14. Slow Down

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

Slowing down in Baja California at Punta Pequeña.

When I think of slowing down, I am reminded of surfing trips in the 80s to Punta Pequeña in Baja California with good friends John Chick, Eddie Means, John Park, and Peter Vanderburg. As my career was ramping up, those trips taught me to take my foot off the gas pedal and listen within.

Punta Pequeña is a dream of a surfing destination—especially if you catch a solid south swell. It is the kind of surfing spot I imagine in heaven, composed of a near-perfectly sculpted series of right points that corral south swells as good as anywhere on the California coast.

It was as if Michelangelo himself had carved out the shallow volcanic rock shelf for a regular foot surfer riding a yellow Hanifin Bananafin longboard. I could not wipe the smile off my face the entire time we were there. The quality of the wave and the length of the ride was unequaled in my book. It is rumored that you can ride over one kilometer on a really big day. Best of all, we were removed entirely from the SoCal mainstream surfing scene. A crowd of surfers in the water was not something we had concern over.

However, we did have concerns about getting there, which made it all the more appealing. Punta Pequeña was a thousand miles from nowhere, in one of the more remote and inaccessible regions of Baja California. The real McCoy started after a two-day adventure on the rugged-but-paved Baja Mexico Highway 1, which for safety reasons, we never drove at night.

After 900 or so miles of slugging it out on the pot-hole-ridden asphalt segment, a clandestine Baja-dusty dirt road appeared out of nowhere to lead us onto the final exam for our driving odyssey. Sixty miles of ungraded rocky, dusty, and at times, washboard dirt and sand led directly west to the sleepy fishing village of San Juanico on the Pacific Ocean.

Unless you were driving an army tank, this part was never a given, even if you had made it before. It was a full-on assault that included removing parts of your car if they got in the way. To this day, I lay claim to one of the greatest driving achievements in modern surfing history with my 1983 VW Diesel Rabbit. John Park and I almost lost our silver fillings on the washboard and ended up passing out mucho dinero to the local ranchers to tow us through the quicksand section. When we pulled onto the bluff at Punta Pequeña in the Rabbit with a mere twelve inches of ground clearance, the other surfers looked at us like we had just landed Apollo 13. It had been a new car when we left, but it aged 20 years on that trip!

Eddie and John christening the 60 miles ahead to San Juanico (“dónde está la playa?”)

Once camp was established, life at Punta Pequeña settled into a singular focus on surfing. Everything we did was in preparation for that next session in the water. If the surf dropped, we had plenty to keep us busy; but hardly ten minutes went by without a glance at the waves to see if conditions were changing.

If you weren’t out surfing, you were sitting in a beach chair drinking beer, scientifically analyzing the tide and wind conditions as the sun lazed across the powder blue Baja sky. The only responsible duty was rotating the twenty cases of beer into the four ice chests to ensure we had cold brew for the entire trip. It was not as easy as it sounds! Extended games of Bocci ball down the vast, endless beach were the usual diversion in the afternoon if the surf had blown out. But we could only wander a mile or so away for fear the beer would run out, and we suffer dehydration before making it back to base camp. That could impact the next surfing session.

Looking back on those trips today, I realize that my ability to slow down was about the absolute freedom I experienced from being so wholly removed from civilized interruptions in my life. There were zero connections to the outside world. My physical body was at peace. It was similar to what backpackers experience on an extended trip into the wilderness. We were unencumbered and free, which bonded us with our surroundings. The vast nothingness of the environment soothed my soul in a way I can only dream about today. I could sit in my beach chair and gaze down upon the endless spit of land as far as the eye could see. It was beautiful beyond words. Those trips fed my soul in ways only God can explain.

I thirst for that same level of contentedness today.

Going Too Fast
Fast forward to Silicon Valley forty years later: The world is moving too fast. Our vision of the “leisure society” has been reduced to rubble by the explosive growth of computers. The chasm from the slow pace of Punta Pequeña life in the 80s is looking like the grand canyon. We are losing our ability to set aside time to be in peace and rest our souls. Busyness has consumed our lives, and information technology is bombarding us with an incessant need to be distracted by our devices instead of focusing in the present moment. Deep down, we know it is too much for our human psyche to make sense of.

There is a dichotomy here. I love doing so much in so little time with the technology we have today; I’d be lying to tell you otherwise. I have an iPhone and I use it constantly. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic conditions, and view a live camera of Steamer Lane, all with a finger tap on my phone while I’m shopping from my electronic grocery list at Trader Joe’s.

That’s fantastic!

Like the groceries, it comes at a cost; but unlike the groceries, it’s costing us our lives.

Dr. Richard Swenson, the author of best-selling book Margin, 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.“[i]

Let’s add “stress” to that list.

Unfortunately, our children are the innocent victims of this onslaught. We have all heard the stories because it is happening to our kids. Understandably, they are having issues coping with the complexity and speed of life today. The statistics are staggering. They headline the news every day. Stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, ADHD, obesity, learning disabilities, social skills, and even death from suicide have been linked to the overload our children face today.

Here’s a simple example. I received an email last week from a security service I subscribe to called LifeLock. The subject was “Data Breach Notification,” urging me to change my passwords as a preventative measure.  OK.  I went into my password manager program (on my iPhone) to find out that I had entered 263 passwords! That stressed me out (and still does). I don’t think we can begin to understand the toll that stress takes.

My parents both smoked cigarettes as they came into adulthood. It was cool to have a cigarette back then, and they had no good reason not to smoke. Then they got addicted. Nobody had studied the link between smoking tobacco and deaths from things like lung cancer or emphysema. My mom died of emphysema at age 76. Those studies are out now. But for mom, it was too late.

Forty years later, I am sure that similar studies are forthcoming on the deadly effects of the technology overload we are being subjected to today. Our brains are not equipped to handle the barrage of information and radio frequency (FR) exposure coming at them. It’s too much. The negative impact on our health is clear!

This story is just one example from a close friend of mine:

After high school, his son hit a rough patch in life 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 fantastic. While in the rehab center, he told a story about a small group discussion he had with a dozen or so other young adults in the same situation. The leader asked each of them in the group what they thought had led to their addiction. Each one of them agreed that it was their deep internal need to slow down. Life was moving too fast, and they could no longer cope, so they began to take alcohol or drugs to help them deal with it.

