Why I Love Imperial Beach: Photo Essay 1

I’ve lived in Imperial Beach since 1971. It is one of the last cool little blue collar beach towns left in Southern California. And I love the neat little ways in which people brighten up their businesses and our public plazas (courtesy of the Port of San Diego) along the beachfront.  This is what gives our town character and  makes us unique. And it is why  I love my hometown of Imperial Beach.

The Imperial Beach Pier Plaza and a public art project called Surfhenge.

The Imperial Beach Pier Plaza and a public art project called Surfhenge.

Mike Bibbey, the owner of Bibbey's Shell Shop, is awesome--full of energy, passion and creativity.

Mike Bibbey, the owner of Bibbey’s Shell Shop, is awesome–full of energy, passion and creativity.

I am very honored to have helped to provided the information that was used in many of the plaques along the pier. The project honors the history of surfing the Tijuana Sloughs reef.

I am very honored to have helped  provide the information that was used in many of the plaques along the pier. The project honors the history of surfing the Tijuana Sloughs reef.

Bibbey's Shell Shop is an IB landmark and this shark is a favorite photo stop for tourists and locals.

Bibbey’s Shell Shop is an IB landmark and this shark is a favorite photo stop for tourists and locals.

 

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The IB mermaid at Bibbey’s Shell Shop.

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I love Bibbey’s because it is community art that makes people happy.

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The octopus door at Bibbey’s.

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You have to really look close to see all of the details on the mural at Bibbey’s.

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A stunning mural on the side of the building that is the location of IB Yoga–which is one of the many cool little businesses that have opened up in town over the past few years. We need more beautiful art like this around town and we need to continue to support local small businesses benefit the community.

Imperial Beach 1989

English: Imperial Beach, California The symbol...

Imperial Beach, California The symbol of this surfers’ community south of San Diego. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imperial Beach Needs to Look Beyond the Beach

July 09, 1989|SERGE DEDINA | Serge Dedina is a lifelong Imperial Beach resident and a member of the city’s beach area and water-oriented facilities advisory committee

‘The budget crisis in Imperial Beach is temporarily over, and plans to disincorporate the city are on hold. City Manager Ron Jack has managed to raise revenues and cut Sheriff’s Department services to balance the budget. What promised to be a fiscal disaster turned into a rather routine budget-cutting operation for a city government that has been strapped financially for most of the 1980s.

The recent problems, however, have opened debate on the future of Imperial Beach and the development strategy that will allow the city to avoid recurring financial crises.

The situation in Imperial Beach is similar to what happens to Third World nations that take out loans to finance large development projects that international experts assure will lead the countries to salvation. If the project is a failure, basic public services are cut to pay off the loans. In the case of Imperial Beach, basic public services have been cut so that the city can pay off the loan to rebuild its fishing pier. However, unlike the Third World, the International Monetary Fund does not bail out small American cities for the bad decisions of their elected officials.

City officials in Imperial Beach historically have complained about their inability to develop a community surrounded by open space–while blaming environmentalists for stalling development projects–without realizing that what has defined the character of Imperial Beach is its open space. Instead of planning a strategy that integrates the natural setting with its small-town character, the city, in effect, has attempted to ruin the two factors that make Imperial Beach unique among Southern California beach communities.

A comprehensive planning study conducted by the Graduate School of Urban Planning at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo concluded that Imperial Beach should not concentrate all its development efforts along the beachfront, which it said has a limited potential for revenue generation. Instead, the city should concentrate on its commercial core along Palm Avenue where there is room for enhancement. The study, financed by a grant from the city, has been ignored by Imperial Beach officials, who keep insisting that the beachfront development is the key to economic revitalization.

There is no indication that officials have learned anything from the recent crisis. City officials want the San Diego Unified Port District to assume control of the oceanfront tidelands to reduce city costs and to speed beachfront development. Mayor Henry Smith envisions an oceanfront marina alongside a mile-long ocean platform for hotels and restaurants in an area in which some of the largest waves in Southern California break during periods of heavy surf. Apparently the loss of almost $1 million during the attempt to construct a submerged breakwater along the beachfront has not deterred the mayor.

A strategy that concentrates on developing publicly owned areas that are open to the forces of nature and protected by state and federal regulations that require lengthy environmental review is bound to fail.

The city has neither the resources to pursue projects that end up in court, as in the case of the breakwater, nor the foresight to reject those projects when they are presented to the council for preliminary review.

English: The pier in Imperial Beach, Southern ...

The pier in Imperial Beach, Southern California. South of San Diego, very close to the Mexican border. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, a strategy that uses the natural setting and community character of the city as its focus should be welcomed. With the population of the South Bay expected to grow by more than 200,000 residents by the year 2010, the city will become a magnet for South Bay residents seeking a well-maintained beachfront removed from the congestion encountered in most Southern California beach communities.

Todos Santos 1994

dedina:young BajaHere is a photo of me and my wife Emily  on Palm Beach in Todos Santos sometime in November 1994 with our dogs Julius and little Tecate (who was a “street dog” who came with the house we cared for). We  spent the previous year living in Laguna San Ignacio and Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos carrying out field research for our University of Texas at Austin doctoral dissertations in Geography on gray whale conservation (me) and the cultural ecology of fishing and eco-tourism (Emily).

Our stays in those amazingly hospitable and wonderful communities were followed by a month in La Paz to do interviews and carry out archival research and then another month in Mexico City to do the same.

After a great year in Mexico, we faced the prospect of returning to Austin to write up our research and work as teaching assistants (Emily) which is what smart grad students do (it is best to be near your committee members and advisor). Thanks to a series of encounters in Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos with Kimberly and Ken who introduced us to Lee Moore, who then set us up with Roswitha Mueller (who owned a stunning 19th century home on the Plaza in Todos Santos) we ended up living in that emerging art colony and now-hipster village in southern Baja for a year.

