I’ve met a lot of surfers in my life, but I’ve never met one as energetic and downright organized as Marion Clark, daughter of surfing champion Mary Setterholm.
Surfers are an interesting bunch. We crave both solitude and company; kindled by the ocean emerges a deep connection to all things Earth. Onlookers are mystified by those board-toting, barefoot, neoprene sheathed figures literally riding through life, and although we are exalted for partaking in the sport of Kings, we are often looked upon as being lazy stoners (yes, some are). The truth is, this high on salt makes many crawl on an endless search, and a few perfect waves manifest into sacrificed time, responsibilities, money, friends, and even homes for a lifetime of waves. I met a few Americans on a recent Mexico trip who left everything for a dusty dirt road to a shack in middle of nowhere in front of a perfect left reef break. And they haven’t left for 10 years.
Marion is one of the fully-functional waterholics, and were there an election for president of the ocean, she’d be at the top of the list. Not only a clean beach advocate, she runs The Surf Academy in Santa Monica, which works with Santa Monica schools to instill surf class programs, which she then oversees down at the beach with her managing partner Jamie Shindle as well as her first-rate instructors Charles Rollins and Maddie Lomonaco, to name a few. On top of that she runs The Surf Bus Foundation, which buses inner city kids who rarely get a chance to see the beach down to the shoreline for a day of sun, sand, surf, and pure play. And, with the densely packed Surf Academy was born Ohana Nalu – a contest series complied of kids from the different Santa Monica schools that spans Huntington to their home beach South of the Santa Monica Pier.
Getting down to the beach at 7 a.m. with beach marshall Wright Adaza, surf legend Mike Purpus, and renowned contest judge Ronnie De Valle, we found Marion scurrying about, poised, focused, and as always, smiling. “She shook my hand harder than you did,” Ronnie De Valle said as he looked at Wright.
“She has so much charisma. And so much respect in the surf community,” Adaza said.
We checked in, grabbed some pencils, and were ushered to our respective judges tents, sitting down as the first heat was paddling out for a water start.
Now my third time judging, I’ve been settling comfortably into scoring. I sat next to Ronnie and guest judge Tom, and Ronnie took the lead as head of our tent and gave us a few pointers here and there as we watched Marion’s talented flock carve down the heavy morning beachbreak. “Speed, power, and flow. That’s the ticket,” Ronnie said in between penciling in points. The contest was streamlined as could be and went off without a hitch — just as expected, with Clark at the helm. At one point, a girl in red, noticeably smaller than the rest of the heat, was garnering a lot of our attention. Our score sheet runner held back ’til the buzzer sounded in telling us it was his daughter Sophia, all the while glowing with daddy proud-ness.
One by one the heats started and ended, and after the last buzzer sounded, we said goodbye to my woman water hero, I waved to Sophia, and we set our sights on the busy Sunday line at Eat at Joe’s in Redondo, reminiscing about the morning and planning for another trip with the self-named A-team next Saturday back to Clark’s beachside Ohana.
Ah, and yes, I needed to get my water time in too before racing off to the hospital, so a quick afternoon dip at the Hermosa Pier and not throwing up my recent homefry indulgence had my mermaid stoke meter set on high. Work is always better after a surf.