could watch me while I went in after. He was easy to pick out as he often would drag a foot on his turns, which I only now understood was from his days riding the heavy balsa wood boards, where you could literally use your foot as a rudder to help you turn. Not having much interest in reading the newspaper, my only distraction while waiting FOREVER for dad to get out of the water, was keeping an eye out for Lollie McCue’s daughter Candy to walk by. Anyone who was on the beach in those days would surely confirm that.
Once I got in the water I never wanted to get out, regardless of the surf conditions. But Old Man’s always seemed to have something to ride, as it is one of the more consistent breaks in Southern California, regardless of the tide. I don’t actually recall learning to surf, but can remember going out with Dad on his board and kneeling on the nose as he stood up and surfed when I was small. At times he would fall off and lose his board in to shore. He would tell me to dog paddle around until he swam in to get it and paddled back out to pick me up. Surfing with Dad was about as good as it got.
Back in those days SanO was a very unique environment in the water. People looked out after each other, brought loose boards back out (before the leash), talked socially in the water, and generally took care of anyone in need. One day when I was about ten years old I got hit in the head by my board and opened up a good cut next to my left eye. Dad carried me to shore over the rocks (cutting up his feet), and next thing I knew I was laying down in a van chewing on some kind of special black licorice (Novocain apparently not available) and getting eight stitches from a fellow surfer to close it up. I will always remember our doctor back home telling us what a good job they had done when he pulled the stiches out a week or so later. Only years later did I find out it was Dorian Paskowitz who had done the good work. I do remember Dad carrying a bottle of champagne in the car the next trip down for the Doc. That was just kind of how things worked at San Onofre – life in harmony.
Sunday School – San Onofre style
Word about the magic of the SOCS soon got out among the surfing community, and membership boomed to 508 members in 1958, 800 members in 1961, and topped out at 1,000 members in 1971 with a waiting list of 2,000. It was almost too good to be true, and many of my friends were bribing me to take them down with us. Having exclusive access to one of southern California’s most consistent surfing beach with a built-in social community lifestyle was pretty hard to beat. The SOSC was sort of a mini-civilization, with luaus, surfing and volleyball contests, good fishing off the surfboards, Bocce ball games, and even a Sunday school for the little ones! Everyone knew everyone, and they all watched out for each other. I remember Dad leaving the keys to our car in the ignition in the case someone had to move it to get in our out, and sometimes they would do just that!
Looking back now, it is easy to see that change was imminent. It really was too good to last in the midst of what was going on in our country at the time. First was the building of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 1968, just about a half mile south of Old Man’s beach. When fully functional, this plant had employed over 2,200 people, and became a prominent landmark because of its twin spherical containment buildings, designed to contain any unexpected releases of radiation.
Then, in 1969 Richard Nixon became the 37th U.S. president, setting up a residence near the famed surfing spot Trestles (about 1.5 miles north of Old Man’s), at the old Cotton’s estate (La Casa Pacifica). When Nixon was in town, the beach was off limits to everyone, especially to surfers. The SOSC was just far enough south to be safe to go in the water. There were a few surfers who could surf Trestles when Nixon was in town. One was Rolf Arness, son of SOSC member James Arness from the TV show Gunsmoke, who lived at Cottons Estate. Another was Corky Carroll, who apparently wrote a letter to the Secret Service explaining that he was a U.S. Surfing Champion and that he did his training there. And Surfer magazine founder John Severson happened to live in the house next door to Nixon!
I can remember being down on the beach at Trestles when Nixon was not in town and cameras had been set up on the beach near the railroad tracks (years ahead of the web cam) to keep an eye on us. We of course had lots of fun with that one, trying to keep our swim shorts on! But when Nixon was there the place was off-limits, no matter how good the surf. Armed Military Police (MPs) would be patrolling the beach in jeeps; a helicopter flying overhead, and an 85 foot Coast Guard ship was sitting just outside the surf line. It seemed to me Nixon always came to town when the good south swells were hitting.
Having Richard Nixon flying by the SOSC in his presidential helicopter on a regular basis was a sure sign national politics would get involved. The story I heard is that President Nixon looked down at SOSC members on the beach one day in flight and asked how these surfers had arranged to gain exclusive access to that beach, which happened to be 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 generally believed that President Nixon wanted it to be named after him.
