Jimmy and the Paddleboard

Jimmy and the Paddleboard

August 25, 2019 will mark the 41st year of the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Race. This historic 32-mile marathon, which starts at Catalina’s Isthmus cove and ends at the Manhattan Beach Pier, attracts paddlers from all over the world and is known as the ‘Grand-Daddy” of all paddleboard races.”

This teak paddleboard is what every finisher of the Catalina 32 mile paddle used to receive for finishing. The top five in each category got something a bit bigger.  Jimmy was in the top 5 a few times, but this is the one I could find.  He was 22, graduated from Cal, working as a lifeguard and teaching junior guards.  He was living in our house on Third Street for the summer, until the lifeguarding season was finished. Then, he would take off and travel the world.  It was so great to have both Jim and Jeff living with us. We loved the craziness and fun of having their friends from all over the world drop in and stay for days or weeks. It was a golden time for our family.

Jimmy trained hard for the paddle, but nothing like they do today. I remember he trained with Dickie O, Jay Russell, Doug Weems and a whole crew of others.  It seemed like a rite of passage for a waterman like Jimmy.  Our grizzled and great friend, Jim Walker, who had a 36-foot cabin cruiser called the SeaView, took Jimmy, Jim, Chris W and a few other crew members across to the Isthmus in Catalina.  The boat was supplied with scuba, food, Jack Daniels and other necessary supplies.  The SeaView was to be Jimmy’s escort boat and the crew would help keep him hydrated, fed and able to hear his music. Later, Jimmy was to live on Seaview Street in a tiny hole in the wall, owned by Walker. It was called “the cave,” but that’s for another story.

Every paddler had perseverance and grit: two of Jimmy’s strong points.  He always made things seem easy and fun, and this ordeal was no different.  With his earphones pounding his favorite music, and carefully measured liquids and snacks handed to him by Jim and his friends, he made the crossing in less than 6 hours.  I wish I had the exact time.  

While waiting on the beach, with a growing crowd of friends and supporters, I couldn’t help but to be a little anxious.  These were the days before most of us had cell phones and every now and then we would get an update on the ship to shore.  Those hours were long, as we watched the horizon for the lead boat to come in.  And then we counted the finishers, looking for Jim. 

I think it was a relatively calm crossing, with dolphins and an occasional huge tanker in the sea-lanes.  Jimmy’s slim size and paddle strength, honed from so many years of surfing and paddling with the lifeguards, always gave him an advantage in these competitions.  Although Jimmy loved to compete, he also really loved the fellowship of this elite group of athletes, who tested their bodies and souls during the crossing. It was not for financial gain but the satisfaction of working towards the goal of reaching the Manhattan Beach Pier, seeing their loved ones and finally sipping a cold beer. They challenged their physical endurance and paddling skills to be acknowledged as “true watermen and women”


I have a picture in my minds eye and I think it was memorialized in a Daily Breeze or Beach Reporter, of Jimmy coming out of the water, holding his giant board and hugging me at the same time, with the biggest smile on this face. Then, he was swamped with tons of other well-wishers, as a pink lai was placed around his neck and “atta boys” were exchanged by all.

He kept this teak surfboard in his room that year, and took it with him as he moved on to all his other homes around the South Bay.  He planned to be the family keeper of the memories, through his photos, mementos of sports and travel, paintings and writing. The day I gave him his first green journal, he said he would write about everything. And over the years, he did. And then, the journals were no more.

Today, this paddleboard is a “totem,” (an object symbolic or having spiritual significance or a symbolic representative of a cherished person or ideal) that is used at every Ocean Therapy session. It is passed to each person when they are sharing the topic of the day during the sharing circle. It’s a way of keeping Jimmy’s spirit alive and passing on his stoke and love of surfing and the ocean. Every person who touches the paddleboard is connected to a long line of watermen and women who persevered in attaining their goals.

Holding this totem brings everything back to me. We cherish every object that was dear to him.  Smooth, sleek, shiny, designed for speed but slightly delicate, yet strong! That’s what I feel when I hold this totem. Jimmy and the paddleboard.

It will be 15 years on August 7, that Jimmy took his life. For all of us who loved him, have learned about him and have honored his name through the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation, thank you. Please think of how he lived his life and not how he died. Jump in the waves, take a walk by the ocean with your loved ones, toss a fragrant plumeria or two, and look out for the dolphins that always dance at sunset.

