Sail Away Into The Holidays

Sail Away Into The Holidays

Sail Away Into the Holidays

Some years it’s easy to say good-bye and sometimes it is breathtakingly horrible.  I think we all agree that 2020 was one for the books.  As we crawl towards the finish line, hoping to make it through with our health and sanity, I can truly say that the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation has found grace and support as we continued to reach out to the at-risk children, Marines, and Vets who have become part of our family.  We have not had many sandy toes and achy bodies from pushing our athletes into the waves, but we have been able to reach out on land through our virtual Ocean Therapy sessions.  In the fall, we returned to Camp Pendleton and added a great group of Vets from Warrior Foundation Freedom Station in San Diego.  We have stayed in touch with all of our agencies and they are all hoping to return to the beach with us, as soon as it is safe to do so.  I am so honored that our volunteers found new ways to help, by sending notes and letters to our military participants, and by cleaning their closets and donating wetsuits, boards and all things surf. When we get back to the beach, we will have new equipment, larger boards and wetsuits for all!

As I sit down to write this, I wonder how this year would have affected Jimmy.  Like most of us, he would have searched for surf and probably found an exotic place to stay.  But he would have returned home for the holidays, as he loved this season of family and giving.  Below is a little collage of our last holiday seasons.

We took a magical trip to Puerto Escondido that I shared with you in an earlier blog.  Jim truly adored that family vacation, and when he came home, decided he would pursue a new skill. He was teaching himself to paint and he began painting like a man possessed.  Whenever I would call, he would grab the phone and excitedly describe what he was working on. That last Christmas, I was told I couldn’t just stop by his compound on Franklin Street in the weeks preceding the big day. It was a busy time, so I didn’t give it much thought.

When Christmas Eve finally arrived, we made plans for Jimmy to come to our house the next morning.  Not too early. However, we knew he would be up most of the night….because he never lost the childish wonder of waiting for the first light of morning and turning on the Christmas music, while he opened his stocking.  We always asked Santa to put a lot of fun stuff in his giant red stocking, so it would give us a few more minutes to sleep before he came bounding up the stairs to let us know it was time to open all the presents.  And, at 34…he still arrived early and ready to roll.  As Jeff, Jim, my mom (the Booster) and I stumbled down the stairs, he seemed especially excited to get going.   We ate our bacon and sweet rolls, and followed our tradition of handing one gift at a time to each person, and then we all watched as we opened our presents.  As the number of gifts dwindled, I noticed that no-one had opened a present from Jimmy, and thought to myself, “that’s strange.”

Sure enough, when the last present had been opened, he excitedly announced, “ And now is time for my presents to you,” and we all piled into his huge red beast (I can’t remember the make of the giant truck he had just purchased online, perhaps you do! Maybe it was a Suburban?). Mom and I sat in the front with Jimmy. Jeff and Jim, sat squished in the back seat.

As we approached El Segundo, Jimmy was singing carols and was as excited as could be.  We parked in front of the house, went up the stairs through the decorated patio, ablaze with lighted surf boards and poinsettias, and he threw open the door.

His apartment was sparkling and he had decorated a great tree with some of our old ornaments: the silver snowflakes with our names on the back and ones that he hand-made in the past years.  The first thing I noticed was a brilliant painting that captured the sea, the sun and the giant sailfish I caught on our last vacation, with a teensy bit of help from Jimmy.  The sailfish was jumping straight out of the water, towards the sun.  On the bottom of the painting, the word MEXICO was splashed in the brightest yellow print.  He also wrote me a beautiful letter with a vivid description of our adventure.

It’s funny, but I can’t remember what anyone else got that morning, because I was so touched by his rendering of one of the most magical moments we ever had together. Jimmy was a man of so many talents and passions. When he wanted to do anything, he threw his whole being into learning and creating and sharing. What a gift.

Jimmy was gone by the following Christmas, leaving a hole in our hearts and souls. So many unanswered questions.

I look at that painting every day. I can feel his arms around me while firmly helping me maneuver the fishing rod while I slowly reeled that magnificent sailfish to the boat.  We let it run, while patiently bringing it closer and closer.

“Tranquilo, mom,” he would say.  When he finally helped me reel the fish on to the deck of the boat, he said a little prayer for its life. Then, we headed to the distant shore to share our fish with the villagers who waited on the beach to see each day’s catch, and barter to buy the prized delicacy. We shared our bounty with the villagers and had the best holiday meal ever!