If I were to boil down my twelve months of New Ventures West coaching training to the most important thing I learned, it would be the need for us all to slow down. If one genuinely wants to have freedom in their being to discover and pursue who they are in the world, slowing down is a mandatory first step.

I had the opportunity to slow down when I was laid off from my job. It was a bit like Punta Pequeña; suddenly, I had time just “to be”. That experience led me to step off the Silicon Valley express train to make a significant transition in my career. I began to feel the freedom one experiences when listening to your heart. It was like going surfing without a leash. I felt empowered to experience the freedom of whom I was deep inside without being tethered to earthly expectations. Although I was quite scared that I would quickly fall and lose my way, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years.

As I began to coach clients, I quickly learned that a key to my success was getting them to slow down. Coaching a client traveling through life at today’s “normal” speed is like trying to diagnose car trouble with no dashboard to display the metrics. You might as well be throwing darts at an invisible target—you have no idea what the underlying issues are. The speed and intensity of life today seem to require that we lose touch with our inner-self. We are too busy to look at our dashboard.

Being Present
Meditation is an excellent first step for starting to slow down. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we can slow down enough to listen. We tend to see the world in a physical sense. If I look OK, I must be OK. Coaching brought me to realize that there is an equally-important spiritual side to our being. The soul requires every bit as much attention and care as our physical bodies do. Meditation tends to our needs in our spiritual bodies. Even the Bible contains over sixty references that tell us to meditate. [iiii]

A valuable tool for dealing with stress is learning to pay attention to this very moment. “Being present” is a phrase for nonjudgmentally allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, or bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment can be life-altering. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, it can make a world of difference. There is plenty to read from a wealth of books on this subject. Two of my favorites are mentioned below.[ii]

Looking to Heaven
Steven Curtis Chapman was on to something when he released the hit song “Next 5 Minutes” in 1999. The song talks about living the next five minutes as if they were your last five minutes; truly living in the moment.

What if the next five minutes are all you have?

I did a great deal of contemplation about my life following the layoff from Oracle and subsequent one-year sabbatical to become a life coach. There was no question about the 2×4 hitting me square on the head; I could feel God at work. Yet, I found my mind often drifting to my mortality. Mom and dad were now gone, so I was next, right? It was kind of difficult to avoid that one. In one sense, that motivated me to get my act together for that “second mountain” I had to climb (in the words of David Brooks’ from his book, The Second Mountain). But in another sense, it made me wonder about what was next. I was closer to that part of my life than I wanted to admit.

Since I am a Christian, did I really believe that paradise awaited me?[iii] What did the Bible have to say about heaven? And what about all those near-death experience (NDE) trips to heaven that people have written so many books about—Are those valid? I even wondered if I would be able to go surfing in heaven!?

It struck in me an insatiable desire to learn more.

Punta Pequeña Nothingness

[i] https://www.amazon.com/Margin-Restoring-Emotional-Financial-Overloaded/dp/1576836827

[ii] Books on meditation:
Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body
by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
There are more books than I can count, extolling the many wonders of meditation. I liked this book because Daniel and Richard sifted through the morass of clinical research to boil out the truth about what meditation can do for us and how to get the most out of it. I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Goleman at a promotion event for this book and can assure you he is legit.

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

[iii] “Jesus answered him [on the cross], “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:43

[iii] https://biblereasons.com/meditation/

13. The 2X4

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

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

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

Roger Williams

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

My direct question to him was,

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

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

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

My 2X4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uhum. Excuse me?”

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

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

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

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

Hanging 11

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

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

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


Epilog on Roger Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. New Beginnings

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

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

New beginnings, for sure!

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

Bummer of a birthmark, Hal!”

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

What!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tennis partners on the Oracle clock

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

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

OK.

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

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

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

Yeehaw!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Footnotes:

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

    Subject: new beginnings

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


    Mike Mulkey

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

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

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

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

11. Lessons for The Grandchildren

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

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

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

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

“Ah, another day in paradise!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Michael, let’s go surfing!”.

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

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

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

1 – Keep your sense of humor.

This may be the single most important of all!

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

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

“I’ve lost my swagger, Michael.”

I couldn’t have said it any better.

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

“You should see the OTHER guy!”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

2 — Sleep trumps diet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Surely, he slept better than ever that night!

3 — Keep life simple.

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

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

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

Huh?

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

His quick reply:

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

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

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

Good point.

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

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

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

4 – Exercise for life!

Still playing solid tennis well into his eighties!

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

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

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

5 — Enjoy life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one, Michael.”

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

6 — It’s OK to be sentimental.

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Footnotes:

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

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

10. HODADS

“Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you.”
– Coach John Wooden

When my wife Marla asked me what I wanted for my 50th birthday (many moons ago), my immediate thought was not to give up on my lifelong dream of filming a surfing movie. Ever since the evaporation of our “Mexican Miracle” video in Mazatlán (in 1972), I had continued to envision starring with my best surfing buddies in a surfing movie.

I immediately moved into action. My birthday is in January, so Steamer Lane was a logical spot to film it. The lane is the place to be when the rain-soaked Pacific storms bring thick and powerfully consistent surf into Monterey Bay that time of year. It is also an ideal venue for filming from the cliffs above, where you can easily perch and capture the surfers as they go by.

On my last three birthdays at Steamer Lane, I rode big waves that never seemed to end. I was like a kid coming into a candy shop—giddy with anticipation of what was to come! The call went out to a few close friends I knew would be stoked to join in. We booked a cottage at Seascape Resort in Aptos (jacuzzi required!) for the birthday weekend and began searching for a cinematographer. I asked each of the megastar surfers to bring their big wave quiver, a CD of their favorite surf tunes from the 60s, and photographs to document their surfing history. I took the project a bit more seriously, anthologizing a 25-page term paper with photos and footnotes galore. That document turned out to be the genesis of my blog on surfingforbalance.com (in 2014). And that led to this book!

