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Coronado's surfer Marty Horvath thrashed in Hawaii, finds God

Walk on water

Marty Horvath:  He took me by the neck and thumped me hard, while a bunch of other surfers stood around and watched. “Guys like you who come over here are a dime a dozen."
 - Image by Byron Pepper
Marty Horvath: He took me by the neck and thumped me hard, while a bunch of other surfers stood around and watched. “Guys like you who come over here are a dime a dozen."

And Jesus answered and spoke unto them in parables. — Matthew 22:1

A guy on the plane came up to me and said, “Hey, I know you. You’re Marty. You don’t know me, but I know you."

Some pretty radical things happened my senior year of high school, beginning with my dad dying of a heart attack. My dad was only 51 when he died — a big strong construction worker with Popeye arms. I could punch my dad as hard as I wanted in the stomach and it was like nothing to him. You didn’t mess with my dad. He was lord of the house. He wasn’t abusive or anything. He was a kind man, but if you messed with him, he would kill you.

My dad was also a God-fearing Christian man. He raised me in the church, but as soon as I got old enough, I just bailed. The church wasn’t for me at all. I always I knew there was a God, but my God was my dad. He answered all my questions for me — about girls, about sports, about how to fix my car. I didn’t even know I needed a God till my dad died.

Waimea Bay. There were pictures of guys taking horrible wipeouts on monster waves at Waimea and pictures of bleeding guys who had hit the reef at Pipeline.

I grew up in Coronado and have lived here almost all my life. We used to call it the “Walt Disney bubble world.” Drive over the Coronado bridge and you’re in paradise. Everything here is clean and sunny, but in a way it isn’t real. At Coronado High it was mostly admirals’ daughters and pilots’ sons — very conservative upper middle-class, with only a few minorities. The surfers and the skate crew were the only real rebels.

When I was a kid, I was really inspired by surfers because the ocean scared me. I used to sit and watch surfers at North Beach, and they were like gods to me. The ocean didn't scare them — they went out there to have fun! I was really impressed by that.

I skateboarded a lot when I was a kid, so I had the feel of surfing, but I didn’t really learn to surf until my first year of high school when I borrowed a wetsuit and a surfboard from a friend of mine. Once I got started, I picked it up really fast, and from then on surfing just grabbed me and became my whole life. I dropped out of basketball and baseball, which I had always loved, and didn’t want to do anything except surf.

All my best friends were surfers. There were four or five of us who were really close. North Beach, near the boundary of the Navy air base, was our hangout. On a south swell, North Beach is a strong, close-out, shacking wave — not a playful wave at all. You can never predict it. It’s a lousy wave, really, but at times it opens up for you; and because it’s fast, and because it breaks in shallow water, we knew it was good training for the Pipeline, on the North Shore of Oahu.

We were into drugs a little, smoking the herb mostly, and drinking beer on Friday nights. We wore our hair long and liked to get rowdy at dances and football games. We may have gotten into trouble more than other kids at school, but at least we were committed to something. Surfing was an art, and our passion for it was deep, from the clothes we wore to the language we spoke. Friday nights four or five of us would be sitting in somebody’s bedroom drinking beer and dreaming of surf. We had surf photos all over our walls, so we’d look up at them and say, “I want to go to all these exotic places....”

We were always fine-tuning our boards. Mark Richards was winning the world championship on his twin fin, and we were trying to twin fin too. Simon Anderson came out with the thruster, and when Shaun Tomson said that was the best board he’d ever ridden, we got into thrusters. The best shaper in San Diego was Rusty Preisendorfer; he made the most beautiful, state-of-the-art boards, with sleek lines and a kicked-up nose. It was every kid’s dream to own at least one Rusty.

After a while, North Beach wasn’t really enough for us, so every Monday we would ditch school and go surf in Mexico. Our grades were barely passing. One long weekend, when I was 16, four of us told our parents we were going up-coast to Huntington. We lied big. We took the train from Mexicali down to Mazatlin, where we really bit into the adventure of surfing, eating iguanas and papayas and riding big waves in warm, tropical waters. When we came back to school, we were instant legends.

We started talking about saving up our money so we could take the bus down to Cabo San Lucas and live on the beach. We had restaurant jobs in the winter and construction jobs in the summer, but you could never really count on us to be on time or even show up at all, because our main focus was surfing. I started selling drugs to get more money to buy surfboards.

Even though my lifestyle was pretty wild, I still had a good life at home. At our house, when my dad was alive, we all ate dinner together at five o’clock every day. My mom, my dad, my three brothers, and I all sat down together and talked about what we had done that day. I assumed that everybody had that kind of a family life. I found out later how wrong I was.

After my dad died, my mom tried to be strong. She said. “I’m going to survive this.... I can deal with this.” And at first she did. Later she went into full depression. I was depressed too, but I dealt with it by putting even more energy into surfing. I started getting up earlier, hitting North Beach before dawn, really going for it on waves I never would have before. I surfed every day until I was exhausted. Surfing was the only thing that made me feel better. My friends thought I was going crazy, and maybe I was.

Even after my dad died, my mom used to cook us a big country breakfast with bacon and eggs every day. One morning at breakfast, with my brothers all there, I announced that I was dropping out of school and going to Hawaii with my friends.

At first nobody said anything. Complete silence. Then one brother said, “Are you really doing that?"

My mom didn’t make a big deal out of it. She just said, “You’re a man, now, Marty. If that’s what you really want to do, then do it.” I think she was trying so hard to deal with her own grief, she didn’t have-the energy to talk me out of it.

At school the teachers and counselors put me into one of their categories, something like, I don’t know, “profoundly depressed over the loss of his father.” They just saw me in psychological terms. So when I announced I was dropping out of school and going to Hawaii, they just figured it was inevitable. They didn’t even try to talk me out of it.

Of my three friends who had been talking for years about going to Hawaii, I was the lowest on the level of surfing performance. My two friends were really good, while I was still creating a style for myself. They were always a step ahead of me. In fact, they didn’t even think I’d go to Hawaii with them. They used to tell me, “We’ll never see you surf Pipeline.” But my desire was strong, and when the time came to leave, I had $1300 plus my quiver of boards, all ready to go. Then the week before we were supposed to leave, all my friends bailed. Every one of them said, “Marty, we can’t go.” Either their parents wouldn’t let them or they didn’t have the money...something.

“Well,” I told them. “I’m still going."

But the children of the Kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. —Matthew 8:12

In the morning I was supposed to leave for Hawaii, in December of ’84, I was waiting for my friends to pick me up and take me to the airport. My mom came out in her bathrobe, with her hair sticking out all over, and said to me, “Marty, when your father ran this house, he had his life prioritized, with Jesus at the top, then me, then the family.... You’re going out on your own now, so if things ever get a bit crazy, if you ever need the truth in your life, here.” And she handed me a Bible. “This is the foundation of our faith as Christians, and it’s the living Word.”

I said, “Yeah, yeah, right. Mom. I’ll take it for whatever it is.” And I stuck the Bible in my pocket real quick so my friends wouldn’t see it. My mom looked like she’d been crying or like she was hung over or something. I said, “Mom, you’re really embarrassing me.”

I was relieved to finally hear my friends come driving up in a loud ’76 Dodge with the muffler going “thaw-thwap-thwap.” I tossed my things in the car as fast I could and took off.

My two friends were smoking the herb on the way to the airport and drinking beer, but I wasn’t in a partying mood. As we drove by the high school, I had a feeling of satisfaction, like I was graduating, like I was going on to the North Shore wave college. Out of the three of us, I was the one who had made the dream come true.

On the 747 flying to Hawaii, I was trying to hold on to my self-confidence by thinking how I’d mastered the wave at North Beach and should be able to drop in on any island wave. Then I pulled a surfing magazine out of my bag and started reading an article saying that every other year one experienced surfer dies on the North Shore of Oahu.

There were pictures of guys taking horrible wipeouts on monster waves at Waimea and pictures of bleeding guys who had hit the reef at Pipeline. It really psyched me out, and the realization hit me for the first time that I could actually die. I said, “Oh, God, I don’t wanna die.” I didn’t even believe in God, but like everyone else, whenever I’m scared or in need, the first thing I did was yell out His name. I said, “God, I’ll stop smoking pot, I’ll stop drinking beer. I’ll even give you my best 6'8". Just don’t let me die on the North Shore.”