We said good-bye to 2004 in a daze of disbelief and sorrow.  We will say good-bye to 2020 with relief.  The years between have been challenging, wonderfully inspirational, trying, and yes, eventually so filled with love and accomplishment for a shared mission in Jimmy’s name.  As always, I will end by saying we could not have made it through the ups and downs of this life, without all of you. You keep Jimmy in your hearts each time you share the passion for surfing and surprising our participants with the many gifts of the ocean.

Happy Holidays! Enjoy this collage and perhaps go out and paint a fabulous picture for someone you love.  Gifts from the heart are the best gifts of all. There is no better way to start, than just do it!

With so much love this holiday season. With faith and belief that 2021 will bring health and healing to all.

December 2020

** Congrats to Chris and Laura Brown on the birth of Taylor James Brown.
**RIP sweet April 28th. Jimmy’s birthdate rescue kitty

Going Virtual When in Covid….Get Creative!

Going Virtual When in Covid….Get Creative!

Wow, what a difference a year makes. I just read my blog from 2019 and it said everything I was thinking of saying today. My head is spinning with images and thoughts about all the past Jimmy’s. But today, I’ll talk about the future. In a year when we had to say “no” to so many events that were meaningful and helped raise awareness of the incredible work we have been doing for 16 years, we can finally say YES!!

Yes, we are presenting the International JIMMY Surf Fiesta Team Challenge in October/November and we hope you will all participate! Something different for sure, but with all the elements of fun that the JIMMY is known for!! Look for the details on the JMMF homepage, on social media or use this link.

Since we can’t gather on the beach like we normally do, we invite surfers and friends on teams of 4, to submit their best wave. You have the month of October to sign up, and submit videos. If you don’t know how to video and upload your best waves, you can call our JMMF ambassador and all around great volunteer, Nate Goldberg @310-321-8004 and he will take care of it for you.

I can’t wait to see families submit their best waves, and Jimmy’s friends from all over the world, submit theirs! Kevin from Tahiti, Fernando from Spain, Yoni from Israel, the Bru’s from Canada, we can’t wait to see what you submit! All the little rippers from Austin and Riley’s gang on 22nd Street can surf against the Tiani’s gang from 4th Street. The Berkeley brothers and sisters can surf against the USC bros and gals, and the ripper girls like Charlotte and Kyra can create their own girl power teams. The Silva family, Gellers and the Eicks can finally be back together for competition and the Ulrichs can defend their Beach Lounger awards. South Bay Boardriders can field a few teams, as can the Mira Costa and Redondo surf teams. Sypder and ET all have the chance to win this year. This is the only year you can choose your own team, ride your own board, and control your own destiny at the JIMMY!

This year, for the first time ever, we will not be asking our wonderful sponsors and donors for anything other than to join the fun. Instead, we will support our local friends and purchase gift cards from them! As a non-profit, its’s an unusual way to conduct business, but each and every one of our local donors and sponsors have been so true blue to JMMF and have honored Jimmy’s memory in such a tangible way, we are happy to support them during these difficult economic times. We hope you will continue to support our local shops, restaurants and companies as a way of thanking them for all they mean to our community.
I know Jimmy would love to see all his friends from around the world and across the street, surf together. He would also be stoked that so many young groms have been able to surf the JIMMY. It is our dream that this tradition will continue as long as the waves roll in. In Jimmy’s memory, please help us make this dream come true.
Here’s the newest JMMF Jimmy Logo to add to the group above. Does anyone have all the JIMMY T-shirts, starting in 2005? If so, please send a photo and we will feature you and your photo in the next JMMF newsletter!
Here’s some fun photos from years past, with thanks to Steve Gaffney, Brent Broza, Gus McConnell and Kevin Cody. We can’t wait to see your videos and out-takes!
Thanks for reading!


Surf Therapy in the time of Covid

Surf Therapy in the time of Covid

I sat looking at thirteen faces on the screen, aglow and all eager to go to the beach and participate in a Surf Therapy session. So, employing the most powerful organ we have, I took them there.