Hodads (L to R): Jack Schott, John Park, John Davis, Mike Mulkey

The surfing celebrities to join in were:

  • John Davis[i] – John was my one and only Silicon Valley high-tech surfing bro at Sun Microsystems. Ten years my senior, John and his wife Deb built their dream surf chalet on 38th Street in Santa Cruz with a quiver room for surfboards and a hot outdoor shower with a bench seat to help extract the wetsuit. I am eternally indebted to them for that shower; it is the only way I can get out of my wetsuit on a cold winter day at Pleasure Point.  
  • Mark Magiera – I grew up with Mark in CdM (since 3rd grade), crossed ski tracks in Utah, and then lived together after college in CdM. We shared many surfing safaris over the years, including a trip to Hollister Ranch that Mark invited me on in the late 1960s. We camped in Brian Blumer’s VW bus on the bluff at “Lefts and Rights,” which was about as good as it got!  Unfortunately, Mark had a conflict and missed our weekend of filming.
  • John Park – As the founder of Clear Spirit Surfboards, John frequented San Onofre with my dad and me back in the late 1960s when surfing was all we thought about (well, almost).  Johnny led me on surfing adventures in Baja back in the seventies and eighties and was a member of the infamous “Mexican Miracle” trip to Mazatlán in 1972.
  • Jack Schott – Jack was another former roommate who shared many epic days with me surfing, as well as being my loyal tennis partner. Jack was the best surfer I knew and always seemed to stay out longer and catch more waves than I did, despite having ten years on me.  He came down with a horrible cold on HODADS weekend, sitting out one day, and then borrowing a 7mm deep-dive wetsuit to get in for some action the second day. He still out-surfed us! Jack continues to surf today (at 77).
  • Gary Irving[ii] – Gary was a rare find as a local Santa Cruz artist/photographer who joined in as a cinematographer and producer. He was an answer to my prayers. Gary immediately understood what we were trying to accomplish and proceeded to invest untold hours into the final production, giving it the vital spark it needed.  Considering the lack of surf that weekend, Gary did a spectacular job producing what will be remembered as the surf movie to end all surf movies (pun intended).

Despite many objections from the peanut gallery, I held firm on naming our movie “HODADS,” a term to describe a surfer without much skill. When you bring together five surfers whose combined ages cover some 270 years, it would be serious HODAD surfing, whether we wanted to admit it or not. The title stuck.

Gary filmed HODADS[iii] on the weekend of January 14th, 2005.  As luck would have it, we had a freak lull in the surf in Santa Cruz for that entire weekend. Steamer Lane was so flat that there was not a single surfer in the water on Saturday. I could not believe it! We decided to invite Gary and his camera into our Seascape cottage with unlimited pizza and beer to spend the day recording each of us recalling our glory days surfing. We had many laughs jabbing at each other as we took our turn on camera. On Sunday, Gary let us in on a secret spot in Monterey Bay that “always had surf.”  He was right!  We ended up filming a couple of decent surf sessions at that secret spot.

HODADS was a dream come true for me. It turned out better than I could have wished, largely because of the extra time we had to film each of our personal histories with surfing. Those scenes Gary filmed in our hotel room are a treasure to pass on to the next generation. It was all about being stoked with good friends, sharing precious memories, and enjoying God’s magnificent creation in the process.

In 2015 we held an informal 10-year reunion of HODADS to rekindle some of that good karma. Somehow, we ended up having lunch at the Spanish Bay Inn at Pebble Beach instead of surfing, although our boards were strapped on the roof for action. The two 70-year-olds assured me that had nothing to do with our age.

Ha.

In the end, I’ll rest peacefully in heaven knowing I finally got my surf movie.

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

Footnotes

[i] On our second day of filming, John Davis was not feeling well and not catching waves. He left suddenly and drove home shivering and feeling some chest pain. He soon was in the Emergency room at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, diagnosed with a heart attack.  He had an angiogram that day to install a stent in the blocked artery! Thankfully, he was fine and in good spirits and continues to surf today at Pleasure Point (at 77).

[ii] I lost touch with Gary Irving shortly after our movie was produced. Unbeknownst to us, later that year in 2005, Gary married actor Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman. He never mentioned that one!

[iii] The full-length DVD that Gary Irving produced is available for special order through “surfingforbalance.com” (click “Contact Mike”). There is an abbreviated version of the full-length DVD available for viewing online at:

HODADS (the movie)

Part I – HODADS (the “surfing”): 10:40

Part II – HODADS (the “surf stories”): 12:50


6. Riding the Wave in Silicon Valley

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

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

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

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

Or so I thought.

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

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

This part was not in the textbook!

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

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

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

Looking back, I see two big lessons from CH:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Mexican Miracle

Heaven is full of answers to prayer for which no one ever bothered to ask.”
-Billy Graham

Bruce Brown’s “The Endless Summer” set my surfing dreams on fire in 1966.

To an aspiring grom (young surfer) who was growing up at the beach in the 1960s, Bruce Brown’s epic movie The Endless Summer had a deep-rooted effect on me. Brown poetically documented every surfer’s ultimate dream on film in an around-the-world quest to find the perfect wave. And find it, they did!

I was eleven years old in 1966 when the movie played at the Newport Harbor High School auditorium. I sat in stunned silence as those around me howled and whistled at the seemingly endless rides at Cape St. Francis in South Africa. Those waves were beyond my wildest dreams. By the time I entered high school in 1969, we were developing our own obsession with finding perfect waves in Baja, California. Our many trips south of the border provided wonderful surfing on a wholesome diet of Mexican Panderia pastries ($1 a bag!), free camping, and 35-cents-a-gallon gasoline. Our mastery of Spanish boiled down to three simple phrases:

  • Dónde está la playa? (“Where is the beach?”)
  • Dónde está el baño? (“Where is the bathroom?”)
  • Uno más, por favor. (“One more, please.”)

It didn’t get much better than that.

In 1970 I was fifteen years old and heading into summer vacation when surfing bros John Park, Craig Barrett, and Danny Moore came up with a new proposal that was a bit of a twist to our Baja adventures.

“Let’s go to Mazatlan!”

The hypothesis was that the further we drive, the more likely we were to find those perfect waves we’d been searching for. Our Baja trips were full of adventure and good surfing, taking us 200 or so miles south. Driving 1,300 miles to Mazatlán surely would up our odds, right?

