Monthly Archives: January 2019

Why the Protagonist is a Surfer

surferI’ve always loved the ocean. My mother used to tell me that the ocean will “cure anything that ails you.” My older sister taught me to comb the tidepools and to bodysurf in Laguna Beach, not long after I learned to walk.

I rode my first wave at Huntington Beach pier, wearing an inch-thick neoprene wetsuit, when I was 14, and I was given my first surfboard—a longboard custom-shaped by Jim Lyman of Redondo Beach with hot pink stripes running along the center stringer—for my 15th birthday, in 1962.surfer Huntington Beach

When I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, I strapped my board on top of my father’s hand-me-down 1954 candy-apple red four-door Buick “bomb” and headed up the L.A. freeways from Pasadena to the coast with my best friend Bonnie. We spent our summers until graduation cruising Highway 1 with the Beach Boys blasting out good vibrations through the radio, reading Gidget while basking in the sun on our beach blankets in our “itsy bitsy teenie weenie” bikinis, and surfing the waves from San Clemente to Malibu.

Johnny Rice

Hanging out at Pleasure Point where Jack O’Neill’s house is now. Jerry Colfer, Spike Bulls, Johnny Rice, Al Palm and Mike Winterburn, 1957.

When I went away to college I chose UC Irvine partly because of its proximity to the Pacific. After I graduated and started teaching, I settled into a little house a few blocks from the beach in Santa Cruz—one of the two California towns claiming the title “Surf City USA.”

For my 50th birthday, I rode my bike over to Hawaiian surf legend Johnny Rice’s house near Steamer Lane and asked him to shape a long board for me. He took my measure, then handed me a basket full of hand-dyed Hawaiian fabric and told me to chose one for the inlays on my board. That board was magic and could talk to me. Mahalo Nui Loa, Johnny. Aloha and Rest in Peace.

I never tire of being in the water, or of watching the ever-changing ocean, the birds, otters, dolphins and whales, and the world-class surfers who come to ride our famed breaks.

Surfing is more than a hobby for me—it’s a passion, as much a necessity for staying alive as breathing. Isn’t it only natural that the protagonist of my first mystery novel, set in Santa Cruz, is a surfer?surfer sunset


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