Using mindfulness and guided visualization techniques we drove to the beach, got out of our cars, carefully crossed the bike path and wiggled our toes into the warm sand. Loved ones surrounded the athletes as they made their way to our tents on the shoreline. We explored and experienced how the sun felt on their shoulders, the sea breeze on their faces and the sounds of the waves and the sea gulls crying. They met our staff and the warm and friendly smiles that awaited them. Eyes closed I could see them grinning back at me on the screen anxious and excited to catch waves, virtually. But first we needed to practice our pop up. I had them open their eyes, clear out some space around them and physically get down on the floor. The athletes envisioned being on a surfboard of any color or pattern they so choose. I demoed a pop up getting to my feet and then encouraged them to do so. The screen fluttered with activity as everyone of them popped up to their feet and into a stance. They were breathless with anticipation and the exercise of doing a few pop ups.

I settled them down into a sitting position and mindfully brought them back to the beach, they could hear the waves crashing and envisioned a perfect day of warm water, slight breezes and excellent conditions for them to ride waves. Their instructor helped them down the beach and got them settled onto their board, they paddled out, turned around and were gently guided into a wave, the nose planed out and the pop up we had just practiced was engaged, boom… They were up and surfing the wave, the beach was going crazy with laughter and cheers as they made their way to the shore, loved ones and high fives waiting for them as they fell off of their boards exhausted and exhilarated into the water. The screen was beaming back at me; faces were all smiles and laughter, they were breathless with excitement.

We miss what we do at the beach so much and the impact that our organization has in the betterment of the lives of our athletes. Yet here was that stoke, here was the same result; connection, trust, belief in self, confidence and agency. Miles away from the beach and in their own homes we had our first Surf Therapy session of the season. They got some relief from the worries of their day and what this pandemic has brought. We got to continue to carry on our mission of helping those we can, one wave at a time… whether at sea or in the mind.

Connection and Social Distance

How do we connect with one another when socially distancing is the norm, hugs and physical touch can spread a deadly virus and smiles are hidden by face coverings? On top of that, the reopening of social places and gatherings feels like it was a bit premature as we are being asked, once again, to sacrifice connecting with one another physically for the greater good of our communities. How then can we feel communal? We are morally fatigued, watching ourselves scroll social media… Zoom and FaceTime are losing their novelty and feeling more like work and less party like than they once did.

It is time for connection through altruism, random acts of kindness and meeting fear, loathing and misunderstanding with compassion, acceptance and understanding. The fear, loathing and misunderstanding is easy, I can clearly see differences in others and I can exploit those differences to make myself feel superior or better about myself through egoism; valuing everything only in reference to one’s own personal interest. This is the total opposite of altruism where there is unselfish concern for, or devotion to the welfare of others. What side do you want to be on, the connective or dis-connective? The irony is that altruism is inherently Selfish, serving the higher, spiritual part of Self through Selfless acts whereas egoism is selfish and serves a lower more basic animalistic part of self. Be altruistic, reach out to the lonely and suffering, randomly check in on a neighbor that is alone, have the kids chalk their driveways or sidewalks with positive messages. Spread joy not hate, these times are so uncertain, be a beacon of connection, find the lonely and spread good cheer. You will feel better for it Selfishly…

Gratitude is My Attitude

Gratitude is My Attitude

This is how I like to remember Jimmy.  A bright smile, a big hug and that “aw mom,” look he got when I asked for “one more photo!”  I am so grateful for every single time I rounded my kids up for “just one more!”  This photo was taken before the infamous Iron Man, where year after year, he would win the paddling part of that July 4th debacle, but lose it in the chugging contest.  Not a shining moment for any parent, but a rite of passage in the South Bay.

Today, almost 16 years to the day he took his life, I can honestly say my heart is full of gratitude for the 35 years we had together, and for his legacy through the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation.  In the midst of this Covid catastrophe, I have been so proud to share the amazing work we have done in Jimmy’s name.  Even though we have not been able to help others through our adaptive surf sessions, and the therapeutic work of sharing on the beach, we have reached untold numbers of people who read the articles about our Ocean Therapy Program in  The Global Journal of Community Psychology – Special Issue.  Ocean Therapy is now evidence based science and has become a world-wide practice in the 15 years since we founded our ground-breaking Ocean Therapy Program.

I am grateful that the guys in my family encouraged me to learn to surf when I was 50.  I could finally understand the passion that took them around the world and down the street.  I could feel the power, freedom and rhythm of the ocean that continues to heal all of us. And it was just plain fun!  No longer just for the guys, along with SCUBA, it was family fun!


My heart is full when I think of how close Jimmy and Jeff were for all of Jimmy’s 35 years.  He was more than a big brother, role model and best friend  to Jeff. 