For two literally penniless grad students it was a dream come true. The house overlooked the Palm-fringed coastline of Todos Santos. I dawn-patrolled each morning and after a long surf returned to the house where Emily and I shared breakfast and then sat down to the task of writing dissertations. After a long day of writing, we would retreat to Palm Beach for a walk with the dogs and to play in the waves.

I unwisely decided to write my dissertation as a book, which wasn’t a very strategic way of getting my committee to approve it (I later had to substantially modify the manuscript to make it more academic–which I should have done in the first place). My original manuscript later became my book, Saving the Gray Whale.

In retrospect making the decision to stay in Todos Santos was the smartest thing we have ever done. That year launched our careers in international conservation. After having discovered that ESSA (and its 49% partner) Mitsubishi planned to turn Laguna San Ignacio, a gray whale lagoon and Mexican federal protected area, into a 500,000-acre industrial salt harvesting facility, we joined up with Homero Aridjis and Betty Ferber of the Grupo de los Cien, to help launch a campaign against the project.

That initial effort turned into one of the largest ever international efforts to save a wild place that ended successfully when Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo cancelled the project in March, 2000.

Other things we did that year included convincing the School for Field Studies to open a study center in Bahia Magdalena and working to advise RARE on the launch of a very successful and ground-breaking eco-guide training program for whale guides in Bahia Magdalena and Laguna San Ignacio.

The most important part of the year is that Emily became pregnant with our oldest son Israel, and then got a job teaching geography at the University of Arizona. Despite my misgivings about living in Tucson (for a surfer, exile to the desert in Arizona is a slow death), in the end, I could never have launched my career in conservation without having lived there.

After completing my Ph.D. a year after we moved to Tuscon, The Nature Conservancy hired me to launch their Northwest Mexico Program. That profoundly gratifying, rewarding and educational experience  was the equivalent of attending Harvard Business School–but for Conservation. I was damn lucky to have worked there.

While at TNC, I helped to launch their still vibrant Baja California and Sea of Cortez Program and helped to launch successful initatives to preserve Loreto Bay National Park, Isla Espiritu Santo and Cabo Pulmo.

So that moment on the beach really was just before we became adults and understood that chasing dreams requires sacrifice, hard work, discipline, vision, and passion. We chose to do what was right for us, rather than please everyone else.  I also realized that if you want to get anything done, you can’t depend on anyone else to make it happen.

I will never forget our year in Todos Santos and how it changed our lives forever.

Surf Dad: My Father’s Journey from Paris to the U.S. Mexico Border

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Guatemala 1974. My little brother Nicky on the left and me on the right.

There was never a time when my father, who immigrated to America to escape the Nazi occupation of Europe, wasn’t loading up our Ford station wagon and taking us to the beach.

In 1939, at the age of six, my father traveled to the United States from France with my grandma Lotti and his brother Roland.

“In France as a little tyke, I played on a beach covered by pebbles and round pieces of wine bottles rounded by the surf,” my dad Michel Dedina recalled from his home near the Tijuana Estuary in Imperial Beach.

“I was scared when we came to America because my big brother Roland told me America had skyscrapers and one would collapse on me,” he said.

“In New York we visited the beach at Coney Island. It was crowded. Wall to wall people. But there was great corn on the cob.”

After the war my father moved back to Paris. Some of his family had been sent to concentration camps or killed by the Gestapo.

“Everyone was tired of the war and nobody wanted to talk about air raids, combat and concentration camps. There were no medals for those who suffered,” he said.

Later my father joined the American Air Force during the Korean War and met my mother in London while he was stationed in England. They married in New York City where my father published two novels. Mom and dad eventually made their way to California and settled in Los Angeles.

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My mother and father in the 1950s.

“Your mom and I had visited and liked California. Liked the beach, but found the water cold,” Dedina said.

My parents never camped in Europe but discovered the value of outings at California State Parks. On our first camping trip in the late 1960s we pitched a borrowed Korean War-era military surplus tent at Carlsbad State Beach.

Mom and dad were cold and miserable in their homemade sleeping bags stitched together from old blankets but my little brother and I were in heaven and never wanted the trip to end.

We lugged that tent up and down the coast of California, giving rides to hitchhiking hippies while enjoying coastal campgrounds from San Diego to Big Sur.

In 1971 we moved to Imperial Beach where life revolved around weekends at the beach and picnics in the Tijuana Estuary.

Meanwhile dad earned his Masters Degree in television and Film at SDSU where he studied with Desi Arnaz.

After grad school dad purchased a 1974 Ford Econoline van, loaded it up with camping gear and our clothes, and we drove south to El Salvador where he had a job with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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Lake Antigua, Guatemala, 1974. My little brother Nicky is in front, I am peeking out behind my dad.

“I should have been more scared than I was during our trip,” he recalled. We had to deal with crooked customs and immigration officers. I learned to pay the bribes. There were more honest officers than crooks.”

It was during our year in El Salvador that I first wanted to be surfer. The Californians I watched strolling down the beach to surf tropical waves looked incredibly cool. I wanted to be just like them.

That year we camped on white sand beaches and explored indigenous villages and jungle ruins in Guatemala, Chiapas, Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Belize.

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Somewhere in Mexico with my dad 1974-1975.

I started surfing after our return to Imperial Beach and convinced Dad to take me and my friends to Baja California in our rusty 1964 VW Van. In Baja we surfed perfect point waves while Dad cooked up pots of spaghetti with lobster sauce.

With my dad in central Baja in 1979.

With my dad in central Baja in 1979.

In the early 1990s, when my wife Emily and I lived in a 14-foot trailer in Baja’s San Ignacio Lagoon to study gray whales, Dad drove down with my mother to visit.

Dad was in heaven when the local fishermen called him, “Don Miguel.”

“I’d been waiting my entire life to be called ‘Don Miguel,’” he said.

