From my earliest days, I have had a connection to the water. One of my first memories is bouncing around in my dad’s truck on a canal bank outside of Firebaugh and stopping every so often to throw dirt clods into the canal. Like osmosis, the stories of the life giving medium that brought forth the most productive farmland on earth and the appreciation for the life that water produced for so many were passed on to me from my grandfather and father. My grandfather was on the State Water Board when the Central Valley Project brought water to the westside of the Central Valley and my dad was a State Assemblyman who worked tirelessly to develop more water for California as the population of our state has doubled since the last water was developed. Today my family still operates a third generation diversified farming operation on the westside of the Central Valley. All of these statements are read as controversial in this black and white political world of today, environment versus ag, labor versus land owner but there was a time when this wasn’t so. The lives of the people who have created that place have instilled values in me and cultivated my traditional soul for as far back as I can remember.
When I was in sixth grade in Fresno, CA , my class took at trip to Camp K.E.E.P. and as I stood on the beach just outside Montana De Oro State Park, I remember asking my mom who was a parent counselor there that week, "why have I never been here before?” My soul was once again being moved by the water as I stood next to the ocean taking in all the environmental education that the camp had to offer that week about the tide pools, land marks and the delicate environment that surrounded my new favorite place, the beach. That trip made such an indelible mark on me that when I had the choice to go to Cal Poly SLO or UC Davis back in 1992, that trip to Camp K.E.E.P. was close to my heart that I made the decision to major in Agribusiness at SLO and spend 4 years studying the business that connected me to the Valley and spending as much time as I could at the water in at Avila Beach and Morro Bay.
The years went by, quickly as they do, and in 2009 I found myself living back in Fresno raising four amazing children. My youngest, Matthew, is on the autism spectrum and in those days was a handful to keep up with. My connection to the water taught me a giant life lesson on Labor Day Weekend 2009 when I found him at the bottom of our family swimming pool. By the grace of God and the proximity of the fire station, I was able to pull him out and resuscitate him before the fireman arrived and got him to the hospital. He is a walking, talking miracle today. I can’t write this story without saying, never turn your back on a child around the water, it is a silent killer and I will never understand why I was spared the pain of losing my child that day, but will be forever grateful for it. Ironically, Matthew’s accident never created any fear in him and to this day is still drawn to the water.
To say life changes quickly is an understatement and in 2013 I relocated with my my family to Hermosa Beach in Southern California. While there are so many things that I miss about Valley life, having my feet in the sand daily, playing beach volleyball and raising my kids by the ocean has been a dream come true in other respects. Just about a year ago, Matthew said he wanted to learn to surf, and being that he has struggled with coordination and sensory issues his entire life, it sounded like a long shot to me but off to Costco we went to buy a longboard so he could give it a try. I watched as he tried and tumbled over and over before he stood up on his first wave and hasn’t looked back since. Surfing has given him confidence, physical strength and a socially relevant topic he can discuss with his peers. It has been such a game changer for him that he is out of all other therapies and is in the water every day before and after school doing what he loves and thriving in a way I never imagined he would.
One day, not too long ago, I stumbled across something called The Surf Ranch on Facebook. As I clicked and read, I was shocked and amazed to find out that multi generationally famous surfer Kelly Slater had built in the perfect wave. That in itself was fascinating, but not nearly as fascinating to me as where it was located…Lemoore, CA. The Westside and surf culture were being connected in a way I never could have imagined and Matthew soon began asking about how we could get to see the “Kelly Slater Wave” as he calls it. When the World Surf League Founders Cup was announced for May 5-6, just a few days shy of Matthew’s 11th birthday, I knew what his birthday gift had to be. On Saturday, he and I will spend the day watching the surf competition, not far from where I spent time floating and boating on the Kings River, but never dreaming that a surf board would make any connection with this place.
The water connects us all in ways that we may not see at first and maybe never dream possible, until one person does. Innovators, big thinkers and dream catchers define every part of my story. I look for them now and observe their habits and ways, I’m even beginning to think that I am one of them. Big dreamers make waves along and create controversy. I think controversy is there to make us think and contribute in the way that is true for each of us, not just to anger and inflame. As a human race, we have so much more that unites us than divides us. Professional surfers in Lemoore and a little boy who almost lost his life to the water and has found his life because it remind me of this fact every day…connection and community in the most unexpected places. My life is a blessed place as I get to connect the core strengths that being raised in the Valley gave me and the freedom I feel every time I stand at the oceans edge.