The Gift

The Gift

“If you know someone who has lost a very important person, and you’re afraid to mention it to them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them they died…you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift!
– Elizabeth Edwards-

This isn’t necessarily a holiday story, but it is about the power of a gift. And if there was one thing Jimmy enjoyed, it was giving (and receiving) meaningful gifts. Not that all the “stuff” we shared and bestowed upon family and friends at the holidays, birthdays, and other occasions wasn’t appreciated. It was!

I always loved thinking up small gifts that would touch the hearts of the recipients and would retain their meaning over the years. Jimmy carried on the tradition as he grew up and started his travels. This is his story.

The attached photo is one of my favorites. (I think I say this every blog)! Not just because all the “bros” and their families gathered at our home on 3rd street, but because Jimmy created a moment in time, that none of us will ever forget. If you ask most of the people in this photo, they will say they still have it framed in a special place in their homes. I often hear the stories of this day, retold with love when this group gathers.

When Jeff and friends graduated from high school, we had a party for his best buddies and their parents. We served up tacos, margaritas, and hilarious stories of all their escapades, in and out of the water. Mr. Lang, their favorite teacher and surf friend and his wife attended, along with assorted friends and neighbors. Jimmy had just returned from a long trip to Bali and was getting ready to start lifeguarding and working on the beach.

After many toasts and funny speeches, Jimmy got up in front of the assembled crowd. By the time Jeff’s gang had reached 12th grade, his friends and Jimmy’s friends had blended to become one big group of soggy, tan surfers who all hung out together at 3rd Street and on the road. Jimmy was the adored and much respected older brother to most of Jeff’s buddies. He had been their guide to surf travel, helped them through some wild times when there was no parental supervision and been an example how to care about grades and get into a good college, yet continue to follow his passion.

After some initial heckling, Jimmy reached into a bag and pulled out a sarong. He then called each of the guys up to the front of the room, one by one. As he opened each sarong, he described what was on each of the colorful large fabrics with exotic patterns. With each description, he found a way to connect it to the guy he gave it to. Sea Turtles for the guy who was slow and steady, dragons for one who chased after the impossible, and cool and calm colors for the one who managed to keep everything together most of the time. Nine sarongs and nine stories that connected all of us to our sons and our sons to each other. As he spoke, he had the most gigantic smile on his face and when he got to Jeff, that smile was tinged with so much love and respect. There they were, our “boys” who had spent their childhood together, getting ready to leave the soft cocoon of the beach and head out separately to start the next phase of their lives.

And there was Jimmy, graduate of Cal, world traveler, teacher, lifeguard and soon to be business owner, sharing small gifts that would have a long-lasting and cherished memory for everyone at that party. Somewhere, there is a similar shot with the moms. Probably in the same box with all of Jimmy’s surf articles for the Beach Reporter.

During this busy holiday season, as we rush around and stress about what to get for everyone, hopefully you can remember this story about Jimmy, the sarongs and the gift of making memories.

With so much love and light to all of you who take the time to read our newsletter and support JMMF. Our 15 years of collective memories and the photos of our Ocean Therapy sessions will inspire all who come to share the magic and healing of Mother Ocean.

Xoxo
Nancy

*Remembering with love, our friend Walt, standing next to our Jimmy

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Jimmy’s Articles

Hi friends:

As promised, I found some of Jimmy’s articles for you. I couldn’t find my carefully copied and preserved versions. They must be in a storage bin somewhere. Instead, I spent the day at the Manhattan Beach library, going through the hard-bound archives of the Beach Reporter. The article below is one of my favorites, for so many reasons. If some of the phrasing is a bit off, it’s because I couldn’t decipher what was squished in the stiff leather hard-bound pages. Any mistakes are strictly mine, not Jimmy’s.

I hope you enjoy this November story and if you have the time, perhaps you can take a “Hot Tip’ and head south for some great adventures. Happy Thanksgiving. We are so thankful for all of your support this year.

Reprinted from The Beach Reporter – April 1996

“The Hot Tip “
Getaways for Surfers
By Jim Miller

Go South Young Man: Surfing the Many Waves of Mexico

All right. Summer’s creeping up in the South Bay with its blocked south swells, red flags and frat-bros on mini-longboards. You know the entire southern hemisphere from South Africa to South America is pumping. Uluwatu, Reunion and Puerto Escondido. The names are starting to blend, but it doesn’t really matter. You are dying for a trip, but it doesn’t look financially feasible and busting out the Visa and going two grand in debt doesn’t quite work because you still have to pay for the round of tequila shots and the Bud you generously bought for the crew last Thursday night at Sharkey’s. But it’s time for a surf escape and I can feel it.

Time to grab a few friends, $40, lots of bottled water, peanut butter and take a trip to local Mexico. I’m not saying let’s go rage at strip bars and drink beer, or let’s go scam chicks, I mean a real surf trip. With a little bit of effort and a passion for adventure, you and your friends can find empty waves in beautiful surrounding in a three hour drive away.

The first good spot south of the border is Baja Malibu. Although the name draws thoughts of a long right point break, actually there is a hollow beach-break that can good a good imitation of Puerto Escondido. Many San Diego based surfers are tuned in and cross the border at dawn whenever the conditions are on, so it can get crowded. But plenty of wedging peaks go unridden, and if you are craving a thick tube-ride, this is the place.

