Some people stumble to their place in this world, riding the wave with no consideration of the reef beneath them, nor their position on the face. Hal is not that guy. He attacks bodysurfing with vigor and inquiry, unwrapping the most subtle movements with focused thought and repetition. Hal is described by life-long bodysurfer and all around purveyor of stoke, Mike Sullivan as, “the ultimate student of bodysurfing, if you ever wonder how to do a maneuver, Hal’s your guy.”
Hal Handley was born the son of a baseball player. His father started at UCLA and had begun his professional career with stints in the minors. Neptune had another plan for the senior Handley and he was given the gift of a baby boy. As a young teen, Hal watched his television in awe as Buffalo Keaulana bodysurfed Makaha’s waves with grace and expertise. He was hooked. Buffalo stored his fins in the fridge to preserve the rubber, so Hal did the same.
Through his teenage years Hal would hitch rides and eventually get wheels to bodysurf Wedge. His friends would go for the novelty, laughing nervously and staring wide-eyed, but he was taking mental notes and making plans for the future. The Wedge, taught Hal to value commitment. His dedication to “the Newport wonder” ended when he was 23. For ten full years, Hal would explore the wave riding world before coming full circle to his pair of Voit Duck Feet in 1982.
One day that summer, Hal sat watching the Oceanside World Championship of Bodysurfing and he set two goals for himself: 1) to win that contest and 2) earn a PhD. Over the following decade he had accomplished both, becoming a Grand Champion in 1990 and earning his doctorate in immunology. Hal continued his passion for science through a distinguished career in research. His work on the molecular level has paved the way for many advancements in cancer treatments today. On the competition front, Hal has continued to pile up achievements with six age-group victories and a showing in the final of the Pipeline bodysurfing contest.
Hal has been a fixture in the La Jolla waters for over 30 years. A cerebral waterman, he has traveled the world studying diverse wave riding forms. At each new wave, the analytical gears turn and Hal picks up novel techniques. He firmly believes in the power of competition. His face turns an excited red as he describes throwing out all the stops in order to make the next heat. Hal has found himself doing things he’d never consider doing on a wave, when in the throes of competitive discourse.
Despite Hal’s cerebral tendencies, he is well aware of his connection to the spiritual resonance of the Ocean. Instead of describing his connection, he painted a familiar picture. We’ve all watched a young child throw themselves into two-foot shore break. They’re tossed by the powers of the sea back to the sand, limbs tangled, laughing and gasping for air, before hopping to their feet and rushing back to do it again. With each new swell, Hal practices with tactical precision, but he also finds himself rolling helpless in whitewater, sometimes gasping for air through the laughter.