“The surf will continue to roll in, kids will continue to learn to surf and old guys will continue to rule, but surfing will never again experience as pure a heart as Jimmy Miller.”

Red, White & Blue

Red, White & Blue

This has always been one of my favorite shots of Jimmy. It was a modeling shot and he is leaning against his red Pathfinder, looking naturally happy. I love his collared shirt, which was an anomaly, since he was almost always in t-shirts. There is a picture of our backyard at “524,” which has been sold to someone new. It’s not exactly the same, with concrete benches instead of wood, but it was a favorite spot of Jimmy’s. And finally, a collage of friendship, posted at a 50th birthday celebration.

It’s the little moments in time that come back to me. A certain smile, a remembrance of a giant hug. The expression on his face when he got this car. “The bros!” “524!”

The past month has been full of those moments. Thanks to the love and thoughtfulness of Kristen for inviting me to wander my old house and feel what happened in each room. I found myself letting go of the heavy mantle of sadness and loss, and giving way to the sheer joy of the life we lived there. I sat in the back yard, took a deep breath and wished the new owner a lifetime of memories and happiness. Jimmy often visited the home while Kristen and family lived there. He messed with the candles, lounged in his favorite corners of comfy couches, and sat at his desk in the closet and wrote in the hundreds of notebooks that were filled with his ideas, hopes and information about every wave he had ever surfed. I didn’t feel his spirit as I walked about the house, but that doesn’t mean he is gone. Who knows what the new owners will notice or if they will see sandy wet footprints in the backyard.

And thanks to Brent, in the month-long celebration of his 50th birthday, for including Jimmy at the parties. It seems impossible to think “the bros” are turning 50 this year. Every month brings another birthday celebration of this milestone. Hmm, how could this be possible, when they all came and serenaded me on my 50th? It’s another reminder that time slips by so quickly, and to cherish each moment and each friend. Jimmy’s group of friends (and Jeff’s too) continued sharing their lives as they got older, went to college, moved away, traveled, married, had children, changed jobs, and surfed in far off places. We are so grateful to be included in these lives and to watch a new generation of kids who are connected through the “bros.” Thanks to everyone who shared a “Jimmy” story with us at Brent’s. Each story keeps us connected to his memory and spirit.

And of course, there was the 4th of July celebration, which was always one of Jimmy’s favorites. From the parade years in Coronado, making home-made ice-cream and playing croquet in the back yard, to the Iron Man years at the beach. Not exactly a parents proud moment, but we always noted that Jimmy was usually first after the paddle part of that debacle, but lost it in the beer drinking contest. However, we know that the mantle has been passed, when in his 50th year, Chris did not compete! Sometimes change is good.

So many mid-summer memories that warm my heart as the sun finally makes an appearance. Even the big 7.1 brought back memories of the huge shaker in San Francisco when Jimmy was at Cal. The news kept showing a red Pathfinder, dangling on the bridge as it gave way and collapsed. How we waited for a phone call from Jimmy to say it wasn’t his!! It wasn’t, but as suspected, he had just returned from surfing via that bridge a few hours prior to that quake!

With a grateful heart and such precious memories, I want to thank everyone who helped this be a month of “Red, White, But Not SO Blue” for this mom! Here comes the sun!!!

Matthew McConaughey’s  just keep livin and the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation Team Up for a Day at the Beach

Matthew McConaughey’s just keep livin and the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation Team Up for a Day at the Beach


June 3, 2019 – press release

Manhattan Beach, CA–Actor, activist and surfer, Matthew McConaughey created the just keep livin Foundation, after his father passed away. The non-profit is dedicated to empowering high school students by providing them with the tools to lead active lives and make healthy choices. The Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation was formed after the sudden death of local waterman, lifeguard, writer and creator of Camp Surf, Jimmy Miller. JMMF provides Ocean Therapy as an adaptive surfing program to assist individuals coping with mental, emotional and physical illness by accessing the ocean environment. Together, they will host 90 just keep livin students at El Porto Beach for a day of fun in the sun and learning about the ocean environment.

This is the 3rd annual pairing of these two non-profits. More than 300 kids from inner city schools have experienced the joy of surfing and team-building, assisted by more than 150 JMMF beach volunteers, surf instructors, yoga instructors and Los Angeles County Lifeguards.

According to Leon Clayborne, Program Manager of just keep livin Foundation, “The smiles on the kids faces when they were catching waves and riding into the shore was priceless. The students totally embraced the moment and trusted the process all the way through. They are looking forward to surfing again this year!”

