SURFING INTO HEALTH
By Frank Addleman
For thirty-five years I taught nutrition and fitness at Santa Ana College in Orange County, California. During that time I was also the wrestling coach. At 68 years of age (2005) I am now retired. People always ask, “How did you get into the field of nutrition and fitness”. Thinking back there were several experiences that directed me toward my chosen profession.
Being a wrestler in college was probably one and surely my brief exposure to fitness Guru Jack LaLanne had a strong influence on me. But the real seed was planted when I was a nineteen year old surfer. In 1955 I was living in Hermosa Beach and surfing with friends, who would later become legends in Surfing. Dewey Weber and I wrestled at El Camino College and surfed regularly at 22nd Street in Hermosa Beach.
Back then my philosophy of life was very simple, “Surf, Sand and Sun”. That came first and I was sure my life would revolve around surfing. It was no surprise then that in the fall of 1955 I was encourage by my surfing buddies to drop out of college and go to the north shore of Oahu for the winter surf. That did not sit well with my wrestling coach or my parents.
My parents had moved to Oahu in 1951 and I had just returned from Hawaii where I had spent the summer with them. They expected me to be in college not surfing the north shore! After selling my 1950 woody (Big mistake) for airfare and spending Money, 12 of us landed on the north shore and took up residence in a Quonset hut on Makaha beach. Next door was the legendary surfer Buzzy Trent, who took us under his wing and put us through what he called “Big wave training”.
That was a hard concept to visualize at the time, since Makaha was as flat as a lake. Our daily routine consisted of paddling and diving. Buzzy would tell us that we had to be able to free dive down to the lower coral reef ledges and hold on until the surge of the wave pass and then come up. He also reminded us that if we were running out of air we could still breathe in the foam! That image did not sit well with me. Back then we did not have leashes, so I had visions of losing my board and being thrown on the coral reef.
I was already thinking that maybe I was meant to be a classic surfer and leave the big stuff to guys like Greg Noll and Buzzy. When the big surf did come, there I was stuck in 15 foot surf that looked to me like 50 feet. I was not a happy camper. As the sets kept pumping in I kept paddling out. There I was, sitting in the outside break surrounded by great surfers. The few I remember were, Rabbit Kakai, George Downing, Walt Hoffman, Dewey Weber, Mike Stang, and Jose Angel. That was comforting to me until a set came and most of them took off! There I sat looking at the sets building, wondering how I was going to get in.
Finally Jose Angel, my savior, paddled over to me and told me that I had to take off because it was closing out. Jose took off inside of me and literally coached me down that wave to the safety of the beach. I was really embarrassed as I crawled up the beach, but I was also happy to be on dry land. Lying next to me was Allen Gomez, who was younger than I, but was already known as an up and coming surfer. He said to me “Man, am I glad to be on the beach”. I smiled and said, “Me too”.
The next day Allen was out there ripping up the waves, while I helped Bud Brown set up his camera for his winter surf movie. Cameras always seem to give surfers that extra adrenalin rush to go out when they really didn’t want to. For me my new goal was classic small waves, so when it was smaller I was out there with a young kid named Joey Cabell. He was Hawaii’s answer to Mickey Dora; He was poetry in motion.
You are probably wondering by now when surfing planted this seed that resulted in my future profession. It occurred on one of those flat days while we were lounging on the beach eating lunch. Off on the horizon we thought we saw something moving. As we continued to watch, this spot keep getting bigger and bigger, and we realized that it was someone on a paddleboard. But who could it be? We were all accounted for on the beach.
It took another twenty minutes for the paddler to reach the beach, pick up his board, and walk towards us. Standing before me was this Bronze god looking down at me and he said “Hi, I’m Tom Zahn”. I had never met Tom before but I knew he was not only a good surfer but a world class paddler as well. Tom was one of those guys who looked like he just stepped out of G.Q. magazine! In fact he later stared in the first Cinerama movie in Hollywood. Tom had paddled up about 10 miles from a beach south of us and a friend was coming to pick him up.