Right after I made that little prayer, a guy on the plane came up to me and said, “Hey, I know you. You’re Marty. You don’t know me, but I know you. I can’t believe we’re on the same plane. Are you by yourself?” The guy looked kind of familiar. I think maybe he had been a couple years ahead of me in school. I said, “Yeah.” “Here,” he handed me a phone number and said, “if you ever need any help, call here.” And he walked away.

I thought to myself, “Is this some kind of sign from God?”

When I got off the plane at Waikiki, everything was chaos. I had to run a mile to pick up my three surfboards, and by then it was almost dark. I didn’t have any place to go. I didn’t have a ride, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was completely disorganized. The North Shore was 45 minutes away, and I didn’t have a clue how I was going to get there. So I called the phone number the guy on the place had given me. He was already home, but he still came and picked me up. We loaded my surfboards and luggage into his car, and we drove off through the pineapple fields to the North Shore.

It was a couple weeks before Christmas, and we knew the North Shore would be crowded. My friend asked me if I had any place to go, and when I said no, he said, “I think I know a place where you can stay.”

Mark Foo's house, 1984. I knew it was wrong, but I said okay anyway, went back to the house, and stole the Rusty.

He took me to Mark Foo’s Bed and Breakfast. Mark Foo is a professional surfer, well-known as a big-wave rider. He has a three-story house right off Waimea Bay. It’s a big redwood place, kind of up on stilts. From the upper level, you can see the big waves rolling in at Waimea. Mark Foo’s place is for surfers. It has beds, a big refrigerator, cooking facilities, and surfboards everywhere — on the roof, in the corners, all over the yard. It looked like heaven to me. So I went in and asked Mark Foo if he had any room at his place.

“How old are you?" he asked. “Eighteen,” I said.

He looked at me suspiciously. “Uh-huh. Well, tomorrow I might have a place for you in a room with some other guys,” he said. “But all I’ve got right now is a loft for ten bucks.” I said, “I’ll take it.” I gathered up my surfboards and gear and climbed three floors to the loft and went to sleep.

The next day I met some guys from Florida who had a Datsun station wagon. They let me ride in the back with my surfboard sticking out. We checked out Pipeline and Sunset before surfing at Rocky Point. I got creamed. I remember looking up at a 12-foot wave and seeing the sun shining through that lip as it pitched way out and being scared out of my gourd.

Later that day, Mark Foo put me in a room full of pro NSSA surfers from San Diego. (National Scholastic Surfing Association — sort of a semi-pro organization that helps student surfers get sponsorship.) The first thing they said when I moved in with them was, “Hey, we’re all Christians here.”

I thought they were putting me on. I said, “Christians and surfers?”

But they all nodded that they were; totally Christian, totally surfers, and totally pro. They didn’t smoke, they didn’t drink, they didn’t touch pot. They had a really clean lifestyle. Later that day, when I saw those guys out in the water, I knew they were for real. They were all good surfers.

They really went for it.

Over the next few days, the Christian guys took me under their wing and taught me how to survive on the North Shore.

They showed me what I’d been doing wrong when I’d gotten creamed at Rocky Point and then showed me how to do it right. They took me everywhere with them, and the whole time they were talking about Jesus as if He were their best friend. They would say things like “Marty, when you’re in the pot and the water starts to boil, how will you react? That’s when you’ll get to know Jesus.” Still, they never tried to shove their beliefs down my throat. They went to church every Sunday and to Bible study every Wednesday night. They would say, “Hey, we’re gonna go read the Word. Wanna go?”

I’d had enough church background to know how to play along with the Christian game, but I wasn’t really sincere. I was just doing a song and dance to get what I needed out of those guys.

Right before Christmas, we all went to watch the finals of the Pipeline Masters — the biggest event in professional surfing, like going to the Super Bowl. At that time, the Australians and the Hawaiians were dominating pro surfing. We knew it would be unlikely for a California surfer to win the Pipeline Masters, but Joey Buran, who was from Carlsbad, was the great California hope. We were all rooting for the California Kid, thinking, if he can make it here, so can we.

The waves that day were incredible; 12-foot, so fast, and breaking so close to the shore. You could see that even the pros in the contest were pumped for it — no laughing, total concentration, watching the conditions every second. The announcers talked in hushed tones. It was kind of drizzling all day long, and just staying there watching heat after heat made you feel like you were enduring the conditions with the pros. It was a very dramatic day.

At one point, Joey Buran walked right by me. He was short, blond, kind of baby-faced — he even looked like the California Kid. I wanted to reach out and touch him.

In the finals, Buran took off all alone right on the horn; he made a vertical drop, a powerful bottom turn, and hooked back into the lip; then the curtain just fell in front of him. The wave looked like it closed out, but then we saw Buran edging out of it. We could see him holding on by his toes, then the wave closed over him again...then just a peek of Buran — then the wave closed out hard and you just knew nobody could come out of that one. But at the very last second, when everybody had given up on him, Buran shot out the end of the wave with mist spitting out behind him and his arms raised in the air in victory.

Everybody knew right then that Buran had won it. Nobody else that day had a wave anything like that. It was the most incredible tube ride I had ever seen. And when they handed him the trophy, Buran lifted it over his head and said, “Dreams do come true.... Dreams do come true. I give this dream to the Lord Jesus Christ."

As soon as Buran said those words, BOOM!, a rain squall came down, like a hurricane, and the crowd scattered. I just sat there thinking, “This has gotta be God.”

On Christmas day I surfed all day long — four sessions in the water. The surf got bigger and bigger, and by that afternoon I was totally exhausted. I’d had a Sno-Cone and a taco all day, and I was hungry. I was walking home in my shorts and flats, with my board under my arm. It was kind of rainy and almost dark. Looking in the front window on the floor where Mark Foo and his family lived, I could see everybody sitting down to Christmas dinner. There were adults and kids, Orientals and haoles — it looked really nice.

Just then I saw Mark Foo waving at me, like, “You, come here!” I went to the door and he invited me inside to share his family’s Christmas dinner. I was kind of frazzled, so he even made me a plate of food. While I sat there and wolfed it down, famous surfers filed in and out. I met Bobby Owens, who was a hero of mine. I met Mark Richards, who was the world champion. I met Rabbit Bartholomew. It was more than I had ever imagined would be given to me.

I felt really sensitive to the spirit that day, to this feeling that was moving me — whatever it was — I just didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t know if my new life was a dream or not. No one knew who I was, no one knew my past, and yet here I was surfing all these famous spots with my new friends, and all these little miracles were happening.

By now Christ had me in his hands. But at the same time, I was doing a little dance with him. I was surfing really well by now, and I felt in control of my life again. I started to forget all about the promise I’d made to God on the plane. After Christmas I started being attracted by this other lifestyle. Over at Foodland, you could buy a big pint of Steinlager for a buck — a very powerful temptation. And everywhere I went I could smell that sweet Hawaiian weed. When somebody would ask me, “Hey, you want a hit of pod?” I would say, “No...Yeah! I do...but I made a promise.”

At Mark Foo’s, on the floor below us, a bunch of Peruvian guys were always burning big, and the aroma was always drifting up to us. The Christians pros would say, “They’re really under the spell of Satan down there, aren’t they?”

I would shake my head and say, “Yeah, they really are.” But part of me would be thinking, “Are you guys for real? Smell that stuff — that’s great pot they’re smoking down there!”

After a while I started smoking pot again and hanging out with this guy from Newport Beach, a real weasel. When I first met him, I was at the house partying and watching MTV; I had passed out on the couch, and suddenly I woke up with this Peruvian psycho thumping me on the bottom of my bare feet, like “Get out of the way, I wanna sit there!” But the Weasel told this guy, “Leave him alone, he can lay there if he wants to.” The Weasel stood up for me, and I thought that made him my friend, when really he was the kind of guy who would have stolen anything from me.

The Weasel had style, though — the way he dressed, the way he talked. I thought he was cool. And he was a good surfer too. He didn’t just talk surfing — he could back up his talk. I’ve always been easily influenced by other people, and I sort of came under the influence of the Weasel.

The Christian guys saw right through me. They saw I was screwing up. One of them said to me, “You know, Marty, you’re trickin’ us. You said you believed one thing, but now you’re doing something else. What’s the deal with you?”