Partners for this event include: The Curry Girls, Grades of Green, Los Angeles County Lifeguards, Shelley Williams/Yoga Mittra, Providence Little Company of Mary Hospital Center, Camp Surf and Jersey Mikes.


Random Thoughts on Jimmy: June and Our Garage

When Jimmy started Pure Surfing Experience (PSE) in the summer of 1997, he had been preparing for a year. He spent part of the year learning to code, so he could offer classes online. That in itself was not expected of a “Spicoli-looking Surfer Dude.” He carefully created a website with colorful photos of kids surfing at his contests, he wrote a mission statement, personal bio and offered information about surfing in general. He shared where to go in Manhattan Beach for equipment, and which places offered the best discounts. He wanted to include his friends and mentors who had guided him from a sandy grom to a young man starting his own business. I think the key word here is “include.”

He called the local press and reached out to Charlie Saikley, the head of the Manhattan Beach Recreation Department and long-time sports coach and friend. By the second year of business, thanks to much hard work and professionalism, and at Saikley’s recommendation, Pure Surfing Experience became the “Official Surf School of Manhattan Beach,” and handled all the surf classes that the city offered. Local surf companies that sponsored Jim as a competitive surfer offered to sponsor PSE and include recommendations for PSE, and he was off to a great start.

And then there was the equipment! Tents and all sizes of surfboards, rashguards, and leashes, had to be purchased and stored. At the time, Jim was living in a bathroom-sized apartment on 43rd Street called the “Cave.” So of course, we offered a corner of our garage and that was the beginning of the June ritual of “equipment day!”

Every year in early June, Jimmy and his growing staff of groms: Mark G, Tommy O, Ryan P, Keith W, John K, Anthony, brother Jeff and so many more, would lug all the equipment out of our garage, and on to the driveway. Buckets, towels, boards, chairs, tents, coolers, and cases of unused water would be lined up and catalogued. They would hose everything down and the sand and grime would float down our hill, to return to the ocean. At some point, there would always be a huge water fight with Jimmy and our front windows getting the worst of it from his group of groms. He loved this day so much, because it would signal the start of summer and his chance to share his stoke and passion with a new generation of surfers. It was always really about the Pure Surfing Experience in his heart, even after he wisely bought the URL’s of Camp Surf, Camp Volley, Camp Yoga and Camp Skate. June was a month of new beginnings for Jim each year.

Just one more thought about inclusion. Throughout his life, Jimmy was an “includer.” A family trait perhaps, but he loved to be surrounded by friends and family. As he grew up, he included his surfer friends, college buddies and friends from his travels around the world. He started PSE to include as many others as possible in the charmed surf life that gave him so much joy. Through his work, he was able to include his colleagues from the surf industry who would benefit from being included as sponsors. It was always about sharing the stoke with others.

When he suffered his break-down, he pulled away from everyone and everything that had been included in his life. His world got smaller and he excluded those who be believed were out to harm him. The world of delusion does that to you. For us, in hindsight, the clues were there. We just were too blind or too shocked to realize what they meant in the greater scheme of things in the whirlwind of that last summer.

And finally, when we moved from 524, our garage looked so strange and empty without the scores of boards, tents and equipment that had lodged in one small corner and ended up taking up more than half of that cement garage space. The name on the equipment changed over the years, from Pure Surfing Experience to Camp Surf and then to the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation. I know this for sure: Jimmy’s spirit continued to touch every sandy tent, rashguard and board that was ever stored there. And today, some of those very items are included, somewhere in the JMMF storage space in El Segundo! Ahhh, June!


PS. June is also PTSD Awareness month. Please take a moment to read the information included in this newsletter. We work with Marines and Vets with PTSD and surfing has been shown to help symptoms of this terrible and debilitating syndrome. For those of us with PTSD, the moments of “pure surfing,” can change the course of a day. If you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, please reach out. Our Ocean Therapy sessions can make a huge difference in your life. You may not have any idea that the person sitting next to you in our “sharing circle” is suffering from PTSD, but I want to let you know that you are not alone.

What May Means To Me

May is Mental Health Month.

What May Means To Me…

Fifteen years ago, May became the meanest month. Jimmy was broken- hearted from his separation and looming divorce, he had torn his labrum and could not surf for one of the first prolonged times in his life. He was feeling a bit over-whelmed with the success of Camp Surf and the huge responsibility he felt towards his students, their parents and the City of Manhattan Beach, as Camp Surf was (and still is) the official Surf School of the city.