As far as our parents knew, it was “just another trip to Mexico”. Baja and Mazatlán are both in Mexico, so we didn’t see a need for further clarification.  We were just going to stay a little longer . . .

“Packing for the journey was important. Six pairs of trunks, two boxes of wax, some modern sounds, and in case of injury, one band aid.”
-The Endless Summer [1]

Soon we were stuffing Craig’s 1964 orange Chevy van with supplies fit for a wagon train. We had enough canned food for a month, 8-track tapes for music, two beach chairs (doubling as back seats in the van), tool chest, duct tape (most valuable asset!), water, Paraffin wax, camp stove, and a first aid kit (Band-Aids and Tincture Benzoin, in case it was serious). To top it off, Johnny was able to sneak two large wooden speakers (for the van) and an 8mm movie camera from his house. Four surfboards on top completed the puzzle. This expedition could be summed up in two words: totally bitchen.

Next stop, Mazatlán!
Or, so we thought.

I was a bit over my head on this one. Comparisons to my dad joining the U.S. Navy at fifteen were surely in order. Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer had somehow become my Pearl Harbor. It was like blasting off for a moon launch as I nestled tightly into the beach chair in the back of the van as Craig drove us south from CdM. Whatever we lacked in experience, we surely made up in our zeal to find those waves in Mazatlán. Without cell phones, the internet, or any other means of staying in touch, we were on a real surfing safari!

“Each wave was perfect.”
The Endless Summer

We had not even reached the border before Craig’s van started hitting rough water. What!? We pulled over to a gas station and waited for a diagnosis.

“You’re two and a half quarts low on oil,” a fellow Petroleum Exchange Engineer informed us, as if we should have known.

Minor details.

Back on the road with fresh oil and our home speakers booming “Almost Cut My Hair” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Déjà vu album), a second hazard awaited us at the border crossing in Tecate. As we approached the armed guard at the gate, there was a sign we could not miss: “No Long Hairs Allowed”

I will never forget that sign.

“Welcome to Mexico,” we groaned to each other.

“Vete a casa, mi amigo!” (Go home, my friend!) the guard called out to us as he surveyed our shaggy heads. Our dreams sunk; we turned around and parked to brainstorm ideas. We considered various options, including me (with no driver’s license) driving us through the gate since I had the shortest hair. Fortunately, we came up with the ingenious option of trying a different border crossing in Mexicali, a 2-hour drive away.

Taking a more strategic approach in Mexicali, we parked the van at a gas station just short of the gate to doctor up our hair with bobby pins, water, and a lot of finesse. Paranoia was pervasive as we approached the guard this time, trying to look confident that we could get by. Amazingly, we sailed right through with our clean-cut all-American look.

“Dónde está la playa!?” we called out as we barreled into the Mexican desert with the sun setting and Carlos Santana singing “Black Magic Woman” (Santana album). It was as if we had just won a date with Rachel Welch on The Dating Game. We were giddy in anticipation of the road ahead.

‘It’s the kind of wave that makes you talk to yourself.”
-The Endless Summer

Just as we were starting to mellow out from our great escape at the border, a third stop was forced upon us. A Mexican Federale suddenly appeared out of nowhere, as if beaming down from the Starship Enterprise. Feeling as though we might be snake bit, Craig heeded his orders to pull over, taking note of the gun hanging on his waist.

Checkpoints were something we were used to in Baja; they often stopped you with some kind of machine gun in hand to ask a couple of questions and check your glove compartment for marijuana. This guy was different.

“Vete a casa.” He left off the “friend” part, as he was not kidding! We needed a Turista sticker on our car to travel into mainland Mexico from the U.S.  News to us! In an instant, our Mexican endless summer was coming to an abrupt and painful end. This guy was pulling the plug on the wave machine. We were going home.

The Turista sticker was required on your car to travel into mainland Mexico.

The Mexican Miracle
Regrouping in Craig’s van, I can remember a few tears being shed over this indignant Federale who was enjoying sending four long-haired gringos back to mamá. Johnny suddenly blurted out that we should say a prayer. I remember thinking that was the craziest idea ever. I didn’t go to church, so I couldn’t understand how that would help. Our trip was over. There was no way this guy was going to back down. I was already starting to think about what we could do with all the canned food and whether we could stop at a Panderia before crossing back over the border.

We were desperate and willing to try anything, so the next thing I knew, the four of us were bowing our heads and praying to God for a miracle to happen. I don’t think we prayed that the Federale would die or anything. I believe it was something respectable and short, like:

“God, please help us, we want to surf the perfect waves in Mazatlán.”

I do remember the outcome quite clearly. Out of the blue, an idea suddenly spawned: “Maybe we can bribe this guy!?” 

We seemed to overlook the fact that he was the one wearing the badge and gun. After quite a debate on how much it would take, we decided to go for the jackpot and use a twenty-dollar bill. Craig was elected to carry out the assignment, since he was the elder statesman (by a month or two). I was exceedingly uneasy as we all walked back to his office for our attempt at buying him off. Craig started nervously scratching his face with the twenty-dollar bill showing in his hand as he began talking. My first thought was how utterly stupid this idea this was. What were we thinking!?

Suddenly the Federale lit up with a smile like a Times Square Christmas tree. Immediately we knew it had worked; it was a Mexican miracle!  

Twenty dollars bought a lot of pesos back then. This guy snapped up the bait in a New York second and slapped the Turista decal on our car, waving us on our way like we were family.

“Adios, amigos!”

The drums from “Soul Sacrifice” (Santana Album) started rolling as we plunged into the darkening desert sky on bumpy Mexican asphalt. I leaned back in my beach chair, marveling at what a trip this was going to be.

“Bitchen.”

We camped in the desert that night and filmed the opening scene of our Mexican endless summer movie by holding wrestling matches in a cactus patch after our pork and beans dinner.

That prayer had a lasting effect on me. Whether or not God had anything to do with answering it (I think He did), it stuck that in a moment of complete despair we could call on God for help. Even when impossible odds weighed against us. It was unforgettable.

“The waves look like they had been made by some kind of machine.”
-The Endless Summer

The Power of Prayer
Prayer has played a pivotal role in my Christian walk. The answered prayers, of course, are wonderful! Mostly though, it’s been my daily dialog with God, helping me steer through the many challenges life throws at me. Becoming a Christian did not so much change who I am as it changed who I wanted to be. Prayer has become the avenue for having that daily conversation with God as to how I get there.

