The Coast News Group
Stock image

How surfing helped save me

It was the winter of 1985. I was nearer to 40 than 20 and working as the editor for Breakout, a California surfing magazine on State Street in Carlsbad.

A few days before my departure to Oahu’s North Shore, I called my father and asked if I could spend a few days with him and my mother and if he would drive me to the airport on the designated day. 

He gladly agreed to both requests, and I drove to the family home in Montebello and settled into a routine of reading and hanging out with my parents, especially my dad.

Approaching my 40th birthday, it seemed time to repair the damage I had done to my family relationship, stemming from my teen rebellion years earlier. I told Dad I was sorry about getting drunk and crashing his car when I was 14 years old. He laughed and said he was sorry for the way he reacted to my stupidity (my word, not his.) 

We forgave each other for everything and stopped just short of our words deteriorating into sentimentality.

I knew my father loved me, but he never told me words I needed to hear, that he also approved of me as an adult. 

Then, as I was exiting the bathroom, I heard him on the phone saying, “You should read the story my oldest boy did on his mother.” (The story he referenced was one concerning a sacrifice my mother made for her children and was published in Family Circle.)  That one comment healed a big piece of my heart.

A few days later, he drove me to the airport. After exchanging hugs at the curb, he said he would pick me up in two weeks. I had just settled into our new digs in a small beach house facing Pipeline where I would witness the best surfing of the mid ’80s on a daily basis.

That evening the phone rang, and an up-and-coming charger, Carlsbad’s Paul Barr, answered. Motioning to me with the phone, he said, “Your brother’s on the phone.” “My father’s dead,” I said. To which Barr replied, “Don’t say that.” The confirming news from my brother was no surprise but still as severe a gut punch as I’ve ever endured. 

A few days later I flew home and found my house burned to the ground along with family heirlooms, cash and the only photos I had of myself surfing, one of them taken by former Surfing Magazine photo editor Larry “Flame” Moore, bottom turning at Blacks. 

There is no other proof that I was once a decent surfer, but what does that matter? I was now facing life without a father or basic shelter.

I had a van and two surfboards, everything I needed to dampen my sorrows as I surfed myself loopy for days on end. That, my friends and especially my Christian faith carried me through a time that would have otherwise crushed me. 

This short story, like every word I have written since that day, are dedicated to two of the best people I have ever known: my mother, Lupe, and my father, Richard. 

My father, who had been a surfer in his youth and understood how much surfing meant to his children, was around the age I am now when he left us.

I don’t look forward to the process but warmly anticipate the reunion.

Leave a Comment