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Endless Session, Day 889:  Returning Home

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Photo by Morgan Sliff

by Morgan Sliff

523 days, or 1.5 years ago, marked the last endless session entry.  Daily tracking has dwindled (now needing a bit of math to pinpoint streak currents) but everyday waves and stoke have ardently continued, adventures have multiplied like gremlins, love is in the air, and careers have shifted from 7 years in healthcare – since I was 18 – to a still-blossoming writing career.  In between all this, at a house in Santa Monica filled to the brim with sparkly mermaid trinkets, I had a memorable, one-minute conversation with a woman on the phone. 

I’ve heard maybe a hundred stories of the pure stoke of this woman.  This woman’s daughter, Marion Clarke has become one of my dearest friends.  Marion is my hero, and this woman, even though I’d never met her, is also my hero.  This woman founded WISA (Women’s International Surfing Association) in 1975 and was inducted into the Surfers Walk of Fame in 2016, where I watched from the crowd in Huntington Beach as Marion stepped up on the podium adorned in a white dress and a perma-smile to accept her mom’s recognition.  This woman founded Surf Bus Foundation – a non-profit organization that strives to teach inner city youth about the ocean, water safety, and environmental issues – and Surf Academy; both tight ships in Santa Monica, both now masterfully directed by Marion.  This woman held the first ever pro surfing event for women at Malibu, and this woman won the US women’s surfing championship at 17.

This woman is surf royalty and her name is Mary Setterholm.

Mary was on a rare visit to California from her home in New England, where she took up residence in her mid-fifties, ending up far from the South Bay at Harvard Divinity School.  She’s traveled back from time to time to visit family and has danced around the Pacific, but San Onofre, which etches its mark on many a water-lover, is that special place she hadn’t laid eyes on in over 8 years.

I pulled in a smidge late to Zebra House coffee in San Clemente where Roya Carlson, Maddie LaMoncao, Marion Clarke, and That Woman On the Phone – a real, breathing body – were all sitting swapping stories, waiting for Christian and I.  After some chats and a bit of awkward fangirling, Mary refocused the scatterbrained troops and set our coordinates for the beach. 

My subie, already caked with mud, and Marion’s merbeast clambered down the bumpy, overused dirt road and pulled in next to each other, where we stepped foot on land to sink our toes in the cold sand and take in the perfect, inviting 3-4 foot peelers accompanied by light offshore wind.  Mary looked like she was returning home.

Roya, Mary, Maddie, and Marion.  Photo by Morgan Sliff

We sat for a minute, taking it all in, and I asked Mary how it felt to be back to San O after so long.

“Oh my god it’s like going to grandfather’s house – your favorite grandfather’s house.  It’s someone who could always be counted on.  To listen to you, give you a hug, be strict, and say, you go girl.”

Just wow.

Maddie, Christian and Roya took to fire chief duty to get eggs going, Marion whipped out a box of snacks, and Mary made haste with some neoprene and took to the sea.  As I watched Mary walk down the rocky beach with a bright yellow INT after a few bites of Maddie’s warm eggs, she raised her hands up and yelled out in excitement.  Pelicans and seagulls nearly swarmed her on the paddle out, as if they had missed her.

Mary

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Mary Setterholm's first wave back at home. Photo by Morgan Sliff

Marion, Roya and Christian followed swiftly behind as Mary took her first wave, a waist high right around Dogpatch.  I pitched my camera in my car, ran as fast as I could to the state park bathrooms to relieve myself of Zebra House’s libations, and suited up faster than The Flash.

Paddling out, I could hear more exaltation from Mary, cheering for strangers as they raced down gentle sets.  We all surfed for hours, laughed for hours, and exited the water feeling full – San Onofre providing a morning buffet.  About 30 minutes of stories and homemade blueberry pie to follow didn’t quite live up to the million questions I could have asked.  We parted ways, leaving the stoked girls and that woman on the phone that I didn’t think could be real by the campfire, still looking out int0 the ocean.

You know what they say about meeting your heroes?  I met one today.  And it was cooler than I ever could have imagined.

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