My challenge has been seeing God at work through my prayers. I started writing them in my Bible years ago to try and keep track of what God was doing. It has been amazing to see! One example of this involves a group of twelve men I was meeting with weekly to study the Bible over two years. Each week we devoted time to praying for each other. With all of us having new families and challenging careers, there was not a shortage of things to pray for.

Fast forward eight years and we had all reunited in the home of one of our leaders to pray for a serious injury he had incurred. We went around the group to catch up on the eight years since we had been together. As each one provided an update, it became clear that God had been at work. Many of our prayers had been answered! I had the prayers written in my Bible to prove it. It was an emotional moment as we realized how faithful God had been. It had happened so gradually, and often in ways we had not expected, that we hadn’t connected the dots to all that time in prayer together. We finished that night with praise for God’s amazing faithfulness.

Prayer has also frustrated me at certain times of my life. The inability to see how God is working in difficult situations that I am praying for has been quite perplexing. Sometimes we don’t see how God is hearing our prayers over many (many!) years. Perhaps He does and it takes our whole life to understand. I feel certain that when I get to heaven, it will all make sense. Yet, I am still challenged to keep my focus on God as I pray, and not on the mountain I am asking Him to move. I’d be lying to say that’s been easy.

I am working on making my prayers a two-way conversation. Often, I am just pouring out my needs to God and forgetting to stop and listen to what He might be trying to tell me through the Holy Spirit. This time of listening to God has been very precious, and is key to seeing how God might be working in my life, especially when I don’t see a direct response to my earnest prayers.

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

Epilogue to the Mazatlán trip:
At my 40th Corona del Mar High School reunion a few years back, a woman (Paula Schneider) approached me who claimed to remember our trip to Mazatlán in 1970. I was astonished! Her family had been in Mazatlán on vacation at the time our orange van rolled into town with surfboards on top. Incredibly, she bumped into John Park to hear the story of our long trek. After talking to John, her dad pulled her aside to say: “I can’t believe their parents allowed them to drive down here!?”

And of course, she replied: “Dad, their parents didn’t know.”

With enough time and enough money, you could spend the rest of your life following the summer around the world.”
-The Endless Summer

We didn’t find the perfect wave, but we had loads of fun and created many good stories searching. The drive included a few wrong turns, even bumping into the Sea of Cortez at one point and thinking we were at the Pacific Ocean. We thought the trip really was over when we had a complete mechanical breakdown of the van deep in the Mexican jungle. A Mexican mechanic was working on it when Danny Moore (the tow truck driver at Ken’s Mobile) put water in the battery and got it to go. Ha! Another Mexican miracle.

We encountered carpets of remarkably dense locust swarms covering the highway and innumerable “Desviación” (detour) signs that sent us onto never-ending dirt roads better suited for motocross than an automobile. It was so bumpy that at one point the entire tool chest came crashing down on us in the back of the van. It took us three days to finally arrive at the main beach in Mazatlán for our first surf session. The water was so warm (over 80 degrees!) that the Paraffin wax for our surfboards melted, making foot traction on the board a challenge.

These signs became our nightmare as they sent us blindly into the jungle on dirt roads.

We found a campground in town that accommodated us as we explored around Mazatlán and the surrounding area for waves, to no avail. I think we shot more video of a girl (Betty) riding her horse on the beach than of the four of us surfing. At one point we found a secluded beach with wave potential and decided to paddle out and set up for filming. It was a bit eerie paddling out at a spot you knew nothing about. I was far offshore by myself scanning the horizon for a wave when without warning a giant bat ray launched into the air and landed with a loud splash just a few feet away. It scared the crap out of me! I paddled into shore as if I were the anchor leg in the SanO paddling race. That kind of stuff did not happen back home. I told the guys I’d be glad to film the rest of the day (keeping an eye out for Betty).

Being the seasoned travelers that we were, we knew to avoid the local drinking water for fear of the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge. We had heard plenty from our friends about the disaster that could spell on a surf trip. However, after a couple of tasty popsicles from the street vendors in town, I soon was clobbered by it. As perfect storms go, a hurricane was making its way up the coast of Mexico just as I was discovering I could not stray far from the nearest toilet, which was not easy to find! “Dónde está el baño?”

My final but vivid memory of Mazatlán was getting up at night in the campground in complete darkness to pay my respects to Montezuma in a torrential downpour with the wind howling at gale speed. I stepped on some kind of giant prehistoric spider with my bare foot and heard it crack like a twig, and then crawl off into the black night in the direction of our camp.

Adios mi amigo, I am out of here!
We left for home the next day.

I only have two memories of the trip from that point on. First was the absolute bliss of finding a McDonald’s immediately after crossing the border into the U.S. A Big Mac and fries have never tasted better and at no other time made me feel more at home. The second was when Johnny told me that the film in the 8mm video camera got ruined when we opened the camera. We didn’t read the instructions about that part… Our Mexican endless summer movie was gone, and none of us had a single photograph from the experience to remember it by. But the adventure left an indelible impression on me. It was a trip for the ages.

It taught me that miracles are possible through the power of prayer.

Special thanks to King Neptune for providing the waves in this film.”
-The Endless Summer

Team “Endless Summer” reunion at SanO 2016

Footnotes:

  1. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060371/

 

3. San Onofre Surfing Club

“I’ve learned that simple walks with my father around the block on summer nights when I was a child did wonders for me as an adult.”
Andy Rooney

(art by Jim Krogle)

While Corona del Mar provided an ideal beach community for growing up, it was my time with Dad at San Onofre that most influenced my views on balancing work and life later in my career. Just mention the words “San Onofre Surfing Club (SOSC)” and it brings on a rush of heart-felt memories of living an unencumbered life on the beach doing what I enjoyed most, surfing. San Onofre (“SanO” or “Nofre” as the locals called it) was a slice of heaven.

The story of how the San Onofre Surfing Club was formed and later impacted by the 37th President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, is one of the more colorful stories of surfing history. Looking back on it today, it seems inconceivable that a group of surfers could arrange to lease a pristine and secluded surfing beach in Southern California from the U.S. Marine Corps for $1 a year!

