Soul Surfer Johnny
by Bill Missett
“He rolled over onto his back as he took off under the lip, and instead of going over the falls, he gracefully slid diagonally down the barreling face of a six-footer. It was instantly glorious…” Johnny had successfully bodysurfed his first wave at “Puerto Tranquilo” and he was thrilled.
“Soul Surfer Johnny” by Bill Missett is the tale of a troubled kid from the streets of Boston, relocated to Hermosa Beach with his mother. A high school senior named Ron befriends Johnny and shows him how to bodyboard. He is soon initiated into a prankster gang of local surfers called the Tyronys. One of the Tyronys named Smokesurf, shows Johnny the ways of bodysurfing and he is instantly hooked. Ron also introduces Johnny to meditation and his life starts to turn around for the better.
Johnny saves up enough money to join the Tyronys on their summer surf trip to the famed beachbreaks of “Puerto Tranquilo” Mexico. They spend a month in Mexico bodysurfing, partying and experiencing many unique characters including Señora Maria, the owner of their daily breakfast cafe, Marcos, one of multiple town drunks with a tragic past, Beach Girl, a catatonic girl whose husband drowned while surfing on their honeymoon 2 years before, Glue Boy, who ran through town everyday looking in dumpsters, numerous stray dogs and a hammerhead shark named Bruno that controlled the lineup at the Point.
Ron and Johnny begin joining a regular meditation group on the beach. There they are given books to help them achieve new levels of spiritual awakening. The Tyronys complete their successful mission to Mexico and prepare to return home to Southern California. The night before departing, Ron and Johnny’s cabana is broken into and most of their belongings are stolen. Without identification, they struggle to make their way back to the US-Mexico border and rejoice when they finally make it home.
Here, the book takes a sharp turn. Johnny’s devout-Catholic mother finds the spirituality book and reads it. She recognized the positive changes to Johnny and she felt immediately connected to these new ideas. She begins to question her faith and goes to question a local priest. Her new mindfulness brought back a very dark memory from her past. She recognized the priest as the man who raped her 17 years before. That man is also Johnny’s father.
Soul Surfer Johnny is an interesting semi-autobiographical, coming of age, adventure story. Although, there are numerous timeline issues. At one point we’re in the “Gidget” era (1960’s) then we have Foo and Bradshaw (1990’s) showing up to charge giant Puerto Tranquilo. The waveriding is well-written and obviously from the pen of an experienced bodysurfer.
In memory of Bill Missett (1939-2016)
Bill was born in New York, grew up in Virginia, did a stint in the Navy then began a long career as a newspaperman. In 1968, he settled in Oceanside, CA and began publishing the Oceanside Blade-Tribune with his brother Tom. The Blade-Tribune became known for its unrelenting drive to make Oceanside a better place. Bill helped organize the inaugural World Bodysurfing Championships at the Oceanside Pier. He then moved to Puerto Escondido to bodysurf, write and explore spirituality.