With my dad and my sons more recently.

With my dad and my sons more recently.

Later when Emily and I had our own two sons, Israel and Daniel, Dad foraged the streets for old surfboards and wetsuits and took our kids to the beach to surf.

“I stood Daniel on a wide, long surfboard on tiny waves,” said my father. “He surfed and remained standing.  A guy came over and asked, ‘Who is that kid?’ Nonchalantly I replied ‘My grandson.’ Guy asked, ‘How old is he?’

I replied, ‘Four.’ The guy said, ‘Wow. Four years old.’”

Despite a good life in America, dad never forgot what the Nazi’s and their French collaborators had stolen from his family. He applied for a settlement from the French Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation [because of] anti-Semitic Legislation in Force During the Occupation.

“I could not have lived with myself if I had not tried to fight for what we had lost. The first verdict was against us. So we appealed. I went to the appeals tribunal in Paris. There were five judges one of whom it turned out was against us when they deliberated some weeks later. I can only guess why or how we won.”

At the tribunal, dad’s cousin Lisette corroborated my father’s testimony. The Nazi’s murdered her parents. Her brother Bernard Fall fought in the Resistance and later worked at the Nuremberg Trials.

“Our award was small which was shared by Roland’s family. It wasn’t about the money.”

After more than fifty years of marriage, dad lost my mother to cancer a few years back. Today at the age of 80, he maneuvers his three-wheel electric bicycle around Imperial Beach and religiously attends the surf competitions, water polo games, and swim meets of his grandsons. He also enjoys long visits with my brother Nick and his family in San Francisco.

Dad occasionally speaks out at local City Council meetings about preserving local beaches and parks.

I owe my sense of adventure to my father along with my determination to never waiver in the pursuit of justice.

After all, that is what my father taught me being an American means.

History of Ocean Lifeguards

Lifeguards at the Tijuana Rivermouth, 1950s. Photo: John Elwell.

Lifeguards at the Tijuana Rivermouth, 1950s. Photo: John Elwell.

As a 13-year veteran Ocean Lifeguard for the State of California and
the City of Imperial Beach, I know lifeguards play a critical role in
making sure that our beaches remain as safe as possible for the public.

Mike Martino is part of a group of lifeguards in San Diego County who
work to maintain the highest professional standands for lifeguard
agencies. Additionally, he has played an important role in documenting
the fascinating history of lifeguards in San Diego.

Serge Dedina: I was intrigued by the mention in your book, Lifeguards of San Diego County,
that the earliest reported lifeguards were in China in the early 18th
century. How did early pre-20th century lifeguards operate?

Mike Martino: The early life-saving groups were local. A group
called the Massachusetts Humane Society set up a lifeboat station in
1807. The men who worked the stations were local volunteers and their
rescue efforts dealt with foundering ships. Beach going for recreation
and swimming was still (on a societal level) a 100 years away.

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Lifeguard pioneer Dempsey Holder surfing in Imperial Beach. Photo: George Ramos

Serge Dedina: Who were some of the lifeguard pioneers in San Diego County?

Martino: Some local pioneers are George Freeth, Louis Chauvaud, Calvin “Spade” Burns, Charles Hardy and Emil Sigler just to name a few.

Dedina: We take it for granted that very few people drown on
public beaches in the U.S. anymore and especially in Southern
California, but a few cases of mass drownings in San Diego played a key
role in pushing public agencies to form professional lifeguard services.
What was the key tragedy in San Diego that caused a major perception in
understanding the need for lifeguards?

Martino: In San Diego, the major event occurred on May 5, 1918
at Ocean Beach. The surf was running somewhere in the 8-10 foot range,
and a massive rip current swept beach goers off their feet and out into
the swirling currents and surf. When it was all over, 60 plus people had
been rescued and 13 people had drowned.

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Imperial Beach Lifeguards surfing the Tijuana Sloughs

Dedina: When and where did professional lifeguard agencies evolve in San Diego County?

Martino: My best guess is that lifeguards were hired by the
local private bath houses somewhere around the early 1900s. Those
private businesses eventually petitioned San Diego City Council for
funds to support lifesaving operations, and then those private/public
relationships morphed into the government-sponsored services. The first
San Diego City Guards were policemen with aquatic skills.

Dedina: Emil Sigler was a legendary City of San Diego
Lifeguard. Who was he and why was so such a seminal figure in the
development of lifeguarding in San Diego?

Martino: I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Emil when I researched my book Lifeguards of San Diego County.
He worked as a seasonal lifeguard and commercial fisherman. Eventually,
he left lifeguarding to fish full-time. Emil was the consummate
waterman. He surfed, dove, fished and dedicated his life to the ocean.
He lived more than 100 years and lived the type of waterman’s life most
of us can only aspire to.

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Dempsey Holder fixing an old LIfeguard truck in Imperial Beach as John Elwell looks on. Photo: Courtesy John Elwell

Dedina: Why and when did you become a professional lifeguard?

Martino: I became a seasonal lifeguard in 1986, and I did it
because my best friend had been a state lifeguard and encouraged me to
join. Early on, I did it to earn money for college, and then eventually
pursued it as a career.

Dedina: Why do we need lifeguards to safeguard our beaches and water bodies?

Lifeguard jumping into action in Ocean City, M...

Lifeguard jumping into action in Ocean City, Maryland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martino: Beach lifeguards—the people you see in the towers—are
the first line of defense against drowning. Good lifeguards intimately
know the stretches of beach and bodies of water they are assigned to
protect. They provide your family with valuable information and safety
advice, and then when things go bad, they come out and rescue you.

Dedina: Today, there are lifeguard agencies charged with
patrolling beaches from Oceanside to the Mexican border. What type of
physical skills and ocean knowledge does it take to become a lifeguard
and remain a professional lifeguard?