San Onofre History
As the crowds converged on Malibu, a unique surfing beach emerged 90 miles south near the San Onofre railroad station. Originally known as a fishing camp, it was soon discovered that this beach had a unique environment for surfing. The collection of bottom rocks mixed with sand on the seabed produced strikingly consistent waves with a long peeling and gently sloping nature, like those at famed Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. Word quickly spread among the surfing crowd of this gem of a surfing beach called San Onofre.

Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison and Pete Peterson were two of the first regulars at San Onofre in the mid-1930s, after the new jetties in CdM had destroyed the surf there. Both had traveled to Hawaii and brought back that aloha spirit to San Onofre. It was a perfect fit for this secluded stretch of beach, over a half-mile long and backed by dirt cliffs to maintain a sense of exclusivity. There was even a palm thatch shack on the sand left behind by a film shoot from a Hollywood movie company.

By the late 1930s, San Onofre had become the place to go to enjoy the surfer’s lifestyle with an unbeatable combination of good fishing, excellent surfing, and a community atmosphere. World War II was soon to disrupt all that, changing everyone’s lives.

In 1942 the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced that San Onofre beach would become part of Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine Corps base in the country. It was officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt later that year to train U.S. Marines for service in World War II.

During those years Dad described how they would tape paper over their headlights when driving PCH between San Clemente and Oceanside for fear the Japanese were going to attack. For those lucky enough to return home from the war in late 1945, the USMC began to allow access to the beach again for surfing. The Marines in charge of Camp Pendleton were willing to work out an agreement with these surfers, understanding the sacrifices they had made for our country. [1]

(SOSC decals were a prized possession back then!)

In a startling story of cooperation between civilians and the U.S. military, the SOSC was loosely formed in 1951 to provide a group of surfers exclusive access to the beach. The SOSC gained responsibility to maintain membership, keep the beach clean and orderly, and pay a $1-a-year annual lease. Dr. A.H. “Barney” Wilkes (a San Clemente dentist), and Andre “Frenchy” Jahan (SOSC’s first president) are two heroes who finessed the USMC into the agreement.  

In the end, it was brilliant, but it did not come without some turbulent times between the two. [2] Club bylaws, membership cards, auto decals, and rules of conduct were established at the first formal SOSC meeting on the beach on April 24, 1952. Dad was fortunate enough to be a part of that early membership crowd.

This was the beginning of an era at SanO that had roots firmly planted in a simple lifestyle of a surfing society which soon became a way of life for raising your kids at the beach in SoCal. There were no lifeguards, no running water, no paved roads, and no way to take a phone call; just an idyllic world of sun and surf in a serene setting, free of life’s challenges with plenty of time for rest. These traditions would be passed on for generations to come.

Waiting
I waited all week with great anticipation for the trip to SanO with Dad on weekends. Getting that official military salute at the gate to Camp Pendleton was like gaining entrance to Main Street at Disneyland. Those windshield decals that got us by the USMC guard became a source of great pride to signify our status as a member of the San Onofre Surfing Club.

The Infamous USMC Salute to Secure Passage to San Onofre

However, getting to San Onofre was another matter. What should have been a 45-minute drive took forever! We left CdM onto PCH in mid-morning with our two Dave Sweet boards bungee corded on top of our ’64 Chevy Nova Wagon. Our first stop was the Laguna Beach Arts Festival, where Dad would play a couple sets of tennis with his good friend Jack Upton. I would try and pass the time digging holes, killing bugs, and throwing rocks, constantly hoping it was match point, no matter who was winning. After what seemed like half the day, I knew they were finally done when the Tab came out over ice in the metal tennis cans. I sprinted to the car.

“Aahhhh!” Dad would belt out with each sip while working the three-speed column shift through the maze of Laguna Beach traffic and hills while juggling the tennis can of Tab.

We were on our way! My first marker was the “Laguna Beach Greeter” (Eiler Larsen) in his bright red coat, who always recognized me, I was sure, giving me that wink and pointing right at me. Next, I watched for a wrecked car that was overturned up a cliff by Poche Beach along PCH. Getting close.

We made a final stop off the 5 freeway (Avenida Calafia) at the El Camino Market to buy some Mug Root Beer, Paraffin wax, the LA Times, and a small cluster of grapes for nutrition. The owner of the El Camino Market, Tony Duynstee, was always there to cheerfully greet us at the cash register and update us on the surf report.

The Basilone Road offramp was where we got our first view of the waves overlooking the renowned surf break—Trestles. Regardless of the conditions, my pulse spiked at just the sight of the waves; I could not wait to get in. The fancy hand wave by the USMC guard at Camp Pendleton was our final green light. We bounced down the rutted dirt road and parked at “Old Man’s” to set up base camp; a Coast Hardware beach chair, beach towel, and small Styrofoam ice chest to preserve the Mug Root Beer and grapes (no other food). Once the boards were moved off the car to the palm shack, the next hiatus began. In my younger years, Dad would not let me go in the water until he got out. He wanted to keep an eye on me in the water. Although, every time I looked to see if he saw my ride, he was immersed in the LA Times . . .

The SanO Scene at Old Man’s in the 1960s

After chatting it up with friends about the wind, tide, water temp, and Dodgers, Dad would finally wax up and paddle out. I knew he would not stay in the water long (he never wore a wetsuit), so at least the clock had started.

Jeez . . .

Dad was easy to pick out riding waves as he would drag a foot on his turns, which I now understand was from his days riding the heavy balsa wood boards at Malibu where you used your foot as a rudder to turn. My only distraction beyond watching his every move was keeping an eye out for Candy McCue to walk by. Anyone on the beach in those days would surely confirm that.

After what seemed like a 16-inning scoreless baseball game, I raced to get my board and wax up as soon as I saw Dad coming in. The water at SanO was always like dipping into a familiar bath—I never wanted to get out. Old Man’s is one of the more consistent breaks in Southern California, so there were always waves to ride, regardless of the conditions. Once I hit double digits in age, we could finally paddle out together. Surfing with Dad was about as good as it got.

