Sandy Pages: Soul Surfer Johnny

Soul Surfer Johnny
by Bill Missett

“He rolled over onto his back as he took off under the lip, and instead of going over the falls, he gracefully slid diagonally down the barreling face of a six-footer. It was instantly glorious…” Johnny had successfully bodysurfed his first wave at “Puerto Tranquilo” and he was thrilled.

“Soul Surfer Johnny” by Bill Missett is the tale of a troubled kid from the streets of Boston, relocated to Hermosa Beach with his mother. A high school senior named Ron befriends Johnny and shows him how to bodyboard. He is soon initiated into a prankster gang of local surfers called the Tyronys. One of the Tyronys named Smokesurf, shows Johnny the ways of bodysurfing and he is instantly hooked. Ron also introduces Johnny to meditation and his life starts to turn around for the better.

Johnny saves up enough money to join the Tyronys on their summer surf trip to the famed beachbreaks of “Puerto Tranquilo” Mexico. They spend a month in Mexico bodysurfing, partying and experiencing many unique characters including Señora Maria, the owner of their daily breakfast cafe, Marcos, one of multiple town drunks with a tragic past, Beach Girl, a catatonic girl whose husband drowned while surfing on their honeymoon 2 years before, Glue Boy, who ran through town everyday looking in dumpsters, numerous stray dogs and a hammerhead shark named Bruno that controlled the lineup at the Point.

Ron and Johnny begin joining a regular meditation group on the beach. There they are given books to help them achieve new levels of spiritual awakening. The Tyronys complete their successful mission to Mexico and prepare to return home to Southern California. The night before departing, Ron and Johnny’s cabana is broken into and most of their belongings are stolen. Without identification, they struggle to make their way back to the US-Mexico border and rejoice when they finally make it home.

Here, the book takes a sharp turn.  Johnny’s devout-Catholic mother finds the spirituality book and reads it. She recognized the positive changes to Johnny and she felt immediately connected to these new ideas.  She begins to question her faith and goes to question a local priest.  Her new mindfulness brought back a very dark memory from her past. She recognized the priest as the man who raped her 17 years before. That man is also Johnny’s father.

Soul Surfer Johnny is an interesting semi-autobiographical, coming of age, adventure story. Although, there are numerous timeline issues. At one point we’re in the “Gidget” era (1960’s) then we have Foo and Bradshaw (1990’s) showing up to charge giant Puerto Tranquilo. The waveriding is well-written and obviously from the pen of an experienced bodysurfer.


In memory of Bill Missett (1939-2016)
Bill was born in New York, grew up in Virginia, did a stint in the Navy then began a long career as a newspaperman. In 1968, he settled in Oceanside, CA and began publishing the Oceanside Blade-Tribune with his brother Tom. The Blade-Tribune became known for its unrelenting drive to make Oceanside a better place.  Bill helped organize the inaugural World Bodysurfing Championships at the Oceanside Pier.  He then moved to Puerto Escondido to bodysurf, write and explore spirituality. 

WBC Weekend

Oceanside Pier- Saturday Aug. 20th 6am:
Local buoys read 6ft. at 16 seconds from the SSW.  The beach on both sides of the Pier quickly filled with tents and bodysurf fins as an international contingent prepared to kickoff the 40th Annual World Bodysurfing Championships.

Photo: Philip Kitamura
Photo: Philip Kitamura
Spencer Ford doing a Pier lap in the current.
Spencer Ford doing a Pier lap in the current.

Competitors ranged from 12 to 75 years old and from California, New York, Hawaii, Brazil, Australia, France and Britain. They discussed strategies and the inevitable, dreaded current. Solid south swells tend to create strong longshore currents at open beachbreaks like Oceanside. The contest weekend certainly had plenty. Competitors on the south side started their heats  200-400 yards down the beach, expecting the strong drift. Some heats saw numerous competitors wash through the Pier. But the surf remained good to very good throughout the entire weekend.

Mike and Mark: elite level bodysurfing.
Mike and Mark: elite level bodysurfing.

With Team Kaha Nalu Hawaii making the trip, the unexpected appearance of Mike Stewart, first time contestants from around the world and California’s best…the overall level of bodysurfing was extraordinarily high at the 2016 WBC.

On Saturday night, Swell Lines hosted an event at the nearby Spring Hill Marriott. Tim Burnham screened his fantastic documentary “Dirty Old Wedge” to the delight of the crowd. They laughed, gasped, cried and sat on the edge of their seats. We also planned to honor Viper Surf Fin inventor, Fred Simpson, for his contributions to bodysurfing and the World Bodysurfing Contest.

Dirty Old Wedge enthralled the crowd.
Dirty Old Wedge enthralled the crowd.

After the movie, we called a panel of seminal bodysurf figures to the front for a question and answer session. Including Fred Simpson, Mark Cunningham, Mike Stewart, Tim Burnham, JT Nickelson, and Teddy Bandaruk. For us here at Swell Lines Inc, the opportunity to bring Fred, Mark, Mike and an international crew of bodysurfers together to celebrate bodysurfing and the Ocean was a dream come true. 

The panel.
The panel.

Somebody asked Mark about bodysurfing Teahupoo. “Eh there’s just too much water moving for it to be a great bodysurfing wave.” Mike sharply interrupted, “It’s a perfect bodysurf wave. So much potential.” We all see the Ocean a but different, but certainly Mike’s perspective is especially unique.

Wedge Crew, Frenchmen and Fred.
Wedge Crew, Frenchmen and Fred.

Next, Scott Hubbell honored Fred for his years of dedication to the WBC with a beautiful ceramic bowl lined with breaking waves. Tim Burnham gave Fred a one of kind, gold plated Viper Fin plaque. Then an older gentleman rushed to the stage, took the microphone in an impromptu moment of honor. He introduced himself as a friend and former coworker of Fred’s at Xerox. He told the story of Fred’s revolutionary Wedge bodysurfing style. Apparently, in the late 60’s, Fred was rushing through the Xerox offices, slipped on the floor, his necktie then caught in a filing cabinet, one of his hands reached out to break his fall and his other hand formed the now classic chicken wing from his hip. “The Fred” was born.

The conditions Sunday morning.
The conditions Sunday morning.
Men’s Grand Final

 Men’s Age Group Winners:
12-14 Alexander Makshanoff
15-17 Dylan Biggerstaff
18-24 Cole Margo
25-34  Alexander Vicente
35-44 Matt Solomon
45-54 Mike Stewart
55-64 Mark Cunningham
65+ Jim Isaac

Women's Grand Final
Women’s Grand Final

Women’s Age Group Winners:
12-17 Lauren Padilla
18-29 Makena Magro
30-44 Scotti Shafer
45+ Briguette Wiedemeyer

Mike Stewart and his son, Makena Magro and Fred Simpson.

Men’s Grand Champion
Mike Stewart
Women’s Grand Champion
Makena Magro
Team Champion (7th straight)
Pine Street

*Special thanks to Tim Cassinelli, Scott Hubbell and their crews for an excellent contest!

2015 WBC: Teams and Clubs

Team spirit is a big part of the WBC. Everyone enjoys representing their beach and swimming hard for the honor of their friends, family and community. The most hotly contested divisions at the World Bodysurfing Championships aren’t the 25-34s or the 55-64s. For the past 6 years, it is the Team Trophy. Since its inception in 2010 the Team Trophy has only been won by the Pine Street Bodysurfing Team from Carlsbad. In 2015, the Del Mar Bodysurfing Association made a serious run at the crown by recruiting internationally and signing up all the free agents that Vince could bribe with hats and t-shirts. But in the end, Pine Street had the two Grand Champions (James Fenney and Makena Magro) and their 6th Team Trophy.  

Here is the story of some teams and clubs as told by their members:

2014 World Bodysurfing Championships



A dark bump beyond the Pier brings hoots and yews from the Pier spectators. Bodysurfers look to their friends on the Pier. Riders and coaches use hand signals to alert an approaching set. An attempt at stealth…every extra stroke an advantage when getting to the peak before a competitor. Hand up with digits raised show how many bumps are out the back. Competitors dive and swim hard for the outside. Pick the right one, find the sweet spot, take off and style for the judges.


Oceanside Pier with judges and spectators.

Chest to head high waves rolled into the Oceanside Pier on the weekend of August 16th and 17th, providing excellent surf for the 38th Annual World Bodysurfing Championships. The Oceanside Buoy read 3.3ft. at 17 seconds from the SSW. The waves even exceeded most forecasts. With the tide rising through the morning, consistent sets provided ample scoring opportunities. The Southside was mysteriously better than the Northside.  The biggest sets never seemed to connect through the Pier. The northwest wind blew out the Northside while the Pier blocked some wind to keep the Southside clean. Rotating heat locations on Saturday gave everyone a chance on the Southside.

Mark Cunningham
Mark Cunningham

An air of healthy competition hung over the Pier. Competitors swam hard, teams cheered and judges did their best. Everyone discussed heat strategy. Sit inside and catch a bunch of small waves or wait for the sets outside? Can the judges see the lefts on the Northside? Is that little right still working next to the Pier? With swell in the water, swimming strength became vital in the drifting Oceanside lineup. According to Dr. Hal Handley, “It is very often a swimming endurance contest. The strongest AND most talented win.”

350 bodysurfers in 12 divisions (8 men’s and 4 women’s) began the competition with the first heats beginning at 6:30am. Competitors represented the whole of the California coast, Hawaii, Oregon and the East Coast.  International representation included Australia, Brazil and France. The youngest included 12 year olds while the 65+ age groups are always lively and respected.

Saturday’s competition ended with fatigued arms, sunburns and smiles. The usual Saturday night debauchery at the Doctor’s house was replaced this year with a true celebration. A celebration of the Ocean, of bodysurfing and it’s legendary characters.  The California Surf Museum in Oceanside hosted the Grand Opening Reception of an exhibit titled, “Bodysurfing…Pure, Simple and Fun!” Over the past year, Bill “Froggy” Schlidge and Dr. Hal Handly have collected and collaborated a wonderful history of bodysurfing. Stories, artifacts, images and passion: it is all there. Lively fin discussions, wild wave tales and pure, simple stoke highlighted the evening.

Mark Cunningham, Hal Handley, Fred Simpson and Bill Schlidge
Mark Cunningham, Hal Handley, Fred Simpson and Bill Schlidge
2014 Men's Grand Championship
2014 Men’s Grand Championship

Sunday morning dawned with continuing swell and clean conditions.  All age group finals ran in consistent surf on the Southside. The crowd filled in on the beach and stood two deep on the Pier.  With all the finals featuring previous Grand Champions, multiple-time age group winners and legends, a very high level of bodysurfing was on display. Upside down, underwater takeoffs, smooth spinners and long barrel rides kept the judges busy and the crowd cheering.

Wolfpack                           Photo: Curtis Marker

Positivity surrounded the entire weekend. Many of the competitors have been competing here for 20+ years. Old friends talked story and new friends made introductions. The team competition adds an interesting dynamic. The Wolfpack is always up for a good time especially this year in their flesh-tone speedos that caused many spectator double-takes. The Del Mar Bodysurfing Club “Good Vibes” are exactly that. Chubascos was well represented from Huntington Beach and the young guns from the WOD Crew showed encouraging skill.

Grand Champions: Calla Allison and Brett Templeman Photo: Rod Hepburn
Grand Champions: Calla Allison and Brett Templeman       Photo: Rod Hepburn

When the salt spray finally settled, Calla Allison of Team Pine St. Carlsbad won her 5th Women’s Grand Championship and Brett Templeman of the South City Swells in Ventura took the Men’s Grand Championship. Both exhibited expert wave knowledge, stamina and style throughout the weekend. Congrats to them both! The highly coveted and hotly contested Team Trophy went to Pine St. They are the only name on the trophy, having won it each of the 5 years that it’s been awarded. Hal Handley and Bill Schlidge were awarded the Jack Thill Perpetual Bodysurfing Trophy for service to our beloved lifestyle. Obviously, well deserved!

Jack Thill Perpetual Bodysurfing Trophy: Bill Schlidge and Dr. Hal Handley Photo: Rod Hepburn
Jack Thill Perpetual Bodysurfing Trophy: Bill Schlidge and Dr. Hal Handley Photo: Rod Hepburn
Team Trophy winners: Pine St. from Carlsbad Photo: Rod Hepburn
Team Trophy winners: Pine St. from Carlsbad                      Photo: Rod Hepburn