I didn’t know what to say. I was caught between two worlds. So they kicked me out of their room because they didn’t dig my lifestyle.

I had to sleep on the couch, which I didn’t really mind so much.

Meanwhile, out in the water I was doing well, I was learning, but I kept breaking my surfboards. Finally I was down to my last 6 0", which was too short for big conditions.

One day about a week before it was time for me to go home, the Weasel and I were looking at Pipeline. There was a perfect 12-foot west swell moving in — absolutely beautiful. But at the same time there was another 18-foot swell moving in from the north and hitting on the second reef. The conditions were very tricky. Guys were showing up in hordes just to sit and watch.

The Weasel turned to me and said, “Let’s surf it.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“All we gotta do is watch the channel; we surf the west swell, and then paddle over the big stuff coming from the north.”

“I only got a six-foot board.”

“No, br’ah,” he said. “You got all the boards you want back at the house!”

The deal at Mark Foo’s place was that anybody staying there could use any board that belonged to the house. But that wasn’t what the Weasel meant — he meant I should take a board that belonged to one of the Christian pros. And we both knew which board he meant, too: a beautiful 6'8" Rusty.

I knew it was wrong, but I said okay anyway, went back to the house, and stole the Rusty.

The Weasel and I paddled out, and right away I got barreled unbelievable.

Dropping in on that 12-foot wave, my body got stretched through the torso, and when I hit the trough, I laid everything into the bottom turn. I didn’t have time to really think about drawing a line, I just sunk a rail, then pulled back up into the wall, just like I’d learned to do at North Beach. I grabbed rail, held my other hand high, and drove fast backside, going, “Where’s the lip?” And all of a sudden the lip flew over my head, I MEAN, WAY OVER MY HEAD! I had never been in such a hollow wave before, and I was so deep into it I was looking out the tube at the local boys giving me the “shacka” (the Hawaiian hand sign) and nodding, like, “Yeah, haole, you in there!”

I did an under lip snap and got blasted out of that. Then I paddled back out and got the same kind of ride at Backdoor, thinking to myself, “Who needs God? I am God!”

When you surf Backdoor and you have that situation of a north swell coming in, the best thing to do is to come all the way into the beach, then paddle back out at the channel, where you have a chance. But I said to myself, “North Beach has taught me well. I can handle this. I’m paddling back out.”

As I paddled out, the waves were stacking up so high I couldn’t see the horizon. But I could still see the channel to my right. All of a sudden, I saw a bunch of guys thrashing hard for the north. That meant there was a big set coming, and I was trapped inside. I knew I was gonna get pounded. I said, “Oh, my God. I don’t think I’m gonna do good.” I went right into full repentance, praying to the wax on my board, “I’m so sorry, God. Please don’t let me die. I don’t think I’m gonna make this without you.”

I pushed my chest into my board and managed to paddle over some of those swells. Then I saw this magnificent wave coming. It had to be 18-foot. It was shifting on the reef, and it was picking up a little bit of ripple from the offshore trade winds. Guys farther out buried their chests in their boards and barely slipped over this smacker. But I knew I was going to get crushed, lust as the wave was pitching out over me, I ditched the board, swam for the reef.

All of a sudden, I was thrown into an abyss, the color went black, and all I could think of was, "Protect your head" and tried to wrap my arms and legs around a nice, fat, juicy coral head. Just before I reached the coral, the wave sucked me up into the lip and threw my body out like a rag doll. As I was being tossed under water, I opened my eyes and thought what a beautiful color of blue the ocean was that day. Then all of a sudden, I was thrown into an abyss, the color went black, and all I could think of was, “Protect your head.” Wham! I hit my shoulder on the reef, then I was on the surface, then I was being sucked down into the darkness again and hit my knees, then my elbows. I thought, “I can’t handle that kind of impact again."

Luckily, I popped up on the surface, but I was trembling with shock. I grabbed for the stolen board, that beautiful 6'8" Rusty, and saw that it was in two pieces. I was holding one piece, and the other piece was 200 yards down the beach.

I managed to drag myself to shore, where the local scavengers were running up to me, shouting, “Fifty bucks for board, br’ah! Fifty bucks!” I was practically bleeding to death, and all they could think of was to make a deal on my broken board.

“Get away from me,” I said.

Meanwhile, the haole boys were pointing way down the beach and saying, “The other half of your board’s down there, br’ah! Your board’s down there!”

I gathered up the two pieces of the Rusty and limped back to Mark Foo’s.

The Christian guy who owned the board was a big, burly guy. He worked at a hotel, trying to make enough money so he could stay in Hawaii a little longer. When he came home from work, I had the board laid out on the ground and sort of pieced together, so it didn’t look so bad. I said, “I kinda got some bad news for ya, bro....”

Even though he was a Christian, he was also a surfer, and his board was his weak spot. He totally lost it. He took me by the neck and thrashed me. Thumped me hard, while a bunch of other surfers stood around and watched. “Guys like you who come over here are a dime a dozen,” he said.

I actually felt better afterwards. My lip was bleeding, but I knew I’d needed to get my butt kicked. I needed that spanking.

As soon as he was finished working me over, the Christian guy apologized. Then he said, “Now, can we call your mother so you can buy my board?”

I called my mom collect from a pay phone. I couldn’t tell her I stole a board and broke it, so I just asked for money to stay longer. She said she had just lost her job and was bummed that I even asked for money. Then she said, “Marty, is everything okay?”

“Yeah, Mom, everything’s okay.”

Mark Foo helped me put the broken board back together, and it looked so good when we were finished with it, the Christian guy told me I didn’t need to pay him for it.

Two days later I flew home, landed in rainy L.A., and drove back to Coronado.

Back in Coronado. I would see some kid go by with his surfboard under his arm, and I would say, “I just wanted you to know I love you, and Jesus loves you.”

They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. — Mark 2:17

As soon as I came home, I was an instant hero. When my buddies came over, I still had red Hawaiian mud on my Vans. I put them up on the table so they could touch the holy mud. Any place I went, like a basketball game, guys I hardly knew would come up to me and say, “Hey, Marty, did you really surf Sunset?”

“I did.”

“Does that inside at Sunset suck out as bad as they say?” “Well, it does, bro, but that’s what you want — that’s what we trained for at North Beach.” I was really working my new status for all I could get.

I walked into the office at school, and as soon as they saw me, everybody in the office stopped what they were doing, stopped typing, stopped talking, and looked over their glasses at me. They never thought they would see me again. “I’m ready to go back to school, now,” I said. Then they all started typing and talking again, I guess trying not to show their shock, “Okay, uh-huh, fine, Marty.” I gotta hand it to them, they really bent the rules so I could get back into school.

After I’d been home for a while, I started to see my life in another perspective. It was like, okay. I’d fulfilled my dream of spending a winter on the North Shore. Was that it? What was I going to do now? Would I still be telling surf stories when I was 30? Also, Hawaii had been a very emotional experience for me, but I felt like I had left something undone there.

I hadn’t completed my trial. Or, in a way, I had failed my trial. So my new plan was to go hack to Hawaii and finish what I had left undone.

By going to summer school, I was able to graduate.

I started saving my money, and by the time winter came, I was ready to travel again. This time my friends said they were going with me, but our plans somehow got diverted from Hawaii to Mexico. I think the idea was that it was cheaper in Mexico; we could get more for our money than we could in Hawaii. We could smoke more pot.

We flew from Tijuana to Guadalajara, and when the plane landed, there was a big fire on the runway. I don’t know if a plane had crashed or what. A bunch of tough-looking guys with military uniforms and automatic rifles were standing around on the runway. The whole thing made me feel very nervous. We took another plane to Manzanillo, in the state of Michoacan. There we hired a taxi right off the strip to drive us to a little fishing village we’d heard about: Boca de Pasquales. It was dark, and as we drove through the coconut groves in the back of a VW van, I kept thinking, “This doesn’t smell like Hawaii.” It had that humid, mosquito coast smell, like rot and decay.

When we arrived at the little village, everything was pitch black — no moon at all that night. There were crude hotels there, but we’d heard they were so infested with cockroaches and scorpions and other vermin you didn’t want to stay there. Surfers liked to stay at this little palapa on the beach, so we asked the taxi driver to take us there.

