A California Opus

Napa Orange Gold
Napa Orange Gold

Chapter 5 in the California Series.

I have not always lived in California. My Dad was going to college on the GI Bill in Milwaukee Wisconsin, at Marquette University. I had never asked him why, being from Hawaii, he chose the Mid West. He met my Mother there. That was where my two Brothers and I were born.

We were sick a lot as infants. The family pediatrician had told my parents that our Hawaiian genetics may have been to blame, as we did not tolerate the cold of  hard, Midwestern Winter very well. In fact, I ended up in the hospital. I remember the experience vividly. It was a bleak time of laying in an oxygen tent in a ward, and staring out a third floor hospital window, looking at the City, watching.

Eventually, the family moved to California where my Father explored his career as an Engineer. My parents bought a home in Whittier California.  The design of the first computer, as well as launch of the Space program, became a regular part of our household, via my Dad’s work.

In some ways, we were healthier in the warmer climate of California. However, a problem arose. I developed allergies. Those caused a lack of energy, and attendant respiratory problems. I began getting injections twice a month (one in each arm), which helped alleviate the symptoms. I still get a phantom muscle ache, when I think about those shots.

I recall days where one could not see the nearby foothills, which created the basin in which Whittier is located, such was the density of the smog prevalent in California in the 1960’s. It had been around this time that the massive citrus groves disappeared from the area, being replaced by housing tracts and strip malls. Part of a methodical, concreting over of the Los Angeles area.

I was already a swimmer at this point, having learned to bodysurf, ride foamies, and inflatable mats, at the beaches in and around Newport, Huntington, Palos Verdes and South Bay. I swam for a local AAU team. But those allergies were a persistent problem. The only time I had true respite, was when we were at the beach.

Due to my diminutive size, and sort of sickly nature, my parents decided that I needed to wait to get a surfboard. By this point, it had been a topic of discussion for a couple years. But my water activities, which included fishing and diving, kept me pretty busy.

I craved those idyllic long days at the beach. I have fond memories of ten hour days in the water,  a piece of chicken, or a few rice balls, snatched on the run, from the picnic lunch my Mom would have made, very early that morning, as she loaded up the white 1955 Chevy wagon, for the long (to me) drive to the beach. I had fallen for California.


I remember my Dad having gone up to Santa Barbara a couple times, driving his 1966 white, Ford Falcon, off and up, to what I was convinced to be, a foreign land.

Shortly after that, my parents announced the move. They had sold our house, and as a moving company arrived, my brothers, three sisters and I, piled into the Chevy for the ride up coast. I had put myself in the back as I recall, so I could watch what passed away behind us.

We arrived in Santa Barbara late in the day, and found ourselves at the old Californian Hotel on Lower State street, which is just a scant block off the waterfront. I remember peering out into the black of night and seeing the lights of the pier, hearing the sounds of the Harbor, smelling the sea air, and imagining what it really was that remained hidden in the night.

The next day, I got to meet the beach! Excitedly I ran across the sand, and looked around. “What is all this stuff?” My first encounter with kelp. At the age of 10, I had never seen seaweed, as the beaches in and around LA were devoid of it. Icky. I was instantly not a fan of Santa Barbara.

In a few days we found ourselves in a new tract home out in Goleta. My parents had decided on living in the newer subdivision rather than Santa Barbara.  The development had been plunked down in the middle of extensive fields of coastal chapparal. It was close to General Motors, where my Dad would be working on various defense and space projects.

It was later the next year when my parents bought my brothers and I a surfboard at Disco Dept store, which was right next to GM, at the corner of Storke and Hollister Avenue. It was a 9’2″ classic longboard, which I suspect was a contract build by Velzy. It was labeled a “Ben-Ray” design, and was a clear glassed board with red pigment racing stripes and a beautiful wood laminate, glass beaded skeg. The board must have weighed 25-30 pounds. I was about 4′ 8″ and 7o pounds. It is easy to see where that was going. Makes me smile, now in hindsight, the vision of a little brown kid wobbling to the water with his shiny plastic behemoth.

A couple weeks later, on a family camping trip, I got my first real time on the board. I learned to surf at Refugio Pt. on the Gaviota Coast. We stayed for a week. My brothers and I made a deal of sorts. We each would take turns on the board till we fell, then hand it over to the next sibling to use.

Refugio State Beach
Refugio State Beach

After a few days, my two brothers got tired of waiting for me to fall. The Ben-Ray became mine. It proved to be a vehicle to all manner of adventure. An interesting thing became apparent at that time. I no longer suffered from allergies. We had not gotten a new physician yet, so I had been getting no injections. The cleaner air, the proximity to the water: my parents suspected I was cured. I began to be healthy for the first time in my life.