We offered Tom some of our wonderful lunch, which if memory serves me, were probably soft drinks, bologna on white bread, and chips. Tom declined the food but took some water. His friend was bringing him something to eat. I eagerly looked forward to seeing what Tom had that was better than our gourmet offering. I remember it distinctly. The first thing out of the bag was sunflower seeds, followed by a carton of cottage cheese, and slices of fresh pineapple. Tom then put the pineapple over the cottage cheese and sprinkled the sunflowers over the top. I was amazed, this was health food!
Tom was training for the 1956 Catalina paddleboard race, which was coming up in August in California, and said he ate this way to enable him to train for endurance races. Right then and there I knew two things; one, I was going to eat what Tom ate, and I was also going to enter the paddleboard race from Catalina to Manhattan Beach, California.
The next day I was in the Waianae market getting my cottage cheese, pineapple, and sunflower seeds. With 12 of us in a two room Quonset hut we had one major problem with food, we only had one refrigerator! Using our ingenious young minds, we decided to partition off 12 compartments, thus giving each of us our own mini refrigerators. This sounded like a good idea but in no time food came up missing, especially mine.
When I returned to California I entered the Catalina race in the stock board division. Basically that meant an old plywood lifeguard board for each of us that we could sand, wax, etc., but could not modify. I cannot remember everyone who entered the race but I do remember training with Greg Noll and a Hawaiian friend by the name of George Kepo'o.
The three of us would paddle from the Manhattan pier to the Hyperion pier, a distance of about ten miles round trip. The actual race is about 36miles. Others that entered were my good friend Gibby Gibson, Bob Hogan, and Joe Zacollach. Mickey Dora had entered as well, but that was unusual since Mickey was anti competition in his philosophy towards surfing. Tom Zahn, and world class paddler George Downing of Hawaii, were of course the favorites in the stock board class.
The day before the race we all met at the Manhattan Pier for our bus ride to San Pedro, where we would board a yacht for the trip over to Catalina. The race was to be from the Catalina Isthmus to the Manhattan Beach pier the next day. There was only one problem. Tom Zahn was not there. Since Tom was a Santa Monica Life Guard they called their headquarters to find out why Tom had not arrived. They said he left awhile ago and should be there by now. Then they said “Look out towards Santa Monica, he’s paddling down to Manhattan.” That blew us away, but I knew it was to put a little fear into George Downing, Toms’ main competition in the race.
Needless to say, Tom won the race. George downing dropped out half way due to cuts on the inside of his arms, and Greg Noll finished second . Mike Bright, a good friend of mine, won the open division in a record time of 5.48.15. Mike later became a member of the U.S Olympic Vollyball team in 1964 and l968. Mickey Dora pulled one of his classics. The night before the race he told me that he just came for the food and the trip to Catalina and would not paddle back. True to his word, when we got about five hundred yards off the beach Mickey said “See you later Frank”, whereby he pulled the air plug and his board filled with water. The Coast Guard picked him up and he had a warm shower and hot coffee.
During the rest of the race Mickey would hang over the rail and cheer us on as he drank hot chocolate and we sweated away. You have to know Mickey to appreciate that. I finished 6th in 9:37, which was almost three hours behind Tom Zahn, who finished in 6:42.19..
I returned to college to wrestle and get an education and changed my major from Police Science to Health and Physical Education and the rest is history. Even today when I see sunflower seeds, pineapple, and cottage cheese I think of Tom Zahn and wonder what my life would be if I had not dropped out of College for a semester to surf the North Shore.
Today I would hope that most surfers and paddlers pay attention to their health and diet. Laird Hamilton might be the best role model for the surfing world. He reminds me of Tom Zahn. He is very conscious of his diet and the affect it has on his overall health and performance, which I am sure carries over to his wife and children as well. I had to smile when I watched Laird in a T.V. interview recently and he said his typical breakfast was an egg white omelet and a bowl of oatmeal. Looks like Tom Zahn is with us again!
Frank Addleman is the author of a new book called, “GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER, Think Healthy, Be Healthy”. It is available at frankaddleman.com and through bookstores nationwide.
The author can be reached at email@example.com .
Frank Addleman early 1960's