Lifeguard Tower in Ocean Beach, California

Lifeguard Tower in Ocean Beach, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martino: Lifeguards have to be comfortable in their own mind.
Your stimulus has to be internal, not external; 95 percent of the time,
we’re just watching. When the time comes to perform, a lifeguard has to
be physically fit and calm under pressure. I tell my young staff all the
time, this is the closest job you can find to being a super hero.

Dedina: Are there estimates for the annual number of rescues
and assists carried out annually in San Diego County by lifeguard
agencies? What else to lifeguards do besides rescue swimmers in
distress?

English: View looking north-west across Moonli...

English: View looking north-west across Moonlight State Beach, Encinitas, California from behind the lifeguard station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martino: With all the agencies combined throughout the county,
10,000 rescues and assists is a good base number. Over that number and
it is a busy year. Under that number and it is a slower year. We also
reunite thousands of lost children with their parents, perform first
aid, patrol on rescue boats and perform cliff rescues. In the case where
I work, our permanent staff are state peace officers with full police
powers, so we make arrests too.

Dedina: What prompted the formation of the SDR Alert or San
Diego Regional Aquatic Lifesaving Emergency Response Task Force and what
is its purpose?

Martino: On August 25, 2003 a helicopter crashed off the shore
of Moonlight Beach. Lifeguards from throughout the county were used for
the search and recovery, and the logistics and resources needed far
exceeded what any one agency could provide. So after that event all the
lifeguard chiefs got together to form a group that pools our resources
and skills. At least once a year, all the agencies get together and
train for a mass casualty/rescue and recovery drill. Most recently, we
worked with the airport to train for a plane crashing in the water.

Southern Cal Junior Lifeguard Competition

Southern Cal Junior Lifeguard Competition

Dedina: What is it about lifeguarding that is so rewarding?

Martino: Lifeguarding is a career I have never regretted
choosing. There is always something to be done. Training to accomplish,
equipment to master, people to help. It’s a public service career I am
proud to be a part of.

Kristy Murphy’s Endless Summer

Two of my favorite people to hang at the beach and surf with are Kristy Murphy and Cat Slatinskly of Siren Surf Adventures. Both are super positive, smart, great surfers with great attitudes–and pioneers in women’s surfing and women-owned surf business. Here’s my interview with Kristy who was the 2005 Women’s World Longboard Champ. Cat grew up in my hometown of Imperial Beach.

Kristy Murphy, the 2005 Women’s World Longboard Champion talks about women’s professional surfing and running Siren Surf Adventures, an international surf, Stand Up Paddle (SUP) and yoga tour and retreat company.

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Serge Dedina: When and where did you start surfing?

Kristy Murphy: I started surfing in my hometown of Jupiter, FL in 1999, around my senior year in college. As a kid, I grew up bodyboarding, fishing and free diving with my family. My brother surfed all the time and I was always temped to try. My best friend’s dad was a big surfer in the 70s in Jupiter, and had just bought a new Donald Takayama Model T. We thought it was the coolest and would try to use it every chance we got! My first wave on a longboard I was up and riding.

Dedina: Were there any particular women surfer role models for you when you were into surfing.

Murphy: I loved watching Mary Bagalso (who is now a good friend and continues to inspire me), Julie Whitegon, Cori Schumacher, Ashley Lloyd, Kassia Meador, Julie Cox, Desiree Desoto and Frida Zamba. Thanks to guys like Joel Tudor, by the time I started getting really involved in surfing, the longboarding movement was happening and starting to regain popularity again. It was also right when women’s longboarding was staring to take off as well. I was always drawn to longboarding, ever since that first ride on a longboard, I knew I wanted to noseride.

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Me with Kristy and friends last year in Saladita (Kristy second from left).

Dedina: How did you get into competitive surfing?

Murphy: I first began locally in West Palm Beach, with the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA). I met another Jupiter local girl Jenni Flanigan, and we would go to all the local events together every weekend. It was a blast meeting people, surfing together and creating lasting friendships. After winning the ESA Championship Women’s longboard division in 2000, I decided I wanted to go out and give it a try on the West Coast. Jenni and I decided to take a trip together to California one summer and try to do some of the professional events out there.

Dedina: In 2005 you became the Women’s World Longboard Champion. Did winning the world championship create career opportunities for you?

Murphy: Obviously when you are competing at anything the goal is try to be number one. And after four days of surfing well and keeping it all together in 2005 I did it! It was awesome. I had dreamed of being a “pro” surfer and this was my breakthrough. I figured the sponsorships would come rolling in and I would be paid to surf.  It was funny; although longboarding became more and more popular, that did not mean more opportunities for the surfers. Actually just the opposite happened.

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Kristy cheering on a client in Mexico. Photo: Cat

No new sponsors came knocking on my door. However, with my new title in hand, I did not give up and went out looking for sponsors and ending up working out some relationships, most importantly Costa Del Mar sunglasses whom I still work with today. Also, my surfboard sponsor, Siren Surfboards, has always supported me since the beginning to today and Kialoa Paddles for stand up paddling.

I was bummed that I did not get the overwhelming sponsorship support I thought I would after winning the World [Championship]. I was inspired to go out and keep surfing by doing it on my own. I worked at surf camps between competitions and eventually, after enough experience, opened my own surf camp/tour business, Siren Surf Adventures. My championship title has been important to my business, as it has given me credibility in the surf world and with all our clients.

Dedina: What do you think of the new school of women pro surfers?

Murphy: They are so talented. The progress that has been made from only a few years ago is amazing. The women are surfing more progressively and beautifully at the same time. It is awesome to watch! I wish surfing would be more based on talent, when it has the tendency to be based on looks.

Dedina: You and Cat Slatinsky have a solid business with Siren Surf Adventures and what seems to be an “Endless Summer” lifestyle with women’s surfing, yoga and SUP retreats to Mexico, Costa Rica, Hawaii and the Caribbean. Who is attracted to your retreats?