I will never forget the day in 1971 when it was announced in that certain parcels of Camp Pendleton, including the entire SOSC beach, had been leased to the State of California for use as a state park and beach. It was deemed a presidential gift from Richard M. Nixon – but at least “San Onofre” took the name slot in place of Nixon…
I was a sophomore in High School at the time and felt like my world had just ended, as this surely meant the end of the SOSC as I knew it. My immediate thoughts were of the “valley tourists” (as we called them) who flooded Big Corona State beach in the summer, suddenly hanging out under the palm thatched shack at Old Mans with their boom boxes playing The Jackson 5, and no surfboard on the car. The dream of raising a family on that beach the way I had been raised, seemed to suddenly disappear like snow on a hot spring day.
As has been the history with the SOSC, a few heroes emerged to keep the club alive. One was then SOSC President Doug Craig, along with a small group of club members, who provided the dedicated leadership and guidance for the club to stay together and work with the State of California to preserve the beach for future generations. This story is well documented in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album (p. 59), “The End Of An Era”. But it gives me great pleasure to I take my kids down there today, and enjoy much of what we had growing up there in the 1960s.
Fab Four at SanO – Summer 2012
A fitting close to this era is a written in the 50th Commemorative Album on (p. 64): 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.
Whatever viewpoint one takes on the decision, Nixon’s presence in the Western White House, just a short walk up the beach, brought a unique historical legacy to the Club. And it changed San Onofre forever.”
Here is a historical picture of the day Nixon was given his honorary membership to the SOSC in 1970 (L to R) Robert Mardian, Mike Hops, Richard Nixon, Dick Hoover, Julie Brown, Tony Mardian, Denise Tkach, Tom Turner, Billy Mardian, Rolf Arness, Tom Craig, and Doug Craig
Nixon’s honorary membership card and decal
Today, as I reflect on growing up at SanO and look at my children in the water at Old Mans, I dig my toes into the sand and appreciate how fortunate I was to have such a wonderful place to grow up. I always believed life at SanO was the way things were supposed to be. Looking back today, it was truly a remarkable experience.
A good way to sum up what San Onofre meant to me, is to quote from the Introduction to the “San Onofre Cookbook For Surfers”, which was published in 1973 to capture the essence of the many tailgate feasts. These took place to satisfy the enormous appetites, which naturally come about from a day in the water at SanO.
“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 corporation with the Marine Corps, and two more unlikely groups never lived side by side.” Marion Haines, Polly Buckingham, Claire Shaver San Onofre Cookbook, 1973
Crown of the Sea
My “San Onofre experience” and growing up in Corona del Mar plays a big part fitting this work/life balance puzzle together. This time period is a very unique chapter in Southern California surfing history. My Father, Jack Mulkey, is my Editor in Chief to hold me accountable for accuracy.
Corona del Mar (CdM), which is Spanish for “Crown of the Sea”, was pretty much the quintessential beach community, with a small town atmosphere (population in 1964 of ~8,000), plenty of beautiful sandy beaches and rocky coves to explore, and balmy weather that was comfortable all year round. It was a very tightly knit crowd, most of who stayed together from kindergarten through graduation from Corona del Mar High School (GO Sea Kings!). Several of them I am still in close contact with today.
The more memorable times were pretty much spent at the beach, surfing (body or board), and just hanging out with friends. I remember just lying in the warm sand to heat you back up after a long stint in the water, and then going back in to the water once you got too hot. Repeat. Until it was time to go home.
Mostly we hung between the two main beaches in town, Big Corona and Little Corona. They were two very different beaches. Sometimes we’d talk one of our mom’s into dropping us off with our surfboards off at a local surf spot a little further up or down the coast. This was regardless of the surf conditions, as we had no way of knowing ahead of time what it was like. One time I recall Matt Cox had his mom drop us off at Huntington Beach cliffs on a day when there was not much surf. Apparently, she forgot to come to get us!? Of course, without cell phones or money, we were really stuck. We were beginning to plot a robbery on a nearby convenience store to stave off starvation when she suddenly showed up at the end of the day. We never let Matt hear the end of that one.
Dad in front of our 1948 Plymouth Woodie at 507 Marguerite Ave.
Corona del Mar has an interesting history with surfing as one of the premier surfing spots on the west coast in the late 1920s and early 1930s and even hosted the Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships during that period. However, in 1936 a large extension to the jetty at the entrance of Newport Harbor was built, and surfing popularity pretty much died due to the change in surf conditions on the CdM side of the harbor (south side). These jetties are huge barriers to block the entrance to Newport Harbor and clearly were a tremendous undertaking to build, requiring railroad tracks to transport the giant granite rocks into position.