When we got to the palapa, everyone else was asleep. We got out our Bic lighters so we could see and started to hang our hammocks. One of my friends was pumped and being really loud — “Hey, the boys from California are here!" — obnoxious, really.

I was in survival mode, myself. I felt very disoriented, very uncomfortable. We were smoking pot, and maybe I was a little paranoid.

I managed to get my hammock strung up, stacked all my gear underneath me, and tied the leashes from my two surfboards around my leg so they wouldn’t get ripped off. I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t. Somewhere in the background, I could hear big waves cracking.

On the trip down I had been thinking a lot about my life. One part of me was excited about being in Mexico, about living my dream to surf exotic places, but another part of me was thinking, “Is this really what I want to do with my life? Is there really a reward in this?”

Then I became aware of somebody in a hammock across from me. It was so dark, I couldn’t see who it was, and he couldn’t see me. But he started talking to me, saying, “Hey, the waves are really thumping here.” He had a very soothing voice, with a Texas accent, lust hearing him started to calm me down, and I wanted him to keep on talking.

He and I (his name was Steve) talked for about two hours that night. We talked about surfing, about Hawaii and Mexico, about life. Some of what he said had religious or philosophical overtones, but it didn’t really matter so much to me what he was saying. I just wanted him to calm me down. At some point he told me he was a Christian.

As soon as it was light, I got a look at Steve. He was short and stocky, with long blond hair cropped off just above the shoulders. He didn’t smile a lot, but he had a confidence that put me at ease.

The other surfers staying at the palapa said they were going to a place called the Boneyard that was at least a mile away, so we grabbed our boards and started following them down this dirt road. It was still just barely light out, and I still felt very uncomfortable, very strange.

We passed by a big ugly vulture picking on something dead in the road. Then we passed a barefoot farmer carrying a big machete. He eyed my feet, and I started thinking he was going to kill me for my shoes. In my mind I kept seeing these images of death, and yet as we walked Steve kept talking to me about life. I told him, “Just keep talking to me, because I’m not feeling too good here.” When we got to the Boneyard, the surf was popping — a perfect eight-foot beach break with A-frames rolling in one after another. But I really didn’t care about the surf. I only cared about what Steve was saying to me.

The beach was black volcanic sand. As I knelt down to put on my leash, Steve said, “Marty, you’ve tried it all, man.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I have.”

“Now it’s time to try Jesus. He wants you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, simple, bro.” Then he pointed out to the water and said, “Who created the surf? Look out there at those perfect waves. You think He didn’t know what He was doing when He created that? Jesus loves surfers, bro.”

My other buddies were getting all excited just looking at the surf. “Come on, Marty, let’s go!”

I waved them off. I wanted to listen to my new friend more than I wanted to surf.

“Let’s start over, Marty. You don’t have anything to lose. Let’s start a new life.”

I said, “Okay.”

“Would you like to pray?” he asked, and he started to put his arm around my shoulder.

But I didn’t want him to touch me. I had a barrier around me. I shrugged him off and said, “Don’t touch me, Jesus freak!” “Okay,” he said. “I won’t touch you." He knelt down in the sand and started praying, “I want to praise the Lord in this prayer!...” All of a sudden, visions of my childhood started coming back to me. I was sitting in church with my family, at the age of 6, saying meekly, “Yes, I’ll accept Jesus into my heart.” All my friends were saying it too. And then I was in summer camp at the age of 10, saying, “Yes, I’ll accept Jesus into my heart.” And now here I was at age 20, saying it again. “Yes, I’ll accept Jesus into my heart.”

It was like a load of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. I started laughing and couldn’t stop. All the worries and fears, the misunderstandings and perversions, they all disappeared. And I was free.

But my buddies were looking at me and shaking their heads, going, “Marty found Jesus.”

“No! Jesus found me!” I said.

It was so easy now. Everything was so clear. The farmer with the machete, who I thought was going to kill me for my shoes — now I wanted to run after him and give him my shoes! My buddies who hated me for finding Jesus — I could jump over their hate and love them for who they were. That’s the kind of freedom and understanding God gave me right there on the spot.

As I was paddling out, Steve, a goofy-foot, took off on a wave going backside. He did a nice layback, and just as he went past me, he said, “It’s beautiful, man! It’s beautiful!”

I couldn’t even surf. I just sat outside on my board thinking, “I know me! I know my creator! He knows me!”

And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. —Luke 4:13

Back in Coronado, my friends would say, “Marty found Jesus in Mexico. He’s a full-on religious freak now. Holy Spirit kinda stuff.”

Or they would say to me, “Okay, Marty, so you’re into this Jesus thing now. But why do you have to quit smoking pot?”

For a while I started cutting my old friends off. And my own brothers discarded me. “What kind of opium did you smoke, Marty? What’s this Jesus stuff? It’ll pass.” But it didn’t pass. One by one I got my brothers to stop smoking pot. I was the one who had got them started in the first place, and now I got them to quit.

And eventually my friends saw that this wasn’t just a fad with me and that the change in me was a change for the better. One day one of them said to me, “You know something, Marty? We can trust you now. You’re true to your word.”

Another friend said to me, “I respect you, bro, just don’t talk to me about Jesus.” Of course,

I still did, but indirectly, because everything is a parable.

Every time I saw my mother, she started crying with happiness. “Oh, my son, you’ve made it! You’ve come home! A miracle has happened in the Horvath family.”

One day I was with some other surfers at Trestles, when I heard Joey Buran was up the beach a ways. Since the time I had seen him win the Pipeline Masters, Buran, my hero, had gone through some changes in his own life. He had come back to San Diego, started the PSAA (Professional Surfing Association of America), which is now the Bud Lite Pro Tour. Later he decided that was lame (“All is vanity,” he used to say) and dropped out of professional surfing to become a pastor at the Calvary Chapel in Vista.

I was standing on a berm of sand when I saw him walking down the beach toward me, about 50 yards away. As he came closer, he looked up at me. I kind of nodded to him, thinking to myself, “I want to meet you so bad.” He stopped, turned and walked toward me, then said, “Do I know you?”

I almost started hyperventilating. I said, “No, but I saw you win the Pipeline Masters! I’m a Christian now!”

Joey and I became friends after that. He used to call me from time to time. He was such an inspiration for me, to help me deepen my faith. He has his own congregation in Virginia now.

I was still a wild guy, but Jesus took me under His wing and taught me. Little by little I matured in Christ. I told Him, “I want to do something for you. What is it you want me to do?” And the word I got back was, “Get involved with high school kids.”

Back when I was at Coronado High, every time the director of Campus Life (a non-denominational Christian organization) came on the school grounds, I would throw rocks at him. Nobody hated Campus Life more than me. But now I called up the Campus Life director, Jimmy Carmel, and told him I wanted to help. He was blown away. He said, “This is unbelievable, Marty. You used to flip me off every time I came on campus. This is a miracle!”

So I got involved in Campus Life at Coronado High. I would see some kid go by on a skateboard, with his surfboard under his arm, and I would say, “You! Stop! I wanna talk to you!” And then I would say, “I just wanted you to know I love you, and Jesus loves you.”

Later on I started a surf team, and 60 kids came out. I couldn’t keep them all, so I kept 12 guys. Some of them were failing school, but they could really surf. I told them, “First of all, nobody on this team smokes pot. You gotta cut that out. The partying on Friday night — well, we’ll work on that.” We had T-shirts made up with our logo on them. We would get up at 4:30 every morning and do calisthenics on the beach. I would take them down to Mexico or up the coast to my secret spots. Their motivation wasn’t to learn about Jesus. In fact, they told me once, “Hey, Marty, we joined this team to be better surfers, not go to a Bible study.” They were right, and I had to back off on that. But little by little, we built up a trusting relationship. I talked to them about their attitudes and got most of them to at least consider the possibility that they weren’t the hottest thing to ever hit the beach. I helped them bring their grades up. They would write papers about me in their English classes, and I had teachers coming up to me and saying, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re doing something good.”

Now the teachers at the school call me up and say, “Hey. Marty, we’ve got a kid who’s falling through the cracks. Do you think there’s anything you can do to help?”

Eventually I got a job as the youth director at the United Methodist Church in Coronado. I still surf North Beach every chance I get. But it’s getting harder and harder to find the time.