Murphy: Mostly adventurous, fun, outdoorsy type ladies who are ready to try something new, plus gals who have been surfing a while, but cannot seem to get to the next level. They are all looking to experience surfing in an authentic, fun, safe atmosphere and meet new surf buddies. Our retreats are a unique VIP surf experience. Our group numbers are small (3-4 clients in each group) and Cat and I combined have over 20 years experience in surf coaching. We find that the ladies who come to our camp really want to learn or get better.

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Kristy helping a client in Mexico. Photo: Cat

Dedina: And what is a typical Siren Surf Adventures surf retreat like?

Murphy: Most days are like this: You wake up in a beautiful, relaxing, beachfront setting. We prepare coffee, teas, fruits and yogurt in the morning while excitedly chatting about the days surf session. We usually do land lessons and visualization before we paddle out, and by land lessons we don’t mean only working on the pop-up. We find it easier to work on turning methods on land before we enter the water. Then it is just surf, surf, and surf until we are hungry. Then into town for the best local flavors. In the afternoons we usually offer a yoga session, some flat water SUPing or napping and relaxing. It is a super mellow environment and we always want our guests to feel like it is their time to do what they want. Basically our daily retreat schedules have been molded from our personal experiences as professional surfers in surf travel. Surf, eat, sleep, stretch, and then surf some more!

Dedina: What is the key to getting more women in surfing and sustaining their interest in the sport?

Murphy: Programs like ours help to safely introduce women to the surf. Surfing can be so intimidating, especially when you go at it alone. To be able to experience it with people you trust and respect that you can learn heaps from as well, is priceless.

Dedina: One of the reasons I’ve been so impressed with your work is because it goes beyond surfing into community building and making sure your business has a positive impact on communities and the coastal environment. What are some of the ways you and Cat give back?

Murphy: One of the great pleasures that is a benefit of our constant travelling is having a chance to meet new people all over the world. We learn a lot from them and we try to teach them about what we know as well–and that’s surfing. We do a Dia de los Niños, in Mexico, where we teach all the kids in the area how to surf. Lourdes at La Saladita, helps us heaps with that day. We’ve also had a great partnership with WILDCOAST as well as other organizations like Azulita, The Humane Society, and Women for Whales. It’s not even something we think about doing. We enjoy it and do it for the love of our natural world.

Dedina: So what is next? Are there new retreat locations on the horizon?

Murphy: In the future, we are going to have a few special retreat trips, but for now we are enjoying the locations and adventures we have. We feel so blessed to be able to work doing something we truly love.

Kristy on the nose. Photo: Cat

Kristy on the nose. Photo: Cat

Sharing Waves and Stoke at the 6th Annual Rincon Invitational

The Wildcoast team.

The Wildcoast team.

“What a stoke and a privilege to share good waves at the cove at Rincon with only seven friends for an hour,” said Jeff Knox, a longtime Imperial Beach surfer and retired elementary schoolteacher.

Jeff was at Rincon to surf with the WILDCOAST team in what is arguably the world’s most unusual surfing “competition.”

This year more than 200 surfers representing 22 surfing organizations were blessed with two days of consistently fun waves and a great weekend of camaraderie and hospitality and the 6th Annual Rincon Invitational.

With my sons israel and Daniel.

With my sons israel and Daniel.

“We designed the event to recognize surfers for their public service efforts,” said event committee chair Glen Henning. “It is not about commerce or competitio. It is about community.”

According to Henning, “Each team had the famed point at Rincon to themselves for an hour. The Black Surfers Collective rode 143 waves. The Best Day Foundation had two or more surfers on over 70% of their weaves. The Barbara Surf Club logged an astounding 247 rides. The surfers from the Third World Surf Company had up to eight riders linking hands.”

Josh Hall of the Pacific Beach Surf Club directed his totally stoked team into the “Wave of the Day Award.”

“They had their entire 10 person team all riding on three different waves,” said Henning.

San Diego shaper Josh Hall.

San Diego shaper Josh Hall.

Probably no one is more stoked on sharing the wealth of the ocean than Josh, a surfboard shaper and student of legend and stokemaster Skip Frye. Hall, a longtime visitor to the surf coast of Spain invited a couple of Spanish friends to join the PB Surf Club team at Rincon.

Josh even let me borrow his 12′ single fin pintail which I managed to maneuver on a few of my early waves. But I couldn’t figure out how to ride far back enough on the tail to avoid wiping out. So I ran the board back to the beach, thanked Josh, and ended our session on my 6’0″ Stu Kenson “Pleasure Pig.”

Daniel with my Stu Kenson Pleasure Pig

Daniel with my Stu Kenson Pleasure Pig

I shared all of my waves with teammates. But my best ride was a long ride with my two sons Israel and Daniel. At one point Daniel hopped on Israel’s 5’10”.

The boys and I sharing a wave.

The boys and I sharing a wave.

When the boys are off to college in a few years I’ll think back fondly to that wave. For a surf dad sharing a wave with your kids is as good as it gets.

“There’s so much competition for waves these days, and amateur and pro contests are a constant presence,” said Henning. “So we think it is important to keep alive a version of surfing that’s all about sharing. And ironically, we end up getting really good waves, and a lot of them.

A baby elephant seal shares the stoke.

A baby elephant seal shares the stoke.

Thanks to Glen Henning for the invite and reporting.