He shared his life, thoughts and philosophy to a generation of Jeff’s friends.  I honestly don’t remember them arguing or picking at each other like other siblings.  Not that Jimmy, Brent, Darren, Dieter and friends did not torture Jeff and his buddies by holding them upside-down over our fireplace, or “pants” them and give them “nugies.”  Boys are boys and that was just what happened!  

Their close bond started the day Jeff was born and continues today, as Jeff shares stories and photos of “Uncle Jimmy” with Riley and Austin.  I am so grateful that both Riley and Austin surf and share those stories about their Uncle Jimmy and JMMF, with their little grom groups. I look forward to all of them helping with Ocean Therapy when we can safely return to the beach.

I am beyond grateful for the original JMMF Board and the love and vision they showed, in laying the groundwork for the work we have been able to do in Jimmy’s name.  The dear friends, relatives, and Jimmy’s first and best students served such an important part in the growth of JMMF.  The new board members who have come to us because they wanted to make a difference in the lives of so many, even though they never met Jimmy, have brought light and wisdom to our program.  And to our dear therapists, beach coordinators and trusty special project coordinators, thank you does not even begin to say how much we value you.

And finally, to all of you who have volunteered, developed research methods and communicated data for publication, sponsored, made in-kind donations of goods, services, amazing food and goodies, taken photos and videos, wrote articles about Jimmy and JMMF, judged contests, performed at events, designed and created our material and equipment and opened your homes and hearts to us and so much more, I am profoundly touched and forever grateful.

A dear friend recently asked, “will the pain ever go away?”  I found I could honestly say, “It never leaves you, but changes form.”  Most days, I can truly say, “Jimmy’s life brings me an attitude of gratitude.”  I love you my dear one.  Today and every day.

Thanks for reading, stay safe and we will see you at the beach again soon.  A little gratitude goes a long way these days!

Please remember how Jimmy lived.  Find a plumeria or flower and walk down to the beach or your favorite body of water, close your eyes and think of that smile.  Let gratitude wash over you and share that feelings with your loved ones.  That’s how we can honor Jimmy today and every day.

In loving memory of Jimmy’s friend Chaun Ralls, and our dear friend and JMMF supporter, Brad Stevenson.


An Ode To Bess

Today a new girl came to town.
She arrived white and quite unaware of what history she would guard.
I hear she is getting “wrapped” with all the Camp Surf and JMMF info.
But does she know the history she will be carrying within her clean
and un-sandy interior?

When Jimmy started Pure Surfing Experience 25 years ago, he knew he would need a “surf mobile” to carry equipment, boards, wetsuits, tents, towels, coolers and first aid kits. At the time, he had a small black truck that carted everything to and from the beach. He parked it at his house and kept all his equipment in our garage at 524. As the time went by, he needed more room for more equipment and gear, so he studied the internet for months, looking for the best deal he could find.
Remember, this was in the late 90’s, when buying a vehicle online was like dealing with the wild west. You had to take a leap of faith to put your money down, and hope you would get what you wanted.

From the beginning, he wanted a vehicle that could hit the road for trips down south at the drop of a hat, and trips up to Northern Cal on a regular basis. He found his van in the form of a dark blue Dodge Van. It wasn’t exactly new, but the mileage wasn’t too scary, the motor was intact, the windows worked, and he got new tires when it arrived. His excitement was contagious, and we celebrated as we lugged most of his equipment out of our garage and into his new vehicle. Little did we know then, how important this step was in the growth of the Legend of Bess!

Since we had always named our cars, from Bonnie the Barracuda to Wongerbung, the VistaCruiser, to Fancy the Mustang and Trevor the Jag, we think Jimmy decided to call the new van “Bess.” According to Chris Brown, “I’m not even sure Jimmy named her Bess. As the original Bess aged and declined, Mark and I just started referring to her as “Old Bessie,” and the name just stuck.

As the years went by, and Pure Surfing Experience morphed into Camp Surf, Jimmy needed another van, and that’s when the real fun started. Jimmy was not a “car” guy, and quite often, the vans were in need of upkeep. As Jason remembers: “Oh man, where to start! The glass folding doors falling off and shattering was a shocking start to the day (I blame Dana). Putting a wooden door on Bess with Tommy, and then cutting a window hole in her was a fun project! And then there was the time Russell almost died when the brakes went out and he flew into the El Porto parking lot on two wheels going Mach 3! That was fun! Russell confirmed, “that thing almost killed me! It came in real hot and somehow hit nothing! I showed up to my lesson very awake! I also remember being a camper and referring to the Big Bess as the “nice one,” as compared to the little Blue Bess. And how could I forget the hundred pounds of sand swept out of that thing over the years. The reclaimed wetsuit water also made for some epic MVP moments! That van was awesome!”