There had been many factors leading up to Jimmy’s break with reality on Memorial Day Friday. What we do know now is that Jimmy used his love of surfing and the physical action of being in the water and catching waves, as a form of personal therapy for most of his life. He followed his passion and was able to build a career centered around surfing, helping others, traveling and teaching kids. Those things remained constants in his life. As a world traveler, Jim taught hundreds of people to surf. From Africa to Ireland, and from Fiji to Tahiti, he brought his special brand of laid back and “pure surfing” to kids and adults all over the world. He was “living the dream” and it appeared to all of us that despite some personal and physical set-backs, his life was pretty golden. There was no known mental illness in our families, and Jimmy had never shown any indication of a serious mental illness or depression. He followed the beat of his own drummer, but that was just “Jimmy.”

On that Memorial Day Friday, Jimmy calmly told us that people had been spying on him and gone into his trash to get personal items. He firmly believed that he had broken laws and that his company was in jeopardy. He was worried about people “getting in” his computer and leaving him messages. This was definitely not the Jimmy we knew, and the intensity of his insistence of guilt for everything that touched him, frightened all of us and moved us into taking some type of action.

Living in a community like Manhattan Beach, one would think we would have resources to call when a loved one becomes delusional. We realized we only knew one person in the mental health field, and we immediately called her. As a working psychologist, she just happened to be her office on this holiday weekend. She counseled us to bring Jimmy in to speak with her immediately, and thus began our first experience with the odyssey of finding mental health help.

She did an assessment of Jimmy, speaking with him privately and then asking him if it would be OK if his parents came in to hear what she was thinking about next steps. As an adult, Jim had the right to refuse, but he quickly said he wanted us to be in the room with him. Her suggestion shocked us, but also gave us a glimpse into the world of the mentally ill.
It was suggested we get Jim to UCLA Medical Center, to be evaluated by their psychologists and psychiatrists, and make a plan. He was delusional and had a break with reality, and was in danger of harming himself.
We followed through with her advice and spent a long and ultimately frustrating day at the ER at UCLA. The final verdict after 10 hours in the ER, was to take Jimmy home, keep an eye on him, give him some medication, and find a psychiatrist as soon as possible. Not the easiest thing to do on a holiday weekend.

The reason I am sharing this story with you is that I want you to know that so many people are at risk for mental illness. And it happens in families just like yours. Even the most well adjusted “golden boy,” who seemingly had it all, was harboring fear and depression. From his initial trip to the ER on Memorial Day weekend to his death in August, we raced from expert to expert, Jimmy stayed in Cedars Sinai psychiatric ward under his own choice for two weeks, and started intensive out-patient therapy and medication that made him drowsy, gain weight, and ultimately, he discarded.

We firmly believe that if Jimmy had kept surfing and he continued to use the release of endorphins and the joy he had experienced almost every day of his life, that he would still be alive. We understood much later, that when people give up the things in life that have always given them the most joy, that they are in serious danger.

This is one of the many reasons we formed the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation. We knew we needed to help others experience the joy and release of surfing. And we wanted to give them a safe place to express their feelings about their experience. When Carly Rogers approached us a few months after Jimmy died, and shared her thesis for her concept of Ocean Therapy for at-risk kids, we knew that this was a way to help the mental health of everyone who could participate. And in the past fifteen years, we have helped thousands of people feel the joy and release that Jimmy felt every time he stepped in the ocean.

We celebrate JMMF and Jimmy’s legacy on Saturday, May 18 with our BeneFiesta. Benefit +Fiesta! The funds we raise will go to our continued efforts to enhance the mental health of every participant and volunteer that joins us. Our Ocean Therapy Program has grown from 4 sessions to more than 50 sessions a year. The need for alternative therapies like Ocean Therapy keeps growing, as we face new challenges of mass shootings and the devastation of the drug and opioid disasters. We have started on the road to help these new populations and need your help to keep sharing the live-saving grace of surfing and therapy. You can change the meanest month to the most meaningful month when you join us at the Benefiesta.

This Mental Health May, I hope all of you take time to take care of your own mental health, and reach out to those you believe may need help.
There are so many happy endings that are available to everyone. And in the meantime, we will just keep helping ourselves and others heal, one wave at a time.

With love,