South of Rosarito, the well-known right point-breaks at K-38 and San Miguel pump on both south and north swells. Both waves are long, rippable walls that occasionally barrel; and provide fun, racy sections. Long-boarders and Mexican locals usually crowd these spots, but if you find yourself in Mex on weekdays from late fall to early spring, you may pleasantly surprised and find the lineups nearly empty.

La Fonda is another well-known spot where you can camp on the cliff or stay at the eccentric La Fonda Hotel. Fun, challenging beach-break walls peak in clear water and break onto a nice, white sand beach. La Fonda may be the most consistent break in the area, and you can almost always get in a fun session, even after the onshore winds pick up in the afternoon.

Local Mex, from the border to Ensenada has so many nooks and crannies between the well-known spots that if you keep you eyes open, follow your instincts and pay a few bucks to pay a local to open a gate on to his property, you could luck into a session as good as any you’ll find halfway around the globe.

Over Thanksgiving this past year, a few friends, my brother and I ventured down to Mexico and rented a house south of Rosarito. There was a solid 4-6 foot swell sunny beaches and glassy conditions. We surfed at Malibu the first two mornings and scored some filthy barrels, despite the weekend crowd. On the second day we drove south and noticed good waves, but there were crowds at K-38 and La Fonda.

On our way home for a siesta, we spotted a point-break from the highway that was barreling with solid 6-foot sets and nobody in sight. I’d seen that point before, but never with anyone surfing it. It definitely looked good, so we went to check it out. The gate leading to the headland was locked and we were going to walk the half mile by foot, when a chubby man ran down the street. He had the key, and I offered him a few dollars and a Pacifica for his troubles. We drove to the top of the headland, bouncing down the dirt road and park atop a drop-off cliff. Jaws dropped as our suspicions were confirmed and a five-wave, solid 6-foot set pushed out of the deep water and churned along the reef. We mapped out a way to safely scale the cliff to a hidden rock cove below and paddled out. Kelp beds lined the glassy point. The late afternoon sun shimmered off the deep blue ocean faces. Overhead set waves broke out beyond a big rock and would push for 50 meters into the bay. Smaller waves sucked up and broke in a dredging hollow section right off the rock. The headland jutted into the lineup and formed a natural bridge where the surf and wind passed underneath and reminded me of Santa Cruz.

The five of us surfed for about three hours, hooting and yelling and getting the waves wired, while my friend’s girlfriend filmed us from the cliff above while standing on our ice chest. Some waves barreled and others left a big wide open-face to carve. The amazing part was that we could see other surfers bobbing around at an average beach-break to the south of us, and countless cars passed on the highway, but no one else clued in that this spot was going off. The session was all ours.

At sunset, we made our way back to the car, and saluted the day with some cold beers and cruisy Hawaiian tunes. Standing there with my brother and friends, watching a final set roll in and blend into the pink and orange haze of the sky, I realized I had found the session I’d searched the world over for, by plane, train, automobile, motorcycle, donkey, horse cart, boat, canoe and foot. I’d found good friends to share good waves, adventure and perfect conditions; and I’d found it all just a three hour drive away in Mex.

@Copyright Jim Miller 1996

Questions

Questions

When you lose someone to suicide, there are always so many unanswered questions. Fifteen years has taught me that sometimes there are no answers, and the questions become a deep part of your soul. Tucked away, but not forgotten.

In life, there are also so many questions about the prosaic and everyday issues, as well as the deep thoughts. I found this photo of Jimmy and a group of kids at Magic Mountain. I actually remember the day he was going to drive them all there in one of his crazy Camp Surf Vans. It was a boiling hot day, and they would be traveling with no air conditioning. They didn’t care! They were off for an adventure with Jimmy! As I look at this photo, I only recognize a few faces. Who were these kids and how did they end up with him? Hopefully, by the time I finish this blog, I will have some answers, but for now, it’s another question to ponder. From the smile on Jimmy’s face, he was loving his time with this gang. Here’s the thing: When you are a parent, you don’t always know your adult child’s friends. Such is the case with this photo! If you know who they are or anything about that day, please let me know: nancy@jimmymillerfoundation.org

News Flash…as I was writing this, Tommy responded to say it was a group of kids from a special CampSurf session based at Loyola College. Thank you Tommy!!!

Adventure is what Jimmy always craved. I remember reading a note he wrote to Jeff about making a walk home from school become an adventure. Side trips, cool places to skate and grab something to eat….Jimmy could make the mundane sound like an exotic adventure.

That’s why he started Pure Surfing Experience (Camp Surf). He wanted to share his stoke of finding the beauty in the waves and in the story-telling after a great set. And that’s why he traveled: to create adventures he could share. In the coming months, I will share Jimmy’s articles about his travels, discoveries, adventures, loves, losses, mishaps and triumphs. The articles are tucked away in storage trunks, but I promise, I will find them and share with you.

Not sure if any burning questions will be answered, but we will all get a chance to remember and perhaps find out something new about “our Jimmy.”

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Thanks for reading these blogs. For those who have volunteered with JMMF this summer, thank you for making this a stellar Ocean Therapy season. There were so many old faces, new friends, instructors, visitors, supporters and surprises. Now it’s back to school for the “littles,” quiet beach time in Manhattan Beach and a whole new project for JMMF in Coronado. I can’t wait to share more!

On this National Encouragement Day, please take the time to encourage your friends who may need some words of kindness and compassion.

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!!!

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!

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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.
info@jimmymillerfoundation.org