A remarkable story about the building of the jetties was recently documented in a 2014 PBS documentary called “The Wedge: Dynasty, Tragedy, Legacy”. In 1926, a 15-year old polio victim (George Rogers Jr.) drowned in the Newport Harbor as the boat he was in capsized in heavy surf. As a result of his polio, the heavy weight of his iron leg braces sank his body to the bottom of the harbor and was never found. His father, George Rogers Sr., consequently sold his business and focused his remaining years of life seeking the funding to alter Newport Harbor to prevent such an accident from happening again. In spite of the scarcity of money during the depression, he raised over $2 million in federal and local funds to build the jetty extension in 1936. However, a month following the re-dedication of the improved Newport Harbor entrance, George Rogers Sr. suffered a heart attack while on his boat as he entered the harbor entrance and died at approximately the same location his son had died, ten years earlier.
Although the surf on the CdM side was partially blocked by the large jetty, the jetties did lead to the creation of the now famous “Wedge” on the north side of the harbor in Newport Beach. Waves at the Wedge can top over 20 feet when conditions are right. I remember a few times growing up when we dodged the Harbor Patrol as we swam across the harbor from CdM to watch the body surfers at the Wedge when it so big that we could see the waves from the CdM side of the harbor. Swimming in the harbor was strictly prohibited, but to see people body surf a 20-foot wave just a few feet off the shore was worth risking getting caught.
On the CdM side, the jetty extension pretty much destroyed the excellent surfing waves for which CdM had been so well known for. Once the jetties were completed in 1936, most of the serious surfing crowd began venturing further south to San Onofre and beyond in search of consistently good waves to ride.
Big Corona State Beach (bottom half) and the Wedge (top half)
For our local surf community, Corona del Mar State Beach (Big Corona) still had plenty of good waves when a south/southwest swell would come in. There was also a very short tubular left, which seemed to magically appear during the BIG south swells at low tide that we reckoned to our own homegrown Pipeline in Hawaii. It came out of nowhere and was hard to believe when it happened.
Further south down the beach was called Banzai – ironically, which had no shape for surfing at all – but lots of open sand to hang out when the tourists from inland were crowding the beach near the jetty and snack bars. We’d often go out to body surf on a big day after the “blackball” flag came out (meaning, no surfing). You would catch a wave and take the drop like you were diving off a cliff, and then pretty much get bombed when the entire length of Banzai seemed to break all at once.
It wasn’t too often that we brought a Kodak Brownie camera down to the beach to take pictures back then, and those we did take were of pretty poor quality. Below is a shot of Scott Sutton taken by his dad circa 1966 from the jetty while he was riding one of those classic jetty rights. Scott is manhandling a 9’3” Hobie “Phil Edwards Model” which had three 2×4-sized redwood stringers in it. And that’s John Park off to the side paddling his Surfboards Hawaii looking like he was trying to shoulder-hop Scott (and lost out). Scott later became a publisher and illustrator of children’s books, including the wildly popular “Family of Ree” series of books.
Scott Sutton on a 9’3” Hobie “Phil Edwards Model” at CdM Jetty circa 1966
Our small community of surfers lived for those big south swells generated by hurricanes off Baja California when the CdM jetty would be breaking “off the end” on large sets. No webcams, cell phones or the Internet back then to check surf conditions; it was all pretty much word of mouth. The first one to see good surf got on the phone or their Schwinn Sting-Ray bike and let out the word that the surf was up! And if “foamers” (as we called them) were breaking off the end of the jetty, it was an all-out assault on Big Corona, regardless of what you had planned for the day.
This shot was taken in the early 1990s of that very scene (by Woody Woodworth). It provides a picture of the power and force of those big south swells as they would hit the jetty.
When the call came out for “foamers”, I would grab my Duck Feet fins with Converse Hodgman raft and literally sprint to Big Corona to get in on the fun. There was a small community of us who had learned the routine of the long paddle out and carefully watching the bell buoy (top center of the picture above) for how far it would drop to indicate how large of a set of waves was on its way.
