Happiness Interview: Pioneer of Surfing and Son of San Diego, Skip Frye

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Mary Daly once said, “It is the creative potential in human beings that is the image of God.”

Here, Daly argues that each of us has work we are destined to do, and in doing this work, we are catapulted towards God.  Propelled in the direction of peace.  Call me crazy, but I think I’m starting to agree with Daly.  I imagine Skip Frye would agree with her, too.

Harry “Skip” Frye is somewhat of a local hero here in the whale’s vagina, but his reach in the surfing world meanders well beyond the confines of San Diego County.

In over 50 years of surfing and shaping boards, Mr. Frye has changed the face of the sport.  The 72 year old native San Diegan’s boards are highly coveted; his name graces waveriding halls of fame; and he has won many of the most important contests in locations all over the world.

In speaking with Mr. Frye, what strikes me about him is his faith in God.  In the many places I seek counsel for happiness wisdom – books, CDs, Ted talks, you name it – I am repeatedly instructed to turn my face towards the heavens to find true happiness.  To seek communication with my God to realize my full potential.

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Historically, I have always been the skeptic.  The non-believer.  The negativist.  But after hearing so many successful people say that they appeal to a higher power for assistance with their work and with the particulars of their lives – well, it’s enough to make even the most cynical person take pause.  The last thing I want to do is thump you with a Bible or stand on a soapbox.  But, maybe you’ll consider putting on your open-minded hat for this one.  What do you have to lose?

NH: What is your definition of happiness? 

SF: When you feel good. Happiness is feeling good – everything is in