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Marty Horvath:  He took me by the neck and thumped me hard, while a bunch of other surfers stood around and watched. “Guys like you who come over here are a dime a dozen."
 - Image by Byron Pepper
Marty Horvath: He took me by the neck and thumped me hard, while a bunch of other surfers stood around and watched. “Guys like you who come over here are a dime a dozen."

And Jesus answered and spoke unto them in parables. — Matthew 22:1

A guy on the plane came up to me and said, “Hey, I know you. You’re Marty. You don’t know me, but I know you."

Some pretty radical things happened my senior year of high school, beginning with my dad dying of a heart attack. My dad was only 51 when he died — a big strong construction worker with Popeye arms. I could punch my dad as hard as I wanted in the stomach and it was like nothing to him. You didn’t mess with my dad. He was lord of the house. He wasn’t abusive or anything. He was a kind man, but if you messed with him, he would kill you.

My dad was also a God-fearing Christian man. He raised me in the church, but as soon as I got old enough, I just bailed. The church wasn’t for me at all. I always I knew there was a God, but my God was my dad. He answered all my questions for me — about girls, about sports, about how to fix my car. I didn’t even know I needed a God till my dad died.

Waimea Bay. There were pictures of guys taking horrible wipeouts on monster waves at Waimea and pictures of bleeding guys who had hit the reef at Pipeline.

I grew up in Coronado and have lived here almost all my life. We used to call it the “Walt Disney bubble world.” Drive over the Coronado bridge and you’re in paradise. Everything here is clean and sunny, but in a way it isn’t real. At Coronado High it was mostly admirals’ daughters and pilots’ sons — very conservative upper middle-class, with only a few minorities. The surfers and the skate crew were the only real rebels.

When I was a kid, I was really inspired by surfers because the ocean scared me. I used to sit and watch surfers at North Beach, and they were like gods to me. The ocean didn't scare them — they went out there to have fun! I was really impressed by that.

I skateboarded a lot when I was a kid, so I had the feel of surfing, but I didn’t really learn to surf until my first year of high school when I borrowed a wetsuit and a surfboard from a friend of mine. Once I got started, I picked it up really fast, and from then on surfing just grabbed me and became my whole life. I dropped out of basketball and baseball, which I had always loved, and didn’t want to do anything except surf.

All my best friends were surfers. There were four or five of us who were really close. North Beach, near the boundary of the Navy air base, was our hangout. On a south swell, North Beach is a strong, close-out, shacking wave — not a playful wave at all. You can never predict it. It’s a lousy wave, really, but at times it opens up for you; and because it’s fast, and because it breaks in shallow water, we knew it was good training for the Pipeline, on the North Shore of Oahu.

We were into drugs a little, smoking the herb mostly, and drinking beer on Friday nights. We wore our hair long and liked to get rowdy at dances and football games. We may have gotten into trouble more than other kids at school, but at least we were committed to something. Surfing was an art, and our passion for it was deep, from the clothes we wore to the language we spoke. Friday nights four or five of us would be sitting in somebody’s bedroom drinking beer and dreaming of surf. We had surf photos all over our walls, so we’d look up at them and say, “I want to go to all these exotic places....”

We were always fine-tuning our boards. Mark Richards was winning the world championship on his twin fin, and we were trying to twin fin too. Simon Anderson came out with the thruster, and when Shaun Tomson said that was the best board he’d ever ridden, we got into thrusters. The best shaper in San Diego was Rusty Preisendorfer; he made the most beautiful, state-of-the-art boards, with sleek lines and a kicked-up nose. It was every kid’s dream to own at least one Rusty.

After a while, North Beach wasn’t really enough for us, so every Monday we would ditch school and go surf in Mexico. Our grades were barely passing. One long weekend, when I was 16, four of us told our parents we were going up-coast to Huntington. We lied big. We took the train from Mexicali down to Mazatlin, where we really bit into the adventure of surfing, eating iguanas and papayas and riding big waves in warm, tropical waters. When we came back to school, we were instant legends.

We started talking about saving up our money so we could take the bus down to Cabo San Lucas and live on the beach. We had restaurant jobs in the winter and construction jobs in the summer, but you could never really count on us to be on time or even show up at all, because our main focus was surfing. I started selling drugs to get more money to buy surfboards.

Even though my lifestyle was pretty wild, I still had a good life at home. At our house, when my dad was alive, we all ate dinner together at five o’clock every day. My mom, my dad, my three brothers, and I all sat down together and talked about what we had done that day. I assumed that everybody had that kind of a family life. I found out later how wrong I was.

After my dad died, my mom tried to be strong. She said. “I’m going to survive this.... I can deal with this.” And at first she did. Later she went into full depression. I was depressed too, but I dealt with it by putting even more energy into surfing. I started getting up earlier, hitting North Beach before dawn, really going for it on waves I never would have before. I surfed every day until I was exhausted. Surfing was the only thing that made me feel better. My friends thought I was going crazy, and maybe I was.

Even after my dad died, my mom used to cook us a big country breakfast with bacon and eggs every day. One morning at breakfast, with my brothers all there, I announced that I was dropping out of school and going to Hawaii with my friends.

At first nobody said anything. Complete silence. Then one brother said, “Are you really doing that?"

My mom didn’t make a big deal out of it. She just said, “You’re a man, now, Marty. If that’s what you really want to do, then do it.” I think she was trying so hard to deal with her own grief, she didn’t have-the energy to talk me out of it.

At school the teachers and counselors put me into one of their categories, something like, I don’t know, “profoundly depressed over the loss of his father.” They just saw me in psychological terms. So when I announced I was dropping out of school and going to Hawaii, they just figured it was inevitable. They didn’t even try to talk me out of it.

Of my three friends who had been talking for years about going to Hawaii, I was the lowest on the level of surfing performance. My two friends were really good, while I was still creating a style for myself. They were always a step ahead of me. In fact, they didn’t even think I’d go to Hawaii with them. They used to tell me, “We’ll never see you surf Pipeline.” But my desire was strong, and when the time came to leave, I had $1300 plus my quiver of boards, all ready to go. Then the week before we were supposed to leave, all my friends bailed. Every one of them said, “Marty, we can’t go.” Either their parents wouldn’t let them or they didn’t have the money...something.

“Well,” I told them. “I’m still going."

But the children of the Kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. —Matthew 8:12

In the morning I was supposed to leave for Hawaii, in December of ’84, I was waiting for my friends to pick me up and take me to the airport. My mom came out in her bathrobe, with her hair sticking out all over, and said to me, “Marty, when your father ran this house, he had his life prioritized, with Jesus at the top, then me, then the family.... You’re going out on your own now, so if things ever get a bit crazy, if you ever need the truth in your life, here.” And she handed me a Bible. “This is the foundation of our faith as Christians, and it’s the living Word.”

I said, “Yeah, yeah, right. Mom. I’ll take it for whatever it is.” And I stuck the Bible in my pocket real quick so my friends wouldn’t see it. My mom looked like she’d been crying or like she was hung over or something. I said, “Mom, you’re really embarrassing me.”

I was relieved to finally hear my friends come driving up in a loud ’76 Dodge with the muffler going “thaw-thwap-thwap.” I tossed my things in the car as fast I could and took off.

My two friends were smoking the herb on the way to the airport and drinking beer, but I wasn’t in a partying mood. As we drove by the high school, I had a feeling of satisfaction, like I was graduating, like I was going on to the North Shore wave college. Out of the three of us, I was the one who had made the dream come true.

On the 747 flying to Hawaii, I was trying to hold on to my self-confidence by thinking how I’d mastered the wave at North Beach and should be able to drop in on any island wave. Then I pulled a surfing magazine out of my bag and started reading an article saying that every other year one experienced surfer dies on the North Shore of Oahu.

There were pictures of guys taking horrible wipeouts on monster waves at Waimea and pictures of bleeding guys who had hit the reef at Pipeline. It really psyched me out, and the realization hit me for the first time that I could actually die. I said, “Oh, God, I don’t wanna die.” I didn’t even believe in God, but like everyone else, whenever I’m scared or in need, the first thing I did was yell out His name. I said, “God, I’ll stop smoking pot, I’ll stop drinking beer. I’ll even give you my best 6'8". Just don’t let me die on the North Shore.”