Life in Goleta, blossomed in a way I could never have imagined. Over the years, my surfing centric existence was augmented by keeping all manner of pets. We had dogs, cats, a raccoon, guinea pigs, rabbits, ducks, chickens, chipmunks, a squirrel. My brothers and I became falconers and shared a license. All manner of birds of prey passed in and out of the household. I learned to listen, and relate to animals. To care for them. To nurture and have respect for a different animal than man.

We hunted, fished,  and shared a 13 foot sloop which, after I had read Royce’s sailing manual from cover to cover several times, used to ply the waters of Goleta, the Gaviota Coast and SB Channel.

My sisters had gotten a horse, a big Morgan- Arabian named Blaze, which we kept at the stable out at Deveroux. So we learned about that as well. I became an athlete. The world seemed  infinitely abundant with potential, as California’s climate, waters and land where we lived, still had a lot of open space, and relatively few people.

Gaviota Coast Today
Gaviota Coast Today

At 13 I built my first surfboard.  I also, then stripped the glass off of my beautiful Ben Ray, and used the blank to build my Dad a board, a bright red, single fin 7’8″, with which he could come and hang out in the water with me. My Dad had not been surfing much. That board got him back in the water.

As life passed, I found myself working as a Professional Surfer and doing various things within the Surf Industry. I went from an apprenticeship at Progressive Surfboards in Goleta, to working for Channel Islands, then Spindrift, all the while, traveling and developing my skills as a surfer, waterman, craftsman and businessperson. I was involved in the start ups of a large number of companies, all of which encouraged creativity, innovation and a lot of water time.

I had been racing cars, and bikes and had affinity for speed.  Most of this California based experience would eventually cede to the next in a long line of experiences, that in time, would define my life and understanding.

I had gotten married in the course of all of this. Remember the day quite well. A bright blue Fall one, and a bunch of friends gathered at Manning Park in Montecito. My young wife and I had honeymooned in Santa Cruz. For the first, and possibly only time ever, I had made a point of leaving my surfboard at home (my idea). Ronnie (my wife) could not believe it. But I had insisted. Sort of funny to me now, in hindsight.

It was in this period, after a lot of international travel, and representing  my Town, State and Country, in multiple sports and businesses, that I really began to understand the value of California and the lifestyle we have here, how special it is. I had taken to calling my stretch of coastline “The Golden Coast”

Golden Coast
Golden Coast

As time went by, I transitioned heavily, leaving the surf industry (after building around 40k surfboards), my marriage, my retail and manufacturing companies. I raised my sons, became a Photographer, Cinematographer, and active Creative, and realized that what I was capturing on film, was exemplary and special. It offered a glimpse into Nature, Health and a Lifestyle, that could metamorphose a person and connect them to God.

Golden Life
Golden Life

That was my first cognitive determination about what the California Lifestyle really was. Not many people who are from this place, and make their living in and around Nature daily, escape this: the recognition of the value of California.

Natural High
Natural High

In edition to a vast editorial scope, my work began to be used in branding companies and publications. I remember the day Sean Douglas rang me, and introduced himself. Sean worked doing brand development and marketing for Hobie, whose name was used in the marketing of a large number of products. My only question to him was this. “What do you guys want me to do?” Sean’s answer?  “Just do what you do. We want you to come along.”

What made me jump and sort of shift gears, was Hobie Alter. I had realized that many of the classic Californian Watermen  framed the culture which exists in California today. Hobie was an archetype. It was a great honor, and I knew it would be a LOT of fun. I was in!

California and Ocean Culture is all about living. Work is in our process, something we passionately embrace, and typically it involves sharing our culture.  Surfing being at the core of this, and the Polynesian tenet of aloha being a hard embed, well, you can see how it all functions.

Here is a branding video for Hobie, which I was able to contribute to. It says a lot about California. (The password is SDA)

California is the ground zero for the melding of traditional American Culture, and all of it’s attendant historic European roots, with the best aspects of the Hawaiian and Polynesian, nature centric, water related existence. I cherish it, as the marriage is not only unique, but life giving.

Today my sons are grown. I live in Ventura California, which is a sort of sprawling, yet podunk town, that somehow has managed to hang on to a lot of the tenets of Old California. It still has citrus groves. The Agricultural Community and some of the original families, still own their land, and those people are the rugged and warm individualists their forefathers were.