SanO was a unique environment in the water. People looked out after each other, brought loose boards back out (before the leash), and took care of anyone in need. When I was ten years old, I wiped out and got hit hard in the head by my board. It opened a good slice next to my left eye, so there was lots of blood. Amazingly, Dad was right there and able to carry me to shore over the rocks on a low tide day (cutting up his feet badly in the process).

The next thing I knew, I was lying in a van chewing on European black licorice while getting eight stitches to close the gash (“It’s your Novocain,” the doc told me). I will always remember our doctor back home telling us what a good job he had done stitching it up. Only years later did I find out it was Dr. Dorian Paskowitz who had done the good deed. I remember Dad carrying a bottle of champagne in the car on the next trip down for the doc. That was how things worked at San Onofre—life in harmony.

The magic of the SOCS soon got out among the surfing crowd, and membership soared to 1,000 members by 1971 with a waiting list of 2,000. It was almost too good to be true, and many of my friends were begging me to take them. Having exclusive access to one of southern California’s most consistent surfing breaks with a built-in social community lifestyle was hard to beat. The SOSC had become a mini-civilization built around surfing with luaus, horseshoes, surfing and volleyball contests, fishing, Bocce ball, and even a Sunday school for kids! The SOSC was even mentioned in an October 18, 1965 issue of Sports Illustrated about surfing. [3]

President Nixon
As progress would have it, change was imminent with the SOSC. Construction of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station began in 1968. Just a half-mile south of Old Man’s beach, this plant employed over 2,200 people and became a prominent landmark with its twin spherical containment buildings designed to contain any unexpected releases of radiation.

OK.

In 1969 Richard Nixon became the 37th U.S. president, setting up his summer White House residence near Trestles (1.5 miles north of San Onofre), at the La Casa Pacifica. When President Nixon was in town, Trestles was off-limits to everyone, especially to surfers! Armed military police would be patrolling the beach in jeeps, helicopters flew overhead, and an 85-foot Coast Guard ship sat just outside the surf line. The SOSC was just far enough south to be unaffected.

Having President Nixon flying by in his helicopter was a sure sign the tide was about to turn. I will never forget the day in 1971 when I heard the devastating news that the entire SOSC beach had been leased to the state of California for use as a state park. It appeared to be the end of the SOSC and my dream of passing on the San Onofre baton.

The story we heard was that President Nixon looked down from his presidential helicopter at the SOSC members and asked how they had arranged to gain exclusive access to that beach on a U.S. military base. I can imagine how that conversation went! Soon, talks were in process around the creation of a new California state park, and it was believed that President Nixon wanted it to be named after him. In the end, it was deemed a presidential gift from Richard M. Nixon—but at least “San Onofre” took the name slot.

Whew!

As has been the history with the SOSC, a few heroes again emerged to keep the club alive and thriving into a new era. One was SOSC President Doug Craig, who provided the dedicated leadership and guidance for the club to stay together and work with the state of California to preserve the beach and surfing culture for future generations. The story of President Nixon meeting with the SOSC to gain his personal SOSC membership is documented in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album and is good for a chuckle. [4]

San Onofre Surfing Contest
Next to Christmas and my birthday, the most coveted time of the year for me was the annual SOSC surfing contest at the end of summer. I thought about it every day I was in the water at SanO, replaying in my mind what the announcer would say after a good ride. It was a family fun event with something for everyone, no matter what your age or skill level. The club members who orchestrated it were the early pioneers of the sport and knew how to run a first-class surfing contest. The trophies for the finalists were right up there with the Heisman in terms of star power.

For me, it was all about my desire to surf like Erik Hops, who was in my age group. Erik surfed at a level I could only dream about.  He won 1st place every year (as far as I know) and was the best surfer in the entire club in my view. I never saw anyone at SanO who had total board control and walked the nose as smoothly as Erik. He was even famous—the very first surfing book I was given (Modern Surfing by John Severson – 1964) had a picture of Erik surfing in it. When I ordered my first custom Doug Haut surfboard in Santa Cruz years later, I fulfilled my dream of having a solid red pigment board, just like the one Erik rode at SanO.

The highlight of the contest each year was announcer Jim Irwin, who was appropriately labeled “the Vin Scully of surfing contests”. Jim’s booming voice made you feel like you were a world champion, even if you were just barely navigating an ankle biter. His enthusiasm was extreme, and his joy of the sport leaped out as he described each ride with fantastic detail and emotion. When announcing the “8-year-old and under” kids, who were barely 25 yards offshore, he made it sound like they were dropping into 25-footers at Waimea Bay:

“The white water is thundering down as he streaks across the massive face of a turbulent curl and cranks a bottom turn just in time!” 

Hearing Jim describe each contestant was like reading a character description in a Steinbeck novel. He was an artist in motion. God bless that man; I am praying that he will be announcing my rides in Heaven.

The Prized SanO Trophy with My Dave Sweet in Front of 507 Marguerite (1966)

SanO Today
It has been a great joy to live out my dream of taking my family down to SanO to experience much of what I had growing up. The SOSC leadership has done an amazing job keeping the original structure of the beach intact and maintaining the culture I became so fond of as a kid. We now arrive at 6 a.m. to get in (Dad would not have approved!), but once I park the car and collapse into my beach chair, the familiarness of it all comes right back like a favorite song from that era.

I always wanted to experience SanO like the many families who camped there all summer in vans with lots of food and drink. We started making an annual trek from northern California to SanO in a fully equipped RV, which allowed us to spend entire days into darkness soaking in the San Onofre aroma of a healthy simplicity of life. The kids loved it and I was thrilled to finally barbecue that meat I always smelled as a child among the many camper vans. We even catch the SOSC surfing contest when we can, which has maintained the same all-inclusive aloha spirit. Jim Irwin has passed on, but his legacy continues from the announcer’s booth; those “8-year-old and under” kids are still a personal highlight for me.

On one trip down I took our kids on a sightseeing tour to see the tennis court at the Arts Festival (still there), the Laguna Beach Greeter (a new one!), and we even pulled off at Avenida Calafia to find El Camino Market for some last-minute wax and ice. Incredibly, I found Tony Duynstee still at the counter almost 50 years later! Tony finally sold the store to a developer after 75 years at that location.

