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!!



Protest and Peace In An Umbrella Stroller

Photo by Ed Gallucci copyright 1970

On May 10, 1970, Jimmy attended his first protest march in Washington D.C., to protest the Viet Nam War, the Kent State shootings and the invasion of Cambodia. As typical of his life, as a one year old, he was involved in the unusual. We were students at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, VA, and wanted to join our friends and fellow students on this historic day. So, we bundled Jimmy, the orange umbrella stroller (a recently invented god-send to harried parents unable to take a full-size stroller on a walk), hats, suntan lotion and water, into our 65’ white Hatchback Barracuda, and drove 2 ½ hours to Washington DC.

We parked close to the Washington Monument and started strolling towards the Mall, where the marchers and the speakers would converge. There were thousands of young people around us, some chanting, some singing, but all with the common purpose of witnessing something meaningful to our generation. We felt safe and protected, even though we were surrounded by a very large crowd. Everything was peaceful and calm for the first hour, but as we walked closer to the Mall and the monuments that comprise that historic area, we began to hear rumblings and shouting coming from the people in front of us.

We began to feel the tension of the moment, as the crowds began to run in many directions. What had been an orderly slow march suddenly felt out of control and dangerous. We stopped walking and were going to turn around to go back to our car, when a group of young men came running towards us. One screamed, “they are tear-gassing our people in the front!” Another of the guys yelled, “let’s get you and your baby out of here!” Four strong arms grabbed the stroller, with Jimmy in it, and ran like crazy, back towards the Monument and the safety of our car!”

Of course, Jimmy thought it was some sort of wonderful game, as he bounced above the road, with us holding his hands and blocking the sides of the stroller. He laughed and giggled and kicked his feet in the air as he stroller surfed above the street and away from the potential violence of the day.

When we were far enough from the crowd and the shouts of “be careful, stay safe and stay strong,” the four guys who had grabbed the stroller put Jimmy down and we thanked them for their kindness and caring. As they turned to head back to help others, we realized we hadn’t even found out their names. Jimmy was laughing and waving “bye-bye,” as we stopped to catch our breath and consider what just happened to us.

We had experienced human kindness in the face of danger, with no thought for their own safety. I couldn’t tell you what color their skin was, what they looked like or what they said as they ran along with us.
They didn’t have to help us, but they did. And we will be forever grateful.

As the years went by, we made sure to tell Jimmy and Jeff about that day, and what it meant to us. We had come to experience something larger than our own student middle class world, and be a part of history. Our personal experience transcended the reason we had wanted to come. It was and still is a powerful reminder that protests are comprised of individuals, each deserving the promise of safety and human rights. In the end, the part of history we experienced defined how we looked at future protests.

Which brings us to today. The events of the past weeks have left us all reeling, trying to find the words to say. I can only share the words of those four guys on May 10, 1970 who made sure Jimmy and his young parents would be OK. Be Careful! Be Safe! Stay Strong! Today, I will add my own: Be Kind!

With love and the hope that we will see you in the water in Manhattan Beach, Camp Pendleton and Coronado as soon as we are able to safely return to our Ocean Therapy Sessions.


Postcards From The Edge

Postcards From The Edge

Postcards From the Edge
Oh The Places You Will Go
Here’s To The Moms

(With thanks to Carrie Fisher and Dr. Seuss!)

I have been all over the map this past month. April has always been a month of ying and yang. My dad died in April and Jimmy was born in April. Lots of other major life events crowded this month with the most intense feelings. As always, it felt good to get to the finish line of April, after almost two months of Covid 19 social distancing and staying in touch with loved ones around the world.

On April 28th, we celebrated Jimmy’s birthday with a backyard, socially distanced dinner, and his favorite chocolate brownies! Later, we were treated to a bioluminescence birthday bonanza. Thanks Brent!

May is Mental Health Month. It’s also Mother’s Day! The two seem related to me, never more than in this time of Covid19. As we shelter in place, and try to make sense of what is happening around the globe, I keep thinking of Jimmy’s favorite Dr. Seuss book, “Oh The Places You’ll Go!”
As all mom’s know, letting go and having faith that your kids will make wise decisions and be safe, is not easy. I have included some moms who traveled the same road and watched and waited to hear from their sons, knowing there was no mail or a phone booth when they traveled with Jimmy.
I have always been so grateful that Jimmy was such a great correspondent and wrote such detailed letters and postcards. I often felt I was right with him. However, I always realized that we moms don’t really get the full story about being alone and surrounded by dozens of reef sharks on a remote coral head. We might worry!

As I have mentioned many times, Jimmy could get a book on a postcard, but you could always read every word! Today, with all the social media and our phones ever handy, I wonder how many postcards you have received lately? What would it feel like to receive a postcard out of the blue? A mother’s day card, a birthday wish, or just a postcard to say, “Hello, I am thinking of you!” Can you imagine the smile or the extra beat of a loving heart, when your mom or loved one recognizes your handwriting and looks at the stamp you chose, just for them!

In honor of Mental Health Month and Mother’s Day, I hope you will take the time to brighten the mental health of your mom or wife or loved ones, with a postcard, a smile and the promise of a real live hug in the near future. And keep those postcards and pictures coming to us at JMMF. The notes and photos you sent on Jimmy’s birthday lifted our spirits and reminded us of all the “Places You Can Go!”