Right after I made that little prayer, a guy on the plane came up to me and said, “Hey, I know you. You’re Marty. You don’t know me, but I know you. I can’t believe we’re on the same plane. Are you by yourself?” The guy looked kind of familiar. I think maybe he had been a couple years ahead of me in school. I said, “Yeah.” “Here,” he handed me a phone number and said, “if you ever need any help, call here.” And he walked away.

I thought to myself, “Is this some kind of sign from God?”

When I got off the plane at Waikiki, everything was chaos. I had to run a mile to pick up my three surfboards, and by then it was almost dark. I didn’t have any place to go. I didn’t have a ride, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was completely disorganized. The North Shore was 45 minutes away, and I didn’t have a clue how I was going to get there. So I called the phone number the guy on the place had given me. He was already home, but he still came and picked me up. We loaded my surfboards and luggage into his car, and we drove off through the pineapple fields to the North Shore.

It was a couple weeks before Christmas, and we knew the North Shore would be crowded. My friend asked me if I had any place to go, and when I said no, he said, “I think I know a place where you can stay.”

Mark Foo's house, 1984. I knew it was wrong, but I said okay anyway, went back to the house, and stole the Rusty.

He took me to Mark Foo’s Bed and Breakfast. Mark Foo is a professional surfer, well-known as a big-wave rider. He has a three-story house right off Waimea Bay. It’s a big redwood place, kind of up on stilts. From the upper level, you can see the big waves rolling in at Waimea. Mark Foo’s place is for surfers. It has beds, a big refrigerator, cooking facilities, and surfboards everywhere — on the roof, in the corners, all over the yard. It looked like heaven to me. So I went in and asked Mark Foo if he had any room at his place.

“How old are you?" he asked. “Eighteen,” I said.

He looked at me suspiciously. “Uh-huh. Well, tomorrow I might have a place for you in a room with some other guys,” he said. “But all I’ve got right now is a loft for ten bucks.” I said, “I’ll take it.” I gathered up my surfboards and gear and climbed three floors to the loft and went to sleep.

The next day I met some guys from Florida who had a Datsun station wagon. They let me ride in the back with my surfboard sticking out. We checked out Pipeline and Sunset before surfing at Rocky Point. I got creamed. I remember looking up at a 12-foot wave and seeing the sun shining through that lip as it pitched way out and being scared out of my gourd.

Later that day, Mark Foo put me in a room full of pro NSSA surfers from San Diego. (National Scholastic Surfing Association — sort of a semi-pro organization that helps student surfers get sponsorship.) The first thing they said when I moved in with them was, “Hey, we’re all Christians here.”

I thought they were putting me on. I said, “Christians and surfers?”

But they all nodded that they were; totally Christian, totally surfers, and totally pro. They didn’t smoke, they didn’t drink, they didn’t touch pot. They had a really clean lifestyle. Later that day, when I saw those guys out in the water, I knew they were for real. They were all good surfers.

They really went for it.

Over the next few days, the Christian guys took me under their wing and taught me how to survive on the North Shore.

They showed me what I’d been doing wrong when I’d gotten creamed at Rocky Point and then showed me how to do it right. They took me everywhere with them, and the whole time they were talking about Jesus as if He were their best friend. They would say things like “Marty, when you’re in the pot and the water starts to boil, how will you react? That’s when you’ll get to know Jesus.” Still, they never tried to shove their beliefs down my throat. They went to church every Sunday and to Bible study every Wednesday night. They would say, “Hey, we’re gonna go read the Word. Wanna go?”

I’d had enough church background to know how to play along with the Christian game, but I wasn’t really sincere. I was just doing a song and dance to get what I needed out of those guys.

Right before Christmas, we all went to watch the finals of the Pipeline Masters — the biggest event in professional surfing, like going to the Super Bowl. At that time, the Australians and the Hawaiians were dominating pro surfing. We knew it would be unlikely for a California surfer to win the Pipeline Masters, but Joey Buran, who was from Carlsbad, was the great California hope. We were all rooting for the California Kid, thinking, if he can make it here, so can we.

The waves that day were incredible; 12-foot, so fast, and breaking so close to the shore. You could see that even the pros in the contest were pumped for it — no laughing, total concentration, watching the conditions every second. The announcers talked in hushed tones. It was kind of drizzling all day long, and just staying there watching heat after heat made you feel like you were enduring the conditions with the pros. It was a very dramatic day.

At one point, Joey Buran walked right by me. He was short, blond, kind of baby-faced — he even looked like the California Kid. I wanted to reach out and touch him.

In the finals, Buran took off all alone right on the horn; he made a vertical drop, a powerful bottom turn, and hooked back into the lip; then the curtain just fell in front of him. The wave looked like it closed out, but then we saw Buran edging out of it. We could see him holding on by his toes, then the wave closed over him again...then just a peek of Buran — then the wave closed out hard and you just knew nobody could come out of that one. But at the very last second, when everybody had given up on him, Buran shot out the end of the wave with mist spitting out behind him and his arms raised in the air in victory.

Everybody knew right then that Buran had won it. Nobody else that day had a wave anything like that. It was the most incredible tube ride I had ever seen. And when they handed him the trophy, Buran lifted it over his head and said, “Dreams do come true.... Dreams do come true. I give this dream to the Lord Jesus Christ."

As soon as Buran said those words, BOOM!, a rain squall came down, like a hurricane, and the crowd scattered. I just sat there thinking, “This has gotta be God.”

On Christmas day I surfed all day long — four sessions in the water. The surf got bigger and bigger, and by that afternoon I was totally exhausted. I’d had a Sno-Cone and a taco all day, and I was hungry. I was walking home in my shorts and flats, with my board under my arm. It was kind of rainy and almost dark. Looking in the front window on the floor where Mark Foo and his family lived, I could see everybody sitting down to Christmas dinner. There were adults and kids, Orientals and haoles — it looked really nice.

Just then I saw Mark Foo waving at me, like, “You, come here!” I went to the door and he invited me inside to share his family’s Christmas dinner. I was kind of frazzled, so he even made me a plate of food. While I sat there and wolfed it down, famous surfers filed in and out. I met Bobby Owens, who was a hero of mine. I met Mark Richards, who was the world champion. I met Rabbit Bartholomew. It was more than I had ever imagined would be given to me.

I felt really sensitive to the spirit that day, to this feeling that was moving me — whatever it was — I just didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t know if my new life was a dream or not. No one knew who I was, no one knew my past, and yet here I was surfing all these famous spots with my new friends, and all these little miracles were happening.

By now Christ had me in his hands. But at the same time, I was doing a little dance with him. I was surfing really well by now, and I felt in control of my life again. I started to forget all about the promise I’d made to God on the plane. After Christmas I started being attracted by this other lifestyle. Over at Foodland, you could buy a big pint of Steinlager for a buck — a very powerful temptation. And everywhere I went I could smell that sweet Hawaiian weed. When somebody would ask me, “Hey, you want a hit of pod?” I would say, “No...Yeah! I do...but I made a promise.”

At Mark Foo’s, on the floor below us, a bunch of Peruvian guys were always burning big, and the aroma was always drifting up to us. The Christians pros would say, “They’re really under the spell of Satan down there, aren’t they?”

I would shake my head and say, “Yeah, they really are.” But part of me would be thinking, “Are you guys for real? Smell that stuff — that’s great pot they’re smoking down there!”

After a while I started smoking pot again and hanging out with this guy from Newport Beach, a real weasel. When I first met him, I was at the house partying and watching MTV; I had passed out on the couch, and suddenly I woke up with this Peruvian psycho thumping me on the bottom of my bare feet, like “Get out of the way, I wanna sit there!” But the Weasel told this guy, “Leave him alone, he can lay there if he wants to.” The Weasel stood up for me, and I thought that made him my friend, when really he was the kind of guy who would have stolen anything from me.

The Weasel had style, though — the way he dressed, the way he talked. I thought he was cool. And he was a good surfer too. He didn’t just talk surfing — he could back up his talk. I’ve always been easily influenced by other people, and I sort of came under the influence of the Weasel.

The Christian guys saw right through me. They saw I was screwing up. One of them said to me, “You know, Marty, you’re trickin’ us. You said you believed one thing, but now you’re doing something else. What’s the deal with you?”