Fab Four Under the Grass Shack at Old Man’s in 2012

Today, as I reflect on growing up at SanO and watch my kids in the water at Old Man’s, I dig my toes into the sand and think how fortunate I am now, and was to have such a wonderful place to grow up. It is a joy to share with my wife and children. I always believed life at SanO was the way things were supposed to be. It made an indelible impression on me.

This quote from the San Onofre 1973 Cookbook for Surfers, captures the essence of SanO (unedited):

“Say San Onofre and you hear the sound of surf rolling in a long way, and smooth stones chuckling together in the shore break. As a place name, San Onofre has come to have deep meaning for a large group of men and their families who have surfed together for as long as thirty years at the same lovely, wild stretch of beach. The constancy of both surf and friendship has distilled a camaraderie that is as strong as the surfers are different… All this time, the beach has remained unspoiled, as delightful on a wind-swept winter’s day, as it is on July 4th, awash with dogs, kids, and cold drinks. Improvements in the name of comfort were avoided; no showers, no blacktop, no running water, no lifeguard stands. Out on the water, the surfers took care of each other. All problems could be brought to an open forum, a circle of beach chairs. Access to San Onofre depended on the good spirit of cooperation with the Marine Corps, and two more unlikely groups never lived side by side.”

Marion Haines, Polly Buckingham, Claire Shaver
San Onofre Cookbook, 1973

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Footnotes:
[1] The San Onofre Surfing Club, 1952 – 2002: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album, this book is a treasure of pictures and stories of the 50-year history of the club. Page 36 describes the new world order at San Onofre following WW II (unedited):

THE FORTIES – A Changed World

“World War II changed America in profound ways. It ended the Depression, unified and equalized the country, restarted the economic engine and opened doors to new lifestyles. Those who had never seen the beach till they shipped out of California [from Camp Pendleton] knew they wanted to go back there. Those who had grown up with the beach knew just how good they had it.

In 1946 a bunch of us lived down there at ‘Nofre: Glen Fisher, Wild Ass Wiley, [James] Arness, Bob Card Hammerhead – we’d go to the dump and get old furniture and set it up and live like a hobo camp. We called ourselves the “52-twenty club,” cause for the first 52 weeks after the war they paid us $20 a week as veterans. You could live like kings at ‘Nofre for that. We all enrolled in college to get better jobs and surfed every day.”
Jim ‘Burrhead’ Drever

[2] The San Onofre Surfing Club, 1952 – 2002: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album, A summary of the struggles between SOSC members and the USMC in the 1950s are neatly summarized on page 41 of this book: “The Fifties – Birth Of The Cool”. The net of the story is that the USMC notified the SOSC in 1955 that they would no longer have exclusive access to the beach. Total chaos followed (unedited):

Things went downhill almost immediately. Irresponsible surfers set fire to the brush in the San Mateo Creek estuary and nearly burned down the railroad trestle. Burning wood thrown at the commuter train and piled debris on the tracks once caused a passenger train to grind to an emergency stop. Parking and other regulatory signs were used as firewood. The grass shack was torched. A cave on the cliffs was filled with old tires and gasoline. The fire was so intense the Marines couldn’t reach it with the fire truck. Occasionally the M.P.s were so provoked that they fired rifles and pistols at the trestle surfers. Some surfers set up camp overnight on the beach in defiance of patrolling M.P.s. The Marine Corps demanded the Club maintain order or all civilians would be restricted from the beach. The Club, of course, disclaimed responsibility, since the Marines had allowed free and uncontrolled public use of the area.

[3] San Onofre – Memories of a Legendary Surfing Beach by David Matuszak, is the encyclopedia on San Onofre, weighing in at an astounding 1,561 pages (not kidding).  One must see this book to believe it. Page 702 has an excerpt from the Sports Illustrated article in 1965 which included the following (unedited):

“At the opposite pole is the San Onofre Surfing Club, which is at the same time one of the most exclusive and one of the tackiest clubs in the world. Founded in 1951 and located at Camp Pendleton, its facilities seem to consist of little more than a few shacks badly in need of repair, which serve as dressing rooms and toilets, and its existence seems to depend on the whim of the Marine commandant. The SOSC has 800 members, each paying $20 annual dues… Elderly men wearing straw hats, smoking cigars and drinking cans of beer sit on the swells astride their boards, occasionally riding a wave in, still seated. One old gentleman says he only surfs on his birthday, of which he has several every summer.”

[4] The San Onofre Surfing Club, 1952 – 2002: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Album, A fitting close to this era is summarized on page 64 (unedited): 

Tricky Dick Goes Surfing
“When Richard Nixon moved the “Western White House” to Cotton’s Point (north of The Trestle) in ’69, ‘Nofre was put in the spotlight more than ever. As a result, the Club was now on the verge of being stripped of its beach due to the all out political battle waged against it. Members had no choice but to play their hand. Bob Mardian (Nixon’s Attorney General at that time), was an enthusiastic and active member of the Club, and was considered an ace in the hole. Members increased the clean-up detail and suspended members who trespassed on Marine property at Trestles, trying to put on the very best face to the outside world. The SOSC even went so far as to make Nixon an “honorary member” with hopes of wooing his support for a status quo approach to ‘Nofre. Tricky Dick was scheduled to meet with them down at the SOSC beach, but, for unknown reasons, he never showed. In 1970, then Club president Doug Craig was permitted a 15-minute meeting with Nixon at the Western White House after Bob Mardian had pulled some strings. Craig believed he had Nixon’s backing after their talk. But a year later, Nixon did an about-face and handed San Onofre over to the state as a “Presidential Gift”. The San Onofre Surfing Club’s little-known book for members only, published in ’74, has a special tribute to Nixon in its closing pages: a picture of Craig standing next to an upright, driftwood log, with a giant middle finger carved into it. “He betrayed us,” says Craig.”

This picture was taken the day Nixon was given his honorary membership to the SOSC in 1970. Left to right:
Robert Mardian (Nixon’s Attorney General), Mike Hops (Erik’s older brother), President Richard M. Nixon, Dick Hoover, Julie Brown, Tony Mardian, Denise Tkach, Tom Turner, Billy Mardian, Rolf Arness (son of James Arness of Gunsmoke fame), Tom Craig, and Doug Craig (SOSC President).