Results 6th Annual Sharing the Stoke Rincon Invitational, March 16-17, 2013

Saturday

Total Waves

1. Sunset Cliffs Surfing Association, 2. Malibu Surfing Association, 3. Great Lakes Surf Crew

Total Shared Waves

1. Third World Surf Co., 2. Coast Law Group, 3. Surfrider Advisory Board

Sharing Surfers

1. Best Day Foundation, 2. Pacific Beach Surf Shop, 3. Huntington Beach Longboard Crew

Wave of the Day: Project Save Our Surf

Spirit of Surfing Award: Ventura Surf Club

Sunday

Total Waves

1. Black Surfers Collective, 2. Santa Barbara Seals Surf School, 3. Wildcoast

Total Shared Waves

1. Doheny Bob’s Surf Crew, 2. California Adaptive Surf Team, 3. Oceanside Longboard Surf Club

Sharing Surfers

1. Santa Barbara Surf Club, 2. San Diego Surf Ladies, 3. Surf Happens Surf Kids

Wave of the Day: Pacific Beach Surf Club

Spirit of Surfing Award: Childhood Enhancement Foundation

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Stu Kenson’s Passion for Making Surfboards

10225_101732346509928_6369969_nLongtime surfer Stu Kenson has always been one of San Diego’s most respected custom surfboard builders. The founder of Evening Glass, Stu has worked with Weber Surfboards, Rusty, and Joel Tudor and his own label Stu Kenson Surfboards.

Serge Dedina: When and where did you start surfing?

Stu Kenson: Doheny Beach, Orange County in 1970.

Dedina: How did you get started shaping?

Kenson: I did my first board during the summer of 1971.

I had an older mentor/friend that asked a few friends and myself if we wanted to make our own boards. I lived near Clark Foam, where at the time you could buy blanks direct from them. We could get a second quality blank for twelve dollars and a reject for less than that. Resin and cloth would run another twelve dollars or so. Shaped them with hand tools, surforms, and sandpaper. Made our own fins, which I had help on big time.

Sean Fowler with his SK quiver. Photo courtesy S. Fowler.

Sean Fowler with his SK quiver. Photo courtesy S. Fowler.

Dedina: Who inspired you when you started shaping and what shapers inspire you now?

Kenson: Making my own surfboard had a huge impact on me. The blanks at the time were very unrefined, bumpy and thick from end to end. It really took a great deal of talent to shape a good surfboard. I started doing ding repair at around 13 to 14 a years old and had access to many different boards. I would occasionally pick up broken and badly damaged boards for cheap. So pretty quickly I was able to try lots of different designs.

My surfboard collection grew from working in a surf shop. I spent just about every dollar I made on surfboards. Terry Martin was our in house shaper, and he could make anything you wanted, and I was able to try loads of different boards.

As far as who has influenced me, there are quite a few guys that made me some insane surfboards thru the years prior to my picking up the planer to build my own. Max McDonald, Jeff Mack, back in the day were really open to trying different things. We had a great time doing trippy boards that worked really well. Rusty Priesendorfer has been a huge influence. I probably learned more from him than anyone–incredible design knowledge, and great planer work.

When I decided to try and start shaping myself a few boards again in 1986 I had been getting boards from Dave Craig, which were some of the best boards I have ever had. I always sat in while he shaped my boards and told him I wanted to try and do a few. He hooked me up with a couple of templates and away I went.

Chris Russell on a SK longboard. Photo courtesy Jeff Wallis.

Chris Russell on a SK longboard. Photo courtesy Jeff Wallis.

Dedina: It seems like you were one of the early adopters of advanced materials such as carbon fiber. What types of material are you using for blanks and for glassing now?

Kenson: I had a team rider that wanted to try an epoxy style board so I shaped one for him and he loved it, so we started doing quite a few. At the same time Future Fins had come out with their Vector foil fins, which were made out of G10 fiberglass. They were very stiff with no flex, which was part of their design theory.

With these fins you were able to generate an extreme amount of drive and speed, which sometimes led to the surfboard breaking down due to the load that the fins put on the fin box and surfboard itself. At the time I was heavily involved with EPS/epoxy surfboards and looking into alternative glass/fabrics to build in additional performance into the boards we were building. We laid one up with carbon and it went unreal, in addition to it holding up really well. IB surfer Dave Parra had the first one.

The only problem with using advanced materials for surfboards is the cost. The fabrics we have used which included carbon and Kevlar are expensive, so they are not for every one. I am currently offering EPS/epoxy or Poly blank/ epoxy glassing, unless the customer prefers poly blank and Poly glassing.

The SK Pleasure Pig.

The SK Pleasure Pig.

Dedina: People rarely discuss the health aspects of shaping and glassing. Is that something you are worried about? Has the use of new less toxic or volatile materials reduced your health risk?

Kenson: As a kid I was always elbow deep in resin and solvents; not a good combination. I got much more serious about gloves and wearing a respirator when I got back into making surfboards in the early 80s. Years ago I participated in a study with a guy doing grad school research on dust produced from shaping surfboards. His findings were that it was not toxic as long as you took precautions, wore a mask and didn’t eat it.

Dedina: How has the evolution of social media allowed you to promote your business? Has it made it easier?

Kenson: I started with a web site, which went thru the process of constant design change, and it was fairly expensive to start with. It has progressed through blogs. Now I pretty much use Facebook to feature and promote my surfboards. It enables me to get new designs out as soon as I shape them.

Stu at work. Courtesy of Stu Kenson.

Stu at work. Courtesy of Stu Kenson.

Dedina: You always seem to be “pre-cutting edge” in what you are shaping—whether it was high-performance longboards,  SUPs, carbon fiber short boards, and now with the hybrid mini-Simmons and fishes.

How do you stay ahead of the game in order to anticipate what your clients want?

Kenson: I still get my time out in the water–when the powers that be don’t feel like destroying the beach–and have some of the best surfers–Sean Fowler, Chris Russell, Jason Ronis, Derek Dunfee, Mark Stone, Dave Parra and Bill Lerner–throughout San Diego riding my boards. I get bored riding the same old thing. I like to experiment with different materials and designs. I have a great crew of surfers and craftsmen that I work with, and we are constantly trying different things. Just trying to keep everything interesting.

Dedina: What are the shapes/designs surfers are into at the moment? And how do you test your designs and boards?