And if the bell buoy dipped to the crown, it was a guaranteed BIG set. My adrenaline immediately skyrocketed as we would all jockey for position as we called out to lay claim to the wave of our choice in the set:
And once you caught one, the experience to follow was unforgettable. It was an amazingly long, extremely bumpy and exhilarating ride to navigate your raft all the way to the shore break inside – an E-ticket ride, to put it in Disneyland terminology of that day. I remember some of those rides vividly just like they happened yesterday. Riding that Hodgman raft off the end of the jetty all the way in rival anything I have done on a surfboard since for pure fun and adventure. Adding to the effect was the always present danger of getting sucked into giant barnacle covered rocks on the jetty by the tremendous force of the wave you were riding if you wiped out or side-slipped on the raft.
Woody Woodworth and I on a CdM jetty foamer circa 1971
Of course, I’m the wimp wearing the long john wetsuit, but I argue that was mostly about preventing the rash on your chest, which got pretty nasty from the canvas raft. Woody later became a professional surf photographer (Creation Captured).
Another member of this tight community, Mark Magiera, became an instant rock star (pun intended) when he was sucked into the rocks on a wipeout while riding a surfboard off the jetty inside the channel (where the boats were!) — and he actually survived to tell about it. Mark apparently set a record at Hoag Memorial Hospital for visitors during his stay. He had been sucked into the jetty and lived to tell about it, something right up there with being awarded the armed forces Purple Heart. We were all incredibly envious of his bravery and survival. I imagine our parents were all aghast at the sudden fame Mark achieved for such an act.
As a result of this ever-present danger, Woody Woodworth and John Park pioneered a technique of fiberglassing two fins onto the Hodgman raft bottom to help hold you into the wave. This dramatically changed the scene at Big Corona when the foamers were hitting, enabling you to hold a line across the wave without side slipping into the jetty rocks. A new era had been born!
When the surf wasn’t up, we did have a few organized activities we attended to. Below is a rare picture of our CdM Community Youth Center “All Star” baseball team circa 1964. The “Total” score sets the tone for just how serious we were about our baseball back then (the negative for this pic got flipped over).
CdM Community Youth Center “All Star” baseball team circa 1964
There is a LOT to say about almost everyone in that picture, some of whom I’ve already mentioned. But I’ll hold it to one, John “Go-Go” Bandel, top left (standing). Go-Go was a very talented athlete in all sports (including rock throwing), and just plain had a way about him that you could not help but like. When we were picking sides, I always wanted to be on Go-Go’s team. Amazingly, he was one of “17” children, raised in a good Catholic CdM family, in one of the original (and small!) CdM homes built in the 1940s. Needless to say, everyone in CdM seemed to know a Bandel at that time. I only went inside that house once or twice, and I remember wondering how the heck it all worked, as it did not seem possible that 17 children were all living there at the same time!?
A funny story snuck out at a recent wedding reception which a couple of the Bandel’s attended. Apparently, during those early days in CdM, one of the Bandel kids was caught in a backyard picking fruit off a tree of another family in the neighborhood. As the story went, when they got caught, they had a piece of paper which turned out to be a map, which neatly mapped out many of the fruit trees in CdM. I believe we confirmed at the reception that night that each Bandel kid had an assigned fruit tree in CdM to be picked on a specific day of the week. Mr. Bandel was one smart man!
This book is a slice of surfing history that you have to see to believe. I ran across it on the shelf at Powell’s book store in Portland, Oregon before it had been published on Amazon. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the photographs from the 1930’s and 1940’s are an artistic delight of surfing at that time. At the end of the book is a “notes” section with amazingly detailed descriptions of each photograph and who was in them. Don James and some friends had salvaged these photographs from old scrapbooks and decided to publish a book of them. As it turned out, the book arrived just a few days before Christmas 1996, and Don passed on two days later on Christmas Eve after signing 500 copies of the first edition.
“… 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 in “Stoked – A History of Surf Culture”
It seems appropriate that I start this off with a brief review of how I got to Silicon Valley, and how surfing became a metaphor for work/life balance for me. So here is a 4-part Prologue to get us started:
Part 1: Malibu and The Greatest Generation
Part 2: Corona del Mar and Growing Up
Part 3: San Onofre Surfing Club
Part 4: 25 years in the saddle in Silicon Valley
My very 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 from the California Incline on 22nd Street until I was almost five years old. I don’t remember a whole lot around those early years, but the picture below of my sister Terry and I in the back of our 1947 Plymouth Woody enjoying a break for lunch captures a glimpse of those years hanging out at the beach. I remember looking forward to our trips at a very early age, and especially after I started surfing with my dad.
Lunch time at Santa Monica’s Incline Beach circa 1958
For a boy growing up in Southern California during that time the beach was a place of complete freedom, open space, 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. It seemed to break life down into a very simple event, focused on either playing in the ocean, warming up and drying off in the sand, or eating and drinking whatever your parents happened to throw into the car before you left (which was not much if you were just traveling with dad!).
