I met Mike Shurely back in 2004 when my new friend Cliff Makaena first introduced me to the 26th street Ohana surf club. Everyone knows Mike as “The Mayor” and I was never really sure if he was the Mayor of the city, the surf club, the parking lot at the beach or everything. He had that knack for being so well tempered, well-spoken, a charmer and could just connect with anyone. He worked his butt off so he could retire early and have the opportunity to surf every day, and at the best tides. His life revolved around family and surfing.
Even when things got rough he continued to have a grateful outlook and was happy. Surfing makes room for happiness. It forces the surfer to focus on the present, every detail all at once and that leaves no room for land locked worries. The water washes off the bull shit, the nightmares, and the residue of worry. The water holds a space for you to be you. Mike knew this too and looked forward to paddling out and washing off any leftover negativity. Doing that consistently (as he did) seemed to always push more positivity, happiness and gratefulness into his life, by washing away stressors with each surf session.
At a certain point a surfer washers away enough bullshit that the internal balance can finally shift to happiness. Once that happens there is new room for gratefulness and a new opportunity to give back. Giving back means doing something for someone else without expecting anything in return. Giving back to the ocean, to the community, to friends, to strangers.
I once met up with Mike at Camp Pendleton Wounded Warrior Olympics trails were we added lifeguard support to the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation (JMMF). The JMMF is a team of supportive experts and volunteers that provide Surfing/ Water therapy to military personnel and their families. I’ve always wanted to support something like that but didn’t know where or how to begin. Mike told me how to get connected, but went even further and met me down that at the front gate that day so I could just followed him in. The he introduced me to everyone in his diplomatic surf fashion. Everyone was great, the day was sunny and warm (but not too hot or windy). I remember sitting way outside the surf break with a soldier and he was just smiling. He said that he doesn’t get to surf very often but when he does it feels like he is really home. I could tell he had a moment of peace right then. That all the weight was off his shoulders and there was still space for happiness to return to him.
Let me attempt to explain some surfing philosophy as not everyone knows this stuff (not everyone surfs). The highest achievement any surfer can ever attain is an attitude of happiness and gratitude in and out of the water. This comes (* in part) from doing the things that are not easy, like waking up early when you had the choice to sleep in, paddling out in the winter when the water feels like ice water and putting time into things that you are not yet good at. Even catching waves in Manhattan Beach (the Southbay) is very challenging. Some of the fastest waves in the world break on our beaches and learning to ride them is extremely difficult. If you can ride these waves you can pretty much surf anywhere in the world (generally speaking). There are many potential obstacles just as there are many potential benefits.
Surfing is filled with opportunities for happiness, when you show up! And just so you know, Mike showed up consistently! He usually got prime parking where he didn’t have to worry about paying the parking meter in the parking lot at 26th St after 8 am. Often you could find him and few others at Larry’s bench checking out the spots between the 26th St tower and the “Drain.” Catching up, sipping coffee, laughing, getting each other a little more pumped to paddle out before it got crowded.
There are all sorts of surfers. Some paddle out and just sit there (for hours) and nothing really seems to change. Others seems to be moving along with currents, matching the rhythms of the ocean with a dream like playfulness. Mike was always hungry for surf and it showed in his smile and his gratitude. He would always make time to talk (well maybe you’d have to wait till he paddled back out after catching another good wave). I’d spot him out there and paddle over to him to catch up on things (plus he was always in a good spot for peaky waves). “Morning Mike, how you doing?” I’d ask. And he would always the same thing with that kid like smile, “I’m just a man trying to catch a few waves. How about you?”
I’d say the same thing back, “I’m just a man trying to catch a few waves.” Maybe it was just something he and I would say to each other, but it always made us both laugh (it still makes me laugh). I feel like that was part of his philosophy about surfing; Show up consistently, add more happiness with every opportunity, and give back when you can. All of that added to Mike’s attitude of happiness and gratitude in and out of the water.
Since the beaches were closed at the time I had a paddle out in my backyard to get wet and honor my buddy and mentor Mike Shurely...