Cambrian: Opinion

John Brannon: Where lies reality?

A body-surfing John Brannon carves his way down a cresting wave in the 1950s.
A body-surfing John Brannon carves his way down a cresting wave in the 1950s. COURTESY PHOTO

Having completed my education at Pasadena City College for a career in advertising, I was offered a job with the Foster & Kleiser Outdoor Advertising Company. Before getting started on working there for the next 50 years, I asked myself a question: “Well, is there anything you want to do before you put your nose to the grindstone for the next half-century? If I have a choice,” I replied, “I would really like to do nothing but surf for a year. My car is paid for and I have enough to live on for a year — if I’m frugal. OK, self,” I responded, “go for it.”

I moved from Pasadena to Newport Beach on June 3, 1957; my life has never the same.

I did board surf some, but my great joy was bodysurfing. By holding your body stiff, one can skim across the face of a wave, once the technique is understood. My usual routine (if the surf was up) was to enter the ocean around 8 in the morning, surf for four hours, take a 30-minute break and drink a protein beverage before entering the water again for three more hours. Seven hours of bliss and unrestrained joy.

I was hired by the Newport Beach Fire Department on April 1, 1958. Hello NBFD…goodbye Foster & Kleiser.

Until the kids began coming along in 1961, I surfed every day I was not on duty. I will forever be grateful for the many years of bodysurfing.

Tom Murphine was a columnist for the local paper, the Daily Pilot. He wrote an article one day describing the sense of pleasure of floating on a surf mat out beyond the surf line. At peace with the world, he reflected on what was on the other side of the surf line: Tragedies, pain, sadness, sirens and all the other things that fill our days.

He titled his provocative piece, “Where Lies Reality?” I have never forgotten it.

I made my living at the misfortunes of others for the next 25 years. Every time we left the station, someone needed help. Whether it was a minor problem — a broken water pipe or a backed up toilet flooding a home — or someone was experiencing a heart attack or a stroke, they needed our assistance. Bodysurfing became more valued as the emergencies and years piled up.

This photo was taken in October 1957. One of my best friends took the picture of this 8-footer from the Huntington Beach pier, 34 feet above the water. It has been in a forgotten envelope since then. My friend, Dick, eventually opened the Rusty Pelican and Ancient Mariner restaurants in Newport with a partner. I recently came across the photo while trying to straighten up my home.

The picture is small (3 by 5 inches); Cambrian Brett White was able to enlarge and bring more detail to the image. It is very important to me.

E-mail John Brannon at