Jason continued, “we had to jump start Bess every other week because there was no key ignition facing the right direction. We would often set off car alarms in the parking lots because Bess was so loud. And who could forget kidnapping Davey Latter for his bachelor party with stockings over our heads! There have been so many adventures in the Bessies.”

(Editorial decision to leave a few adventures out for the sake of the children reading this blog 🙂

After Jimmy passed away on August 7, 2004 – Camp Surf passed to Chris Brown, Tommy Ostendorf and Mark Gerold. They kept Camp Surf going that summer and have grown it to the amazing company it is today. They kept the original Bess and added new ones as their needs grew. For better or worse, they also maintained Jimmy’s blasé attitude towards their vehicles.

Chris recalls, “The best one was when Mangiagli called me almost crying to say that Old Bess had blown up and was on fire!! It turned out that a plastic bag had just gotten stuck on the exhaust and was burning. Old Bess was fine.”

Some of Mark’s favorites were the 4th of July stories (they are best heard in person, but if you know!) The early days at Pendleton were really something. They were pre-wrap, no seat belts, and plenty of beers for fuel. Post wrap, still sketchy rides, no seatbelts and more beer for fuel. As Dr. Carly Rodgers recalls, “My favorite (memory) is our first time sharing Bess with the Marines at Pendleton. It just solidified everything related to building community, crossing the line division between marines and civilians and truly just having a day at the beach. You could visually see them relax with eyes wide at the normalcy of hanging around the big van, sipping a cold drink and talking story.”

Many students asked questions like “how often do you clean Bess?” The answer was truly, NEVER!” She probably had 1,000 pounds of sand in her, and ended up being held together by duct tape.

By the time Sam joined the JMMF crew as a Safety Coordinator, nothing much had changed. According to Sam, “One morning I was pulling onto Rosecrans off of Bell, and was surprised when every door including the passenger, drivers and back door all swung open simultaneously! There was no need for coffee to wake me up after that!”

Tommy really summed up the essence of the Bessies over the years: “Too many good memories. It’s crazy to think there are thousands, maybe 10’s of thousands of people in the world who remember Bessie and associate her with a positive experience. There are hundreds of South Bay kids who will always remember their first job – working out of Bessie the Van!”

For the Marines at Camp Pendleton who waited for Bess to crunch up through the unpaved parking lot, and whose smiles lit up those early June gloom days, it’s been an honor to serve you for the past 12 years. Thanks for unloading Bess and then loading her back up again for the trek north. Your smiles, passion and enthusiasm are the reason we have come every other Tuesday for all these years. We can’t wait until we can surf with you again!

For all the kids, parents and counselors who waited for Bess to arrive and then patiently lined up to get their wetsuits, thank you! We thank you for putting your faith in the Camp Surf and JMMF crews to keep your kids safe and stoked.

For all those who dared to drive a Bessie, rode in her and shared stories up and down the coast, we thank you. We can only imagine the secrets Bessie kept. She heard your stories of stoke, courage, love, loss and crazy stunts. You shared the opportunity to help others learn to surf and shared Jimmy’s passion for surfing with almost 3 generations of people around the world and around the corner. For Jeff, Chris, Tommy, Mark, Anthony, Fitz, Ryan P, Jeff G, Jeff R, Keith, John K, the Harvard Westlake Crew, Chris G, Gene B, Russ R, Peff, Davey L, Dave P, Jeff B, Matt M, Brewers, the Many Meistrells, Doug W, Dickie & Brendan, Jeff C, Dr. Daniel S, the Caldwell Family, The Silva Family, The Ostendorf Family, Alex & Chris G, Russell W, Brandan, Ben, Sam M, Connor R, Kyle, Tyus M, other Sam M, Ryan U, Juliette U, Kathryn T, Tandis, Erin, Kris, Pam, Jodi, Kevin, Andy, Gregor, and of course Carly and so many more, we thank you for sharing this ride with Jimmy, Pure Surfing Experience, Camp Surf, and JMMF. What a ride it has been! Please forgive me if I left your name off this list of early drivers and riders!

And welcome new Bess (pre wrap)! We know the “Besst” is yet to come!!



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