Endless Session: Hermosa Beach’s Morgan Sliff celebrates a year of stoke
by Ryan McDonald
When she emerges from the water on Thursday morning, Hermosa Beach resident Morgan Sliff will have surfed 366 days in a row. She’ll gather with fellow surfers, as she often does, at Brother’s Burritos on 11th Street. She’ll have a party later that day to celebrate accomplishing her goal of surfing every day for a year.
And then, Friday morning, she will get up and go surfing again.
This kind of determination defies the traditional logic of sports and statistics. Streaks seem to need an end to become meaningful; we fence our lands to better convey the vastness of our holdings.
Surfing, of course, is different than other sports, and maybe not even a sport at all. Several months ago, at a book signing at Pages in Manhattan Beach, author William Finnegan held a Q&A about his Pulitzer Prize winning surf memoir “Barbarian Days.” He pointed out that you would never see LeBron James win the NBA championship, then head straight back out on the court for some one-on-one. He may love basketball, but there are boundaries.
In competitive surfing, however, that’s exactly what happens. The world title is regularly decided at the Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu. Competitors usually take about 15 minutes for the coronation ceremony, then head straight back to the lineup. The difference is the feeling that surfing provides, something deeper than competitive glory.
Which is precisely why you will find Sliff in the water Friday morning. Through wind, rain and injuries, what has kept her going is the way surfing follows her out of the water. The binding commitment never felt like work. It has freed herself to be the person she wants to be.
“It’s made me appreciate more than just going out and getting in the water,” she said. “It’s made me appreciate relationships, appreciate where I live. It’s opened my mind to so many more possibilities than just surfing.”
Sliff did not set out to break any records. She just wanted to feel good.
She plunged into the streak after a prolonged absence from the water. Surfing had been a touchstone of her childhood. But she married young, and surfed relatively little in the ensuing years.
“I would sit at my window, looking out at the ocean, wondering why I felt sad,” she recalled. “I had this drive to feel like I had to fit into this married personna.”
Each morning in the surf gradually washed away the sufferings of previous years after exiting the relationship. Sliff, who is 25, was so taken with her rekindled passion that a month passed before she realized she had a streak going, and decided to shoot for a year straight.
Frank Paine, who makes the daily signs that hang in the window at Brother’s and mark Morgan’s progress through the year, can’t quite recall the genesis of the idea. But he said it was born out of awe at the challenge she had before her.
“There’s a group of us that all hang out at Brothers, and I’m not sure if making the pictures was my idea or what. But eventually we said, ‘Let’s do a drawing everyday,’” Paine said. “At first we wondered, ‘Is she really going to do it? I don’t, know let’s keep track.’”
Longtime Hermosa shaper Jose Barahona has been with Sliff since the beginning, crafting three boards for her throughout her journey. Though Sliff was the first of his many customers to ever attempt something like this, he was sure she would do it.
“I had faith in her, because she’s always been really dedicated,” Barahona said. “I knew there would be a lot of bumps along the road. But she just keeps plowing right through them, always finding a way to get her waves.”
Among those initially in the skeptics column was local surfer Mike Siordia. Sliff reached out to Siordia to serve as her surf coach along the way. He agreed, but had his doubts, especially with El Niño set to produce one of the most consistent winters in recent memory.
“I thought no matter what it was a little bit crazy. As someone who has surfed as many days as possible for 20 years, I would never commit to something like that,” Siordia said. “And then we started getting all these swells.”
Fairly quickly, though, whether she would “do it” became an idle question. Her drive was apparent to everyone around her. Sliff tackled flat spells and giant days equal vigor. She surfed in Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, even on Lake Michigan.
And most challengingly, she continued surfing through a smattering of injuries, including a badly sprained AC joint. Though she kept an upbeat perspective, with encouraging social media posts highlighting her journey, the injuries got to her. They forced her to reckon with what surf filmmaker George Greenough really meant by “the innermost limits of pure fun.”
Among those to take notice was Marion Clarke-Setterholm. Clarke-Setterholm runs a surf school in Santa Monica, and met Sliff at the Hermosa Hotdogger contest in October. Sliff later served as a judge for one of the contests run by the surf school, and her perspective impressed Clarke-Setterholm.
“If you’re having a bad day, maybe you notice that the seafoam is really pretty. Or, you think, ‘Wow, that’s a really cool surfboard,’” Clarke-Setterholm said. “When you commit to surfing no matter what’s going on in the water or what’s going on inside you, you have to find a way to love it.”
Sliff is quick to point out that she was able to make it through with the support of others. Her circle of surfing associates, who kept her spirits high and pushed her into waves when she was limited in paddling. But just as she got help from others, her example has lifted lives.
Paine said that people are always asking him about the drawings he puts up in Brothers.
“So many people say, ‘Hey, what’s that?’ I’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s a girl surfing for 366 days in a row,’” he said. “And people respond, ‘You know, I should get back into surfing,’ or ‘I should commit to something for a year too.’”
Farther afield, messages pour in over social media, with well wishers from Australia to Florida. It brings her joy to think that her quest has touched lives beyond her own and to know that, like the ocean itself, it does not belong just to her.
“When this all started, it was purely for me, my decision, my choice,” she said. “But all of these characters, they are now lifelong friends. This is for everyone.”
The 366th day of Morgan Sliff’s Endless Session will take place south of the Hermosa Beach pier at 7:30 a.m., July 21, followed by breakfast at Brother’s Burritto’s (24 11th Street, Hermosa Beach). Becker Surfboards (301 Pier Avenue) will host a celebration from 2 to 8 p.m., featuring BBQ, surf films, giveaways, free drinks (including ocean-themed IPA’s from King Harbor Brewing and Heal the Bay), and a musical lineup featuring Steve Huante, Kira Lingman, Zacc West, Preston Lee, and Kevin Sousa.