So here is a bit of background and history on how dad ended up on the beach himself.
The Greatest Generation
“The Greatest Generation” is the title of a book written by Tom Brokaw about those who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II. In the opening chapter, Brokaw exclaimed:
“I think this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced,”
Both my father and father-in-law were a part of this generation – born into the false sense of prosperity of the 1920’s, raised during the depression of the 1930’s, and sent off to fight for global freedom in World War II in the early 1940’s. These were humble men, seriously proud of the country they were fighting for, and the last ones to ask for a pat on the back for what they had accomplished for us all.
A couple of years ago when my son Matthew turned 16, I looked long and hard at him to try and imagine the decisions and experiences my father, Jack B Mulkey, had at that age.
Imagine this –
Dad’s letter to his mother telling her he was joining the U.S. Navy – just short of 16 yrs old (“I am in the best hands in the world”)
Growing up during the Great Depression of the 1930s was challenging for all, and dad’s household in Santa Monica was no different to the hardships it created. Then at age 13, he lost his father to ALS (then known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”), which left him to grow up fast as the only man in the house.
So on September 7, 1942, just two months shy of his 16th birthday, and following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, dad and his good friend Todd Bernarding went down to the Santa Monica recruitment office to enlist in the U.S. Navy. Both of them lied about their age by two years (they had to be 17 to enlist, but no ID was required), signed each other’s enlistment forms, and next thing dad knew, he was headed to the U.S. Naval Training Station in San Diego for two weeks of basic training.
From San Diego he was shipped to Naval Air Radio School in Alameda, California for one month to learn Morse code. Then back again to San Diego (Naval Air Station North Island) for a week of skeet shooting under the command of Lieutenant Robert Stack (who later starred in the TV television series The Untouchables). Once he had mastered the art of leading a target on the skeet range, he went back to San Francisco and left for war on the 488′ Dutch Freighter Bloemfontein (with over 2,000 others) to Noumea, New Caledonia, an island 900 miles off the east coast of Australia (and below deck seasick for the entire 2-week journey!). Somewhere along there he celebrated his 16th birthday.
Flight crews ready to launch off the USS Saratoga (dad is 2nd from right in 2nd row)
Dad was soon to be deployed on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, which just happened to be entering San Diego harbor at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Before long, he was flying off the deck of the USS Saratoga in the South Pacific on submarine patrol missions over their fleet in a Douglas SBD Dauntless aircraft behind the trigger of a twin 30-caliber machine gun. If that was not enough, his initial flight at sea was the first time he had flown in a plane – EVER.
Are you kidding me!!?
3 generations in front of the plane dad flew (gunner position) in WWII
Luckily, before dad’s passing I was able to get him to write down some of what happened while he was on the USS Saratoga, as his Navy discharge papers don’t provide any of the detail on what exactly he did. So here is a part of that, which he hand-wrote to me in a letter:
Mike — 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 [he became totally deaf, partly also from the machine gun on the SBD — wearing no ear covers]. When I finally got on the [USS] 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 [USS] 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 take off, hoping they would think we had more than one carrier available. That was ok with me.
Before we were to return to S.F. we got orders to attack a build-up of enemy ships @ Rabaul Harbor [battle of Rabaul] on the Isle of Truk in the Caroline Islands. They were planning on attacking our invasion forces on Tarawa. It was risky business and our planes would just have enough gas left to get back to the fleet. It was a raid made two days in a row. Several ships were sunk and some planes were lost. It was written up by Time & Newsweek [magazines]. I understand it is now a major tourist attraction for underwater skin divers who dive among the ships we sunk!
Following 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 the turning of the tide against Japan in the Pacific, by providing a mobile organization to keep our Navy planes in the air. As part of a CASU organization, dad was stationed at various locations on the west coast of the U.S., including Twentynine Palms naval auxiliary air station (San Bernadino County); Naval Air Station Seattle at Sand Point (Washington); Air base in Forks, Washington (Clallam County); Point Mugu Naval Air Station (Ventura county); and San Nicolas Island (75 miles off the coast of Los Angeles).
CASU Unit on San Nicholas Island circa 1944 (dad on far right)
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 at the time was preparation for an invasion of Japan should the war continue along its current path. They spent about a month in Adak before returning to San Francisco to celebrate the end of the war.