Kenson: The Pleasure Pig is one of my most popular small wave designs that I offer right now. I wanted to have a board that was easy to catch waves with, that had to be fast and very maneuverable. The board features a very wide template to accommodate quite a bit of volume, and a concave deck to keep the board very sensitive under feet.

Bottom design features a modified Bonzer concave in the tail, adding to the maneuverability and speed. I built the first one about four years ago and it went unreal in absolute junk, blown out summer surf, maybe knee high. A friend of mine saw me surf it and called it the “Pleasure Pig” and the name stuck.

Quads are also at the forefront right now. Many of the boards I make now have five fin boxes in them so you can tune your board better to the conditions. Quads are faster than tri fins, and sometimes that will make a huge difference

Sean Fowler test-driving a SK shape. Courtesy Sean Fowler.

Sean Fowler test-driving a SK shape. Courtesy Sean Fowler.

Dedina: Where do you think custom shaping is headed? 

Kenson: If you make good surfboards and believe in what you are doing, the possibilities are endless.

Dedina: With all the obstacles to making and selling custom surfboards, why do you continue?

Kenson: Some people worry about imported boards. That doesn’t concern me. I’m not building boards for that part of the market. I have always tried to be innovative with my surfboard designs. As long as I still enjoy what I do for a living, I won’t be ready for anything else just quite yet.

A custom SK paddleboard.

A custom SK paddleboard.

Why Marine Protected Areas Benefit Surfers

Cabrillo MPA in Point Loma, San Diego.

Any North County or southern Baja vet most likely has run into Garth Murphy intensely evaluating surf conditions from shore and gracefully riding the best waves of the season. A California icon who partnered with Mike Doyle and Rusty Miller in their infamous and pioneering Surf Research company, Garth is the author of the epic novel of California, The Indian Lover, and the son of noted fisheries biologist Garth I. Murphy, who was La Jolla’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography‘s first PhD, and a professor at the University of Hawaii.

Garth, who has lived, surfed and advocated for coastal and marine protection in Hawaii, Australia and Baja California, was a member of the California Department of Fish and Game‘s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI) Regional Stakeholder Group.

As a result of that effort a new network of marine protected areas (MPAs) was established in Southern California with reserves at Swami’s, Black’s-Scripps, South La Jolla, Cabrillo-Point Loma and the Tijuana River Mouth. These MPAs conserve key marine ecosystems such as kelp beds, reefs, sea grass beds – the ecological features that provide the foundation for some of our very best waves.

Serge Dedina: Why should surfers care about marine conservation and creating MPAs in Southern California?

Garth Murphy: Because we have 300 wave-rich surf spots to choose from and over a million Southern California surfers average 20 surfs a year – for 20 million yearly immersions in what usually happens to be our ocean’s most bio-diverse coastal marine habitats. The Marine Life Protection Act recognizes traditional surfing as a compatible recreational use of the ocean resource, permitted in protected areas except at mammal haul-outs, bird roosts and estuaries. A network of Marine Protected Areas, by protecting and conserving complete coastal ecosystems and habitat, enhances the biodiversity and abundance of marine life, enriching our experience, while minimizing and controlling potential habitat-destructive human activities, which directly affect us.

Looking toward the San Diego-Scripps MPA and Black’s Beach in La Jolla.

Dedina: Why is preserving marine ecosystems of Southern California so important for surfers?

Murphy: Southern California surfers and marine life share natural coastal ocean habitats of every important class: estuaries and river mouths, beaches and inter-tidal zones, surf grass and eel grass beds on composite reefs like Cardiff; rare cobble reefs like Trestles, Rincon and Malibu; rocky reefs like Windansea and Laguna; submarine canyons like Blacks, and sand bars at Newport and Pacific Beach; as well as man-made habitats like the Piers at Huntington and Imperial Beach, rock jetties like the Wedge and Hollywood by the Sea, and artificial reefs.

As a boon to surfers, thick coastal kelp forest canopies, which shelter the greatest biodiversity of coastal marine species, also protect us from the afternoon winds, refining ocean surface texture and grooming the swells to extend our surfing hours and the carrying capacity of affected surf spots. Habitat-based marine protected areas preserve everything within their boundaries, including our cherished surf spots.

Dedina: What about water quality? Would marine reserves help our efforts to keep beaches free from polluted runoff?

Murphy: Coastal ocean water quality is not just a function of land pollution runoff. Over-exploitation and depletion or collapse of important food web components causes imbalances that degrade marine ecosystems and make the ocean more vulnerable to disease outbreaks and opportunistic invasive species like stinging jellyfish, algae blooms and toxic red tides, diminishing water quality and habitat suitability for marine life and surfers.

On the contrary, robust, bio-diverse marine ecosystems with intact food webs are resilient, resisting and adapting to environmental change and pollution, maintaining water and habitat quality. Estuaries are marine life nurseries, fresh/salt water interfaces that empty into many of our finest surf spots. We absorb that same water through our eyes, ears, nose and mouths on duck-dives and wipeouts. Rebuilding and maintaining bio-diverse estuaries with a full range of marine life creates healthier nurseries, and encourages upstream compliance with pollution regulations. The result is better water quality for all of us.

Dedina: So in the end, how does preserving our marine heritage in Southern California benefit surfers?

Murphy: The California surfing style evolved in a unique marine environment of glassy peeling waves. Stylish surfing and our beach lifestyle have become an important part of California history and culture –and media focus – generating an endless wave of glossy-color surf magazines, surf videos and feature films. The success of the $7-plus billion surfing industry, centered in Southern California, depends on maintaining the high cultural value of the traditional California surfing experience: as exciting, invigorating exercise, as a get-away, as a sport, a meditation, a dance, a family get-together and photo opportunity –enhanced by a vibrantly alive and healthy ocean.