With love to my JMMF Family! Please know we look forward to starting our Ocean Therapy Program as soon as it is safe for our participants and volunteers.
We will stay in touch with you and let you know as soon as we have our schedule.

With love and gratitude.


International Day of Happiness – March 20

International Day of Happiness – March 20

Happiness: A State of well-being, contentment and joy

This is happiness. This was Jimmy: a twinkle in his eye, a huge smile, and windswept hair, still wet on the edges. He didn’t want to get out of the water for this photo shoot I had arranged with my photographer friend, Mary Pat Dorr. We had wanted to get some good shots of Jimmy and Jeff in the fall, for our holiday card. The kids were not excited about coming home from an Indian summer afternoon at the beach and posing in our back yard. As they sluggishly put on the “nice” outfits I had carefully laid out on their beds, I could hear them grumbling. I made them shower off the sand, peanut butter and jelly mustaches and cheetos dust on their faces, just for photos no-one would see until Christmas.

“Hurry up and come downstairs,” I called, not wanting to keep the photographer waiting. But she was happy, taking shots of our kitties and our late blooming sunflowers in the yard. As they slowly trudged down to the yard, I heard them talking about the beach and what a great day they had with their friends, boogie boards and picnic lunch.

We had timed the photo shoot for the light in the backyard and planned to shoot in color and black and white. As Mary Pat started to pose them on the benches, in front of the hibiscus plants, and running through the grass, I wondered why I had not thought to do the photo shoot at the beach. What was I thinking? The beach was our “happy place” and since we had moved from the east coast, the ocean called us daily. An hour went by, with so many pictures, and since nothing was digital, we would have to wait until we could see the slides to see how the myriad of poses and changes of outfits had turned out.

As I watched the two of them trying to muster up some enthusiasm for this process, I had an idea. “Hey guys,” I said, “what if we go back down to the beach for dinner as soon as we wrap this photo shoot up?” Since it would still be light, the water was silky and warm, and we had nothing else to do that night, it seemed like the perfect way to get a smile at the end of the session. Jimmy turned around with a gigantic smile on his tanned face, and that is when Mary Pat captured the moment. Going back to the beach! What could be better?

It gives me so much happiness and joy to remember this moment in time at 524. Two boys were in the backyard, counting the moments until they could return to the beach and the blue ocean that called them home.

I hope you have those moments on the International Day of Happiness and throughout your life. We didn’t have cell phones way back then. We had to wait a week or so to see the photo that I knew would be the winner. It was one of the last ones of the day. I hope you and your loved ones hold on to those moments of happiness and if you are lucky, you will have a memory to keep for the rest of your life.

February Love

February Love

The ocean was Jimmy’s first love and his life was a love story about chasing after that elusive wave that captured his heart and soul. This moment in time and space was captured in his beloved Puerto Escondido. Emerald waves, a sure line across the endless sea and a man at home on that thin line. He was graceful, determined, and smart enough to be fearless when he could. He loved deeply and was loved as a son, brother, friend, teacher, mentor, lover, traveler, writer, and truest waterman.

There is something about sudden death, especially when we grieve for a young child or someone in the “prime” of life. A common question we hear is “how old was he?” Is it easier when someone dies at the “end of their years? Helen Keller said, “ What we once enjoyed and deeply loved, we can never lose. For all that we love deeply become a part of us.” Jimmy and Kobe were deeply loved and will live on through their foundations, designed to help others through their beloved sports and personal philosophies.

“Sometimes, when one person is absent, the whole world seems depopulated. “*

Kobe was a hero for Jimmy and Jeff’s generation. He pursued excellence through his passion for his sport, his team, his family and fans. His death affected thousands, but his good works will live on, through the Mamba Sports Foundation and through every child who wears a #24. As a parent, he was a #girldad and one of the best and most visible symbols of what it means to be a father in 2020. Other generations had warriors, presidents and astronauts. Their generation had Kobe. Basketball was Kobe’s first love and the art of the game captured his heart and soul. His life was a testament to hard work, perseverance and unparalleled talent. We watched him grow from the most talented teen to the man he would become. A city welcomed him as a son and the world took notice of his spirit, talent and intelligence.

There is something about sudden death, especially when we grieve for a young child or someone in the “prime” of life. A common question we hear is “how old was he?” Is it easier when someone dies at the “end of their years? Helen Keller said, “ What we once enjoyed and deeply loved, we can never lose. For all that we love deeply become a part of us.” Jimmy and Kobe were deeply loved and will live on through their foundations, designed to help others through their beloved sports and personal philosophies.With the horrendous news about Kobe, his daughter and their family and friends, it seemed right to look at sudden death, honor his memory and offer the only positives I can share. The pain will never be as bad as it was when we learned of the passing of that remarkable man. It will never be as painful as planning the memorial or greeting loved ones who are often left without words of comfort. I would not have believed those words nearly 16 years ago, but it is true. In the wake of a sudden death, “normal “ ceases to exist. We weren’t ready to say good-bye. But healing will come in time. We can do it together. What we have accomplished through the work of the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation is a shining testament to the gift of healing.

February is a month for sharing love. Be sure to say, “I love you” to those in your life today. Forgive often and love with all your heart. You may never know when you won’t have that chance again.


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.


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


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