His discharge papers state that he came home on November 18, 1945, just over two weeks after his 19th birthday, and three years and two months after his enlistment with Todd Bernarding at the ripe age of 15. I imagine he was a new man and felt he had the world at his fingertips to survive all that. Like so many who came out the other end of World War II, 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 the $20 per week compensation from the US 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 time in Los Angeles.
Looks like a scene right out of a Humphrey Bogart movie!
With that experience now behind him, dad moved back to Santa Monica, California following the war. And from there, he became part of a select few individuals in the late 1940’s who pioneered the sport of surfing at Malibu beach in Southern California.
Malibu was the place to be for surfers in the post-WWII era of Southern California, especially when summertime south swells swept up the coast and warmth of the So Cal sun was ample for a long day in the water. It had to seem like paradise after all they had been through.
Charley French and dad staying warm around a winter tire fire at Palos Verdes
There are many names that dad mentioned over the years that were part of that Malibu experience, many of whom he went to Santa Monica High School with. To name just a few:
* Bob Simmons – who pioneered lightweight surfboard design, was a Cal Tech graduate who worked as a mathematician at Douglas Aircraft. Ironically, he passed away in September of 1954 while surfing a good-sized swell at Windnsea in San Diego. Here’s a picture of Bob Simmons which was framed in our house for many years:
Bob Simmons headed toward the pier on a BIG day at Malibu circa 1948
* Joe Quigg – one of the more prominent surfers to graduate from Santa Monica High School who became a well-known manufacturer of surfboards in the 60’s and 70’s.
* Matt Kivlin – who many viewed as the best wave rider of the late 1940’s and early ‘50s and who dad spoke very highly of.
* Peter Lawford – of Hollywood actor fame, was a Malibu regular.
* Dave Sweet – who made my first surfboard, which I received on Christmas day sometime around 1963. It was a beauty, and I remember the resin was still a little sticky on Christmas morning.
* Charley French — who settled in Sun Valley, Idaho working for Scott USA, was one of dad’s best buddies for surfing and skiing. Charley became quite the legend in triathlon circles when he set the age group record at the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii at age 60 (his 1st Ironman distance race), and continued to race consistently well into his 80’s. I am still in touch with Charley and he has provided me some valuable information for this blog.
* Gidget – not Sandra Dee who played Gidget in the 1959 Columbia Pictures movie “Gidget”, but Kathy Kohner, who’s father Frederick Kohner wrote the 1957 novel about his daughter’s real-life adventures on the beach at Malibu.
* Pete Peterson and Lorrin Harrison, who were both featured in the film “Riding Giants”, and who were some of the first to become regulars surfing at San Onofre in the 1940s.
* Buzzy Trent, was one of the early big wave riders in Hawaii in the early 1950s.
* Peter Cole (and brother Corney). Peter became a swimming star at Stanford and got into big wave surfing after his experiences at Steamers Lane.
Charley French and dad logging two Simmons concave’s up from the beach at Palos Verdes
As Charley French told me the story of this photo above (after dad’s passing), they went to General Veneer Manufacturing in L.A. and bought the balsa wood for these two boards, then glued them into planks and took them over to Simmons’ house and watched him shape them into concave surfboards. Charley and dad then took the finished boards home and glassed them in the back yard. I saw an article awhile back about a Simmons concave that sold at an auction for $40,000.
These early pioneers of surfing at Malibu had an ideal setting for the birth of a craze that would eventually sweep across the country. Malibu had the ideal weather, a near-perfect beach, and waves as clean and consistently breaking as one could find along the Southern California coast. A spirit and camaraderie developed amongst these early surfers, which boiled life down to its most simple elements. Some call this the birth of the surf culture; a new way of life, which was outside the usual societal boundaries in Southern California at that time.
As progress would have it, this unique subculture at Malibu 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 south on Pacific Coast Highway to a sleepy beach-side community called Corona del Mar (CdM). We moved into a small but very quaint beach house just four blocks from Big Corona State Beach. It even had a shower in the garage to wash the sand off when you came home from the beach.
The beach soon became my place of solace. 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 for the next fourteen years until graduating from High School.
A favorite book of mine covering the early days of surfing is The History of Surfing by Matt Warshaw. Matt is a former professional surfer who later became the editor of Surfer Magazine. This book is the most comprehensive, well written journal on surfing history I have seen, and includes a remarkable collection of photographs. This picture on the cover pretty much captures it all in one shot. Well done Matt!