The ocean is Earth’s largest and most accessible enduring wilderness. Regular contact with wilderness is a human, and especially American, cultural value, manifested today in the ocean by the popularity of surfing. A full and abundant spectrum of marine species – from whales to hermit crabs to phytoplankton – is an integral part of our ocean-wilderness experience.

Marine Protected Areas enhance ecosystem awareness by exposing us to a broad diversity of marine life. They encourage monitoring of potential problems and upstream compliance with complementary air and water quality regulations. The positive water quality and life-giving effects of marine protected areas are a valuable gift to the surfers and marine species who share them.

Deep Design: Daniel Thomson on Surfboards, Physics and Simmons

Dan Thomson putting it on a rail. Photo courtesy of Tomo Surfboards.

Daniel Thomson of Tomo Surboards is a young and innovative surfer who is part of a core group of San Diego shapers pushing the edge of design and development to move surfing to the next level. He has been affiliated with Richard Kenvin’s Hydrodynamica project that is based on the influence and theories of San Diego’s legendary surfing innovator Bob Simmons.

Serge Dedina: Why did you starting shaping surfboards? And what is it about creating surfboards that you love?

Daniel Thomson: I was fortunate enough to grow up in a surfing family so I pretty much have been surfing since I can remember. My dad (Mark Thomson) is a respected shaper in Australia so ever since he made me my first board, I was involved in the shaping process. As I evolved as a surfer, my desire to shape more specialized equipment became apparent so I continued to follow my passion for exploring the connection between creative art specialized for performance surfing.

Dedina: Who are your shaping and surfing influences?

Thomson: My dad obviously. George Greenough was a family friend during my younger years so his work definitely made an imprint on me.  More recently the work of Bob Simmons uncovered by the research of Richard Kenvin has been inspiring. Also, I like to look outside of surfing for inspiration: modern aviation, quantum physics and the universe challenge the mind to think deeper for new ideas.

Carl Eckstrom and Daniel Thomson at the Hydronamica opening in San Diego earlier this year.

Dedina: How did you end up shaping and surfing in San Diego?

Thomson: After making a few trips out to San Diego from 2004-2010, I realized that the market for progressive designs was stronger in California. Also, I was ready for a change of pace in my life.

Dedina: Your boards have been associated with the hydrodynamic theory and movement espoused by Richard Kenvin that was directly influenced by the design of Bob Simmons? How did you interest in the legacy of Simmons and the partnership with Kenvin occur?

Thomson: Richard was visiting in Australia back in 2003 on one of his first Hydrodynamica missions. He was looking to connect with Dave Rastovich.

In hope that he would be able to film him riding some of the keel fin fish boards he had brought over, Richard tracked down my dad as a support filmer and naturally my dad suggested to Richard that ‘I give these fishes a go.’

A few sessions later, we had some awesome footage of Rasta and me riding these boards. After that I kept in close contact with RK and continued my natural progression in refining the fish design.

Dedina: What are the types of surfboards you are shaping now and specifically what are the designs that you see working best in Southern California?

Thomson: Generally all my boards are fairly suited to California because of the straighter curves and wider tails. The boards that I am currently most excited about are my new Next Generation Modern Planing Hulls (MPH).

They are basically 21st century adaptations of the original Bob Simmons plaining hulls mixed with wakeboards technology. They seem to be very functional designs with a whole bunch of potential to be seen as an apex high performance design in the future.

One of Dan’s Simmon’s inspired planing hulls.

Dedina: Explain what the hydrodynamic principle means for surfboard design and surfing in general?

Thomson: Broadly speaking, you can apply some sort of hydrodynamic principle to any surfboard. More specially describing a hydrodynamic planning hull is a board designed to minimize drag through several different streamlining methods including utilizing a parallel rail line from nose to tail with a wider nose tail profile and straight-line fin placements

Dedina: What materials are you working with right now?

Thomson: I have always been a firm believer in epoxy resin for its strength, durabilty and flex memory. I am currently working with XTR (closed cell styrofoam) Epoxy and several applications of vacuum bag carbon fiber.

Dedina: You are shaping boards for WQS surfer Stu Kennedy. How did that relationship come about and how do you work with him in terms of giving and receiving feedback?

Stu Kennedy with his Tomo quiver. Photo courtesy Tomo Surfboards.

Thomson: Stu has been a close friend from my hometown of Lennox Head so I have shaped for him quite a bit in the past. When I was home visiting in March, I showed Stu some of the latest boards. He was pretty blown away on how they surfed, and he has barely set foot on a regular short board since he tried one.

Since I shaped him a new quiver of the MPH’s he has been dedicated to riding them in high-level completion as he feels he can achieve his best performances on these boards. He recently placed 9th in the 6 star WQS in England and a 17th in the U.S Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.

Dedina: Are most pro surfers too conservative with the boards they are riding?

Thomson: Most definitely. The cutthroat nature of competition doesn’t nurture experimentation. Most elite surfers have grown up there whole lives riding one style of design and is not confident riding something unorthodox. Most are jaded to the fact that there could be a left field design out there capable of performing better, so they tend not to have faith in something new. Things are changing though.

Dedina: There’s a photo with Kelly Slater and you when you were a grom and more recently Kelly commented on the boards you shape for Kennedy. How has Kelly’s surfing and his own departure from pro surfing surfboard orthodoxy influenced your own career as a shaper and a surfer?

Thomson: I have always been experimental in nature with my equipment so I haven’t so much been following Kelly design wise. However his surfing is what inspires me most to figure out ways to improve my design to allow me to surf at higher levels.

Dedina: Where do you see yourself going with your shaping career? Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Thomson: I would obviously like to be successful. I am more of a surfer/designer than a ‘shaper’ so hopefully I will be surfing more and not be a slave to the shaping room. I have always done it for the love of surfing and a healthy creative outlet. So as long as I am doing that, I will be happy.

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