I didn’t know what to say. I was caught between two worlds. So they kicked me out of their room because they didn’t dig my lifestyle.

I had to sleep on the couch, which I didn’t really mind so much.

Meanwhile, out in the water I was doing well, I was learning, but I kept breaking my surfboards. Finally I was down to my last 6 0", which was too short for big conditions.

One day about a week before it was time for me to go home, the Weasel and I were looking at Pipeline. There was a perfect 12-foot west swell moving in — absolutely beautiful. But at the same time there was another 18-foot swell moving in from the north and hitting on the second reef. The conditions were very tricky. Guys were showing up in hordes just to sit and watch.

The Weasel turned to me and said, “Let’s surf it.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“All we gotta do is watch the channel; we surf the west swell, and then paddle over the big stuff coming from the north.”

“I only got a six-foot board.”

“No, br’ah,” he said. “You got all the boards you want back at the house!”

The deal at Mark Foo’s place was that anybody staying there could use any board that belonged to the house. But that wasn’t what the Weasel meant — he meant I should take a board that belonged to one of the Christian pros. And we both knew which board he meant, too: a beautiful 6'8" Rusty.

I knew it was wrong, but I said okay anyway, went back to the house, and stole the Rusty.

The Weasel and I paddled out, and right away I got barreled unbelievable.

Dropping in on that 12-foot wave, my body got stretched through the torso, and when I hit the trough, I laid everything into the bottom turn. I didn’t have time to really think about drawing a line, I just sunk a rail, then pulled back up into the wall, just like I’d learned to do at North Beach. I grabbed rail, held my other hand high, and drove fast backside, going, “Where’s the lip?” And all of a sudden the lip flew over my head, I MEAN, WAY OVER MY HEAD! I had never been in such a hollow wave before, and I was so deep into it I was looking out the tube at the local boys giving me the “shacka” (the Hawaiian hand sign) and nodding, like, “Yeah, haole, you in there!”

I did an under lip snap and got blasted out of that. Then I paddled back out and got the same kind of ride at Backdoor, thinking to myself, “Who needs God? I am God!”

When you surf Backdoor and you have that situation of a north swell coming in, the best thing to do is to come all the way into the beach, then paddle back out at the channel, where you have a chance. But I said to myself, “North Beach has taught me well. I can handle this. I’m paddling back out.”

As I paddled out, the waves were stacking up so high I couldn’t see the horizon. But I could still see the channel to my right. All of a sudden, I saw a bunch of guys thrashing hard for the north. That meant there was a big set coming, and I was trapped inside. I knew I was gonna get pounded. I said, “Oh, my God. I don’t think I’m gonna do good.” I went right into full repentance, praying to the wax on my board, “I’m so sorry, God. Please don’t let me die. I don’t think I’m gonna make this without you.”

I pushed my chest into my board and managed to paddle over some of those swells. Then I saw this magnificent wave coming. It had to be 18-foot. It was shifting on the reef, and it was picking up a little bit of ripple from the offshore trade winds. Guys farther out buried their chests in their boards and barely slipped over this smacker. But I knew I was going to get crushed, lust as the wave was pitching out over me, I ditched the board, swam for the reef.

All of a sudden, I was thrown into an abyss, the color went black, and all I could think of was, "Protect your head" and tried to wrap my arms and legs around a nice, fat, juicy coral head. Just before I reached the coral, the wave sucked me up into the lip and threw my body out like a rag doll. As I was being tossed under water, I opened my eyes and thought what a beautiful color of blue the ocean was that day. Then all of a sudden, I was thrown into an abyss, the color went black, and all I could think of was, “Protect your head.” Wham! I hit my shoulder on the reef, then I was on the surface, then I was being sucked down into the darkness again and hit my knees, then my elbows. I thought, “I can’t handle that kind of impact again."

Luckily, I popped up on the surface, but I was trembling with shock. I grabbed for the stolen board, that beautiful 6'8" Rusty, and saw that it was in two pieces. I was holding one piece, and the other piece was 200 yards down the beach.

I managed to drag myself to shore, where the local scavengers were running up to me, shouting, “Fifty bucks for board, br’ah! Fifty bucks!” I was practically bleeding to death, and all they could think of was to make a deal on my broken board.

“Get away from me,” I said.

Meanwhile, the haole boys were pointing way down the beach and saying, “The other half of your board’s down there, br’ah! Your board’s down there!”

I gathered up the two pieces of the Rusty and limped back to Mark Foo’s.

The Christian guy who owned the board was a big, burly guy. He worked at a hotel, trying to make enough money so he could stay in Hawaii a little longer. When he came home from work, I had the board laid out on the ground and sort of pieced together, so it didn’t look so bad. I said, “I kinda got some bad news for ya, bro....”

Even though he was a Christian, he was also a surfer, and his board was his weak spot. He totally lost it. He took me by the neck and thrashed me. Thumped me hard, while a bunch of other surfers stood around and watched. “Guys like you who come over here are a dime a dozen,” he said.

I actually felt better afterwards. My lip was bleeding, but I knew I’d needed to get my butt kicked. I needed that spanking.

As soon as he was finished working me over, the Christian guy apologized. Then he said, “Now, can we call your mother so you can buy my board?”

I called my mom collect from a pay phone. I couldn’t tell her I stole a board and broke it, so I just asked for money to stay longer. She said she had just lost her job and was bummed that I even asked for money. Then she said, “Marty, is everything okay?”

“Yeah, Mom, everything’s okay.”

Mark Foo helped me put the broken board back together, and it looked so good when we were finished with it, the Christian guy told me I didn’t need to pay him for it.

Two days later I flew home, landed in rainy L.A., and drove back to Coronado.

Back in Coronado. I would see some kid go by with his surfboard under his arm, and I would say, “I just wanted you to know I love you, and Jesus loves you.”

They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. — Mark 2:17

As soon as I came home, I was an instant hero. When my buddies came over, I still had red Hawaiian mud on my Vans. I put them up on the table so they could touch the holy mud. Any place I went, like a basketball game, guys I hardly knew would come up to me and say, “Hey, Marty, did you really surf Sunset?”

“I did.”

“Does that inside at Sunset suck out as bad as they say?” “Well, it does, bro, but that’s what you want — that’s what we trained for at North Beach.” I was really working my new status for all I could get.

I walked into the office at school, and as soon as they saw me, everybody in the office stopped what they were doing, stopped typing, stopped talking, and looked over their glasses at me. They never thought they would see me again. “I’m ready to go back to school, now,” I said. Then they all started typing and talking again, I guess trying not to show their shock, “Okay, uh-huh, fine, Marty.” I gotta hand it to them, they really bent the rules so I could get back into school.

After I’d been home for a while, I started to see my life in another perspective. It was like, okay. I’d fulfilled my dream of spending a winter on the North Shore. Was that it? What was I going to do now? Would I still be telling surf stories when I was 30? Also, Hawaii had been a very emotional experience for me, but I felt like I had left something undone there.

I hadn’t completed my trial. Or, in a way, I had failed my trial. So my new plan was to go hack to Hawaii and finish what I had left undone.

By going to summer school, I was able to graduate.

I started saving my money, and by the time winter came, I was ready to travel again. This time my friends said they were going with me, but our plans somehow got diverted from Hawaii to Mexico. I think the idea was that it was cheaper in Mexico; we could get more for our money than we could in Hawaii. We could smoke more pot.

We flew from Tijuana to Guadalajara, and when the plane landed, there was a big fire on the runway. I don’t know if a plane had crashed or what. A bunch of tough-looking guys with military uniforms and automatic rifles were standing around on the runway. The whole thing made me feel very nervous. We took another plane to Manzanillo, in the state of Michoacan. There we hired a taxi right off the strip to drive us to a little fishing village we’d heard about: Boca de Pasquales. It was dark, and as we drove through the coconut groves in the back of a VW van, I kept thinking, “This doesn’t smell like Hawaii.” It had that humid, mosquito coast smell, like rot and decay.

When we arrived at the little village, everything was pitch black — no moon at all that night. There were crude hotels there, but we’d heard they were so infested with cockroaches and scorpions and other vermin you didn’t want to stay there. Surfers liked to stay at this little palapa on the beach, so we asked the taxi driver to take us there.

When we got to the palapa, everyone else was asleep. We got out our Bic lighters so we could see and started to hang our hammocks. One of my friends was pumped and being really loud — “Hey, the boys from California are here!" — obnoxious, really.

I was in survival mode, myself. I felt very disoriented, very uncomfortable. We were smoking pot, and maybe I was a little paranoid.

I managed to get my hammock strung up, stacked all my gear underneath me, and tied the leashes from my two surfboards around my leg so they wouldn’t get ripped off. I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t. Somewhere in the background, I could hear big waves cracking.

On the trip down I had been thinking a lot about my life. One part of me was excited about being in Mexico, about living my dream to surf exotic places, but another part of me was thinking, “Is this really what I want to do with my life? Is there really a reward in this?”

Then I became aware of somebody in a hammock across from me. It was so dark, I couldn’t see who it was, and he couldn’t see me. But he started talking to me, saying, “Hey, the waves are really thumping here.” He had a very soothing voice, with a Texas accent, lust hearing him started to calm me down, and I wanted him to keep on talking.

He and I (his name was Steve) talked for about two hours that night. We talked about surfing, about Hawaii and Mexico, about life. Some of what he said had religious or philosophical overtones, but it didn’t really matter so much to me what he was saying. I just wanted him to calm me down. At some point he told me he was a Christian.

As soon as it was light, I got a look at Steve. He was short and stocky, with long blond hair cropped off just above the shoulders. He didn’t smile a lot, but he had a confidence that put me at ease.

The other surfers staying at the palapa said they were going to a place called the Boneyard that was at least a mile away, so we grabbed our boards and started following them down this dirt road. It was still just barely light out, and I still felt very uncomfortable, very strange.

We passed by a big ugly vulture picking on something dead in the road. Then we passed a barefoot farmer carrying a big machete. He eyed my feet, and I started thinking he was going to kill me for my shoes. In my mind I kept seeing these images of death, and yet as we walked Steve kept talking to me about life. I told him, “Just keep talking to me, because I’m not feeling too good here.” When we got to the Boneyard, the surf was popping — a perfect eight-foot beach break with A-frames rolling in one after another. But I really didn’t care about the surf. I only cared about what Steve was saying to me.

The beach was black volcanic sand. As I knelt down to put on my leash, Steve said, “Marty, you’ve tried it all, man.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I have.”

“Now it’s time to try Jesus. He wants you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, simple, bro.” Then he pointed out to the water and said, “Who created the surf? Look out there at those perfect waves. You think He didn’t know what He was doing when He created that? Jesus loves surfers, bro.”

My other buddies were getting all excited just looking at the surf. “Come on, Marty, let’s go!”

I waved them off. I wanted to listen to my new friend more than I wanted to surf.

“Let’s start over, Marty. You don’t have anything to lose. Let’s start a new life.”

I said, “Okay.”

“Would you like to pray?” he asked, and he started to put his arm around my shoulder.

But I didn’t want him to touch me. I had a barrier around me. I shrugged him off and said, “Don’t touch me, Jesus freak!” “Okay,” he said. “I won’t touch you." He knelt down in the sand and started praying, “I want to praise the Lord in this prayer!...” All of a sudden, visions of my childhood started coming back to me. I was sitting in church with my family, at the age of 6, saying meekly, “Yes, I’ll accept Jesus into my heart.” All my friends were saying it too. And then I was in summer camp at the age of 10, saying, “Yes, I’ll accept Jesus into my heart.” And now here I was at age 20, saying it again. “Yes, I’ll accept Jesus into my heart.”

It was like a load of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. I started laughing and couldn’t stop. All the worries and fears, the misunderstandings and perversions, they all disappeared. And I was free.

But my buddies were looking at me and shaking their heads, going, “Marty found Jesus.”

“No! Jesus found me!” I said.

It was so easy now. Everything was so clear. The farmer with the machete, who I thought was going to kill me for my shoes — now I wanted to run after him and give him my shoes! My buddies who hated me for finding Jesus — I could jump over their hate and love them for who they were. That’s the kind of freedom and understanding God gave me right there on the spot.

As I was paddling out, Steve, a goofy-foot, took off on a wave going backside. He did a nice layback, and just as he went past me, he said, “It’s beautiful, man! It’s beautiful!”

I couldn’t even surf. I just sat outside on my board thinking, “I know me! I know my creator! He knows me!”

And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. —Luke 4:13

Back in Coronado, my friends would say, “Marty found Jesus in Mexico. He’s a full-on religious freak now. Holy Spirit kinda stuff.”

Or they would say to me, “Okay, Marty, so you’re into this Jesus thing now. But why do you have to quit smoking pot?”

For a while I started cutting my old friends off. And my own brothers discarded me. “What kind of opium did you smoke, Marty? What’s this Jesus stuff? It’ll pass.” But it didn’t pass. One by one I got my brothers to stop smoking pot. I was the one who had got them started in the first place, and now I got them to quit.

And eventually my friends saw that this wasn’t just a fad with me and that the change in me was a change for the better. One day one of them said to me, “You know something, Marty? We can trust you now. You’re true to your word.”

Another friend said to me, “I respect you, bro, just don’t talk to me about Jesus.” Of course,

I still did, but indirectly, because everything is a parable.

Every time I saw my mother, she started crying with happiness. “Oh, my son, you’ve made it! You’ve come home! A miracle has happened in the Horvath family.”

One day I was with some other surfers at Trestles, when I heard Joey Buran was up the beach a ways. Since the time I had seen him win the Pipeline Masters, Buran, my hero, had gone through some changes in his own life. He had come back to San Diego, started the PSAA (Professional Surfing Association of America), which is now the Bud Lite Pro Tour. Later he decided that was lame (“All is vanity,” he used to say) and dropped out of professional surfing to become a pastor at the Calvary Chapel in Vista.

I was standing on a berm of sand when I saw him walking down the beach toward me, about 50 yards away. As he came closer, he looked up at me. I kind of nodded to him, thinking to myself, “I want to meet you so bad.” He stopped, turned and walked toward me, then said, “Do I know you?”

I almost started hyperventilating. I said, “No, but I saw you win the Pipeline Masters! I’m a Christian now!”

Joey and I became friends after that. He used to call me from time to time. He was such an inspiration for me, to help me deepen my faith. He has his own congregation in Virginia now.

I was still a wild guy, but Jesus took me under His wing and taught me. Little by little I matured in Christ. I told Him, “I want to do something for you. What is it you want me to do?” And the word I got back was, “Get involved with high school kids.”

Back when I was at Coronado High, every time the director of Campus Life (a non-denominational Christian organization) came on the school grounds, I would throw rocks at him. Nobody hated Campus Life more than me. But now I called up the Campus Life director, Jimmy Carmel, and told him I wanted to help. He was blown away. He said, “This is unbelievable, Marty. You used to flip me off every time I came on campus. This is a miracle!”

So I got involved in Campus Life at Coronado High. I would see some kid go by on a skateboard, with his surfboard under his arm, and I would say, “You! Stop! I wanna talk to you!” And then I would say, “I just wanted you to know I love you, and Jesus loves you.”

Later on I started a surf team, and 60 kids came out. I couldn’t keep them all, so I kept 12 guys. Some of them were failing school, but they could really surf. I told them, “First of all, nobody on this team smokes pot. You gotta cut that out. The partying on Friday night — well, we’ll work on that.” We had T-shirts made up with our logo on them. We would get up at 4:30 every morning and do calisthenics on the beach. I would take them down to Mexico or up the coast to my secret spots. Their motivation wasn’t to learn about Jesus. In fact, they told me once, “Hey, Marty, we joined this team to be better surfers, not go to a Bible study.” They were right, and I had to back off on that. But little by little, we built up a trusting relationship. I talked to them about their attitudes and got most of them to at least consider the possibility that they weren’t the hottest thing to ever hit the beach. I helped them bring their grades up. They would write papers about me in their English classes, and I had teachers coming up to me and saying, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re doing something good.”

Now the teachers at the school call me up and say, “Hey. Marty, we’ve got a kid who’s falling through the cracks. Do you think there’s anything you can do to help?”

Eventually I got a job as the youth director at the United Methodist Church in Coronado. I still surf North Beach every chance I get. But it’s getting harder and harder to find the time.

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