It's zero dark thirty. My wife and I are awake, getting ready for a 6 AM flight into Orange County, CA. It hurts at first, but we know a vacation to my roots, where I grew up and where we both lived for many years was going to be worth it. Our plane leaves in the dark and then we see an unbelievable sunrise
from our seats which sets the tone for what was to come.
Excitement was high on our parts since my daughter had just got married and we both, especially my wife Sandy needed to decompress.
The majority of my family is in SoCal which was an added bonus to the brainchild of a close friend of mine, who came up with plans to get the 3 couples together for an annual fun and fellowship.
Bob Bardwell is credited for the notion to meet in different parts of the country for some good times with our wives. Bob and his wife Jode, Stewartville, MN and Brad and Wendy Parks of San Clemente, CA were the members of the team, assembled to begin the 'SoCal Sojourn'.
You see, Brad and I are instructors at Bob's Ironwood Christian Ranch Summer Camp. Every year in June, Bob, Jode, and their 4 daughters host the longest running National Wheelchair Sports Camp that attracts approximately 100 campers and family members.
Some background on my buds: Bob is an accomplished marathoner. He has completed over 100 over time. He has also built a dream inspired by the 'Spirit' in his Christian Ranch where he and Jode host events all year round. God is present in all he does at these events and the camps. It is gentle and not a Bible thumping situation. It is a sprawling ranch with all kinds of resources to provide activities i.e. zip lining over a river, fishing, an adaptive golf course, stables and horseback riding, tennis, bball and that just scratches the surface.
Brad and Wendy birthed the organization of wheelchair tennis. Brad being a Hall of Fame tennis player/organizer of the National Wheelchair Tennis Foundation was inducted in the USTA Hall of Fame (able- bodied tennis) and Wendy, his teammate did so much for the organization and the development of the sport. Brad has been one of my good friends for past 35 years. We have done so much together. We are both expert skiers and I had a hand in teaching him in his formative years on many trips and little did I know the best was yet to come where he would return the favor ?
The plan was the out of state couples would arrive on Thursday afternoon. Bob and Jode would stay with Brad and Wendy in San Clemente and San and I would stay with my mother in Costa Mesa. The very next morning Brad had organized an adaptive surfing experience at the local legendary spot of San Onofre called 'Old Mans' (how did they know lol) I was so psyched to try since my youth prior to my injury at 19 had been all about the ocean and beach life. Brad had his friends there with equipment, surfboard rickshaw for entry/exit, a beginner board for me, a tandem board for Bob,
paddles, and plenty of surf muscle to help.
The water temp was 70 degrees (warm for near November) outside temperature in the 80s and an offshore wind with waves peeling off 3 to 4 feet. Near perfect and top ten morning for what we were there to do. As soon as I put on my wet suit which I really did not need I was like a bee after honey. Brad left us as he had all his own equipment and the waves called him into the water.
I was next and as soon as I broke free from the rickshaw a real sense of mobility freedom hit me.
Now, 'Could I get passed the break water without getting pummeled and rocked?'was the question. No problem.
Our wives watched anxiously.
The board has a small cut out for a seat which is padded and a seat belt with a quick release strap. The only instruction I got from the locals was make sure you know where and how to pull that strap.
It only took me a few missed waves before I caught one made for me. I went left and a Cheshire cat smile was all over my face. I paddled back out to a bunch of atta boys and went after more. I could not get enough. I looked over and Bob was catching the most waves on the tandem with our buddy Steve, the guru of adaptive surfing. He was an old able bodied surf dawg and made boards for many of the disabled surfers in the area and shared his passion by getting newbies like Bob and I into the sport.
After a couple hours Brad looks over and asks, 'Are you ready to go in? I say. 'No'.
He laughed and we stayed another 30 minutes. Man you need to be in shape to paddle and balance on the board and I was but used new muscles which screamed in my upper back. The pain was so worth it. After we got out, Steve asked if I wanted to do it again.
"For sure!" I said.
We set our intentions for Wednesday.
Friday night, we got back together at one of my favorite cliff side restaurants in Laguna Beach, called Las Brisas. It was epic and we saw a great sunset before dinner.
On Saturday, we all met in Newport Beach, my stomping grounds and we pushed and walked from Newport pier to Balboa pier. We had lunch outside on the end of the Balboa pier. It was perfect on Saturday night. Brad and Wendy hosted a steak and lobster fest at their palace, overlooking Clemente and the ocean. OMG was it good and we competed in ping pong after dinner and I was undefeated.
Sorry, Brad and Bob. lol.
Such great fellowship for all of us. Brad and Wendy's home is beautiful with a view to die for. Below is the view from their deck and Sandy and I.
Sunday- A 'Do Nothing Day' except to watch football and stay wih family. My Panthers stayed undefeated against the Eagles. My family threw a shin dig at my mom's house that day. It was great to be with family, especially with my mother.
Monday- Sandy and I hooked up with my oldest neighborhood friend and his wife.
Kev and I go back to the 5th grade and we are best friends. We went to Huntington Beach and just hung out on the pier/boardwalk.
Tuesday- Sandy and I did the pier to pier again solo and at same spot at Ruby's on end of Balboa pier. Another top ten days. That night we got together with my high school friends (15 or so) at a Mexican dive for Taco Tuesday. My brother Tom and nephew Jason were there, also. We had our own room with the World Series on the TV's, while we ate great tacos and remembered the great days that form our youth. I am so blessed to have so many great friends and from the neighborhood and from high school.
Our last day... I choose to call it 'Big Wednesday'.
We are back to 'Old Mans' for one more surf extravaganza. This day there are clouds, high tide, much bigger surf and nerves to match. Sandy came with me. We picked up our buddy Babs, who just had shoulder surgery to come with us. I felt sorry for him lol ! I just had a shoulder surgery myself a year ago, which isn't a fond memory to remember.
Once in the water, I was a little scared. Sets were bigger and just getting out was a challenge. I made it out and said 'no' to the first of 5 big waves. I finally jump into on and get a great ride.
So excited and beaming again, I have to face the break water.
I have a wave break on me and I go for a washing machine ride. I am upside down and reach for my pull strap to come away from my board. I pull it, the velcro only comes ¾ the way loose and I let go to come to surface but it's still attached and now, I have a moment of panic and a gulp of saltwater in my mouth.
I finally am able to compose myself, find the strap and come free. My board gets away, not good in big waves. Lucky for me there is a lull in the waves I swim to my board and get back on and strapped in. Takes me about 15 minutes to catch my breath and strength back. I catch a few more waves and I
know it's time to go.
Alana Nichols, the Gold medalist snow skier turned 'Surfer Girl' shows up out of nowhere, but tide too high to get out. Alana or SG (Solid Gold or now Surfer Girl) is a fierce competitor and gifted athlete.
I coached Alana in London on the USA Women's National Wheelchair Basketball team and have become great friends. Great and intense focus from this warrior in all she does.
We all had breakfast and went our separate ways.
Another early morning flight out of Orange County and into Minneapolis only to miss our connection.
6 ½ hours later we head for home arrive at midnight and are beat beyond words. Everything has a price and we were happy to pay it after we had and incredible 'SoCal Sojourn.'
To me, almost anyone can surf, especially on tandem and with an experienced tandem surfer. My plan is to start a program here in North Carolina through my adaptive outdoor adventure chapter of Turning Point, an organization that my teammate ABC Medical has supported for years as well.
I am that hooked! It's no coincidence that ABC Medical's CEO is an avid surfer and that I blog for ABC. I hope to surf with Keith sooner than later (Hint Hint !!) I am grateful for all the good ABC Medical does for people in sports and recreation and allowing me to be a teammate on this path.
Let's Go Surfin Now !!!!