My girlfriend, Donna Von Hoesslin, moved back here to California after living in Europe for most of her life. She fronts Betty Belts-Betty B, a dual company concept which is Ocean themed and promotes Socially and Environmentally sustainable products and lifestyles and is actively involved in promoting international trade, and female empowerment through her brand and life. I do her branding. We are in this all together, the lot of us. You will see her “girls” everywhere. They are quintessential Californian women. Multiple companies as well as Donna’s, are assembled around these women, some of whom I have been working with for my entire career in Film.

Donna and I, Pigeon Point
Donna and I, Pigeon Point

I spend around, I dunno, it varies I guess, but I would estimate, between 150-200 days a year in, on or near the water in some capacity. It is an integral part of my existence. Last January-February saw a record of sorts for me I think. I swam approximately 12o miles while shooting my coast over a period of 38 days.

I also, partially at the behest of Robb Havassy, got to sit down and talk story with a plethora of my friends and fellow Californian watermen and creatives. Rennie Yater, Bruce Brown, Andy Neuman, Rick Sharp, Rym Partridge, Wade Koniakowsky, Thom Hill, Ron Croci, Glenn Gravett and more.  What that did, was underscore how California ought to be preserved. It is under the attack of change right now, and at a crossroads. I think the only salvation, is for the ones who understand it, to be heard.

Robb is all about that. Recently I got to work alongside him and a team of very creative people, in building three new companies. The image samples for each are below. They exude the scent, sound, flavor and texture of a life well lived. I am excited for Robb and all of the people involved. It is concepts like these, that are the way forward for California.





This week another pet project of mine launches. California Boost.  The principle of the company had contacted me regarding Hailey and Sierra Partridge, two of the young women who had come aboard our little ship of State through Betty Belts, and been cast, and in turn implemented, as Brand Ambassadors for Hobie. The first females to be in that position since Joyce Hoffman in the 60’s.

The new company is called California Boost. It is based on an energy gum and mints product, which is launching in Europe and China right now. California Boost was looking for a brand identity which would exemplify all that the State is, and has to offer.

Part of the project, allowed me free rein to build a branding video. Using footage from my motion stock library of some of the things I love about California. I built “California Rush”, which serves to illustrate to the world what we are about, as well as introduce the Partridge Twins as brand ambassadors for the new company.

California Rush is right here, a lighthearted glimpse through the pages of a season in California.

We assembled the story based on a catchy, rough cut version of a song called “Love Me Tomorrow”, by Ventura Composer and Musician, Josh Slavin, who is indicative of a pop culture music surge amongst young artists.

Sierra Partridge, for Hobie Girl
Sierra Partridge, for Hobie Girl

The air is a lot cleaner today than when I was a child, the ocean is healthier as well, on several levels. I think that as a Culture, we know how to care for our Environment reasonably well, or at the least, better than we have in the past. I see burgeoning examples every day, which run in distinct contrast to other parts of the Nation and World.

At this point in this beautiful State’s History, it would be prudent to take a cold hard look at what works, and what doesn’t.  We ought to make the necessary adjustments based on our Historic record, and move forward, as an intelligent and vital force that can shore up our ailing Nation.

It really is true that saying: “As California goes, so goes the Nation”. So lets do the right thing, and take the wheel back. I would love to see this, and will be watching.

Though the gallery below is a teensy sampling of California, it is my Opus really. 500 plus images that are a brief glimpse through the tens of thousands of golden moments that exist in my files. I will be making more shortly. There really is no place quite like California that I have seen, or breathed. Grateful to live here. The Greeks refer to breath as pneuma. The Hawaiians: ha. So aloha today, from a Midwestern born Hawaiian, from the land called California.

Click on any of the images, to toggle through as a slide show.


9 Responses to A California Opus

  1. I just returned from a week in CA celebrating my family’s pioneer heritage and seeing dozens of cousins in Carpinteria. I drove down from Oregon and saw the I-5 corridor anew, but wasn’t really “home” until I saw the Pacific. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your history, and while I love your ocean images, I love the faces the best. So few of us can find our passion, work and calling all in the same thing. Your work makes me happy, and makes me long for home. I am sorry I missed you when I stopped in at Betty B. I got to say hello to Donna and see her beautiful sea glass art. Cheers to the fate of California; which is people like you who love her for her past, live in the present, and will help to shape her future. Blessings, V.

  2. A wonderful Chapter in your ongoing Memoir. With so many interests, all followed with equal zest and proficiency, no doubt it will continue for yet
    another half-century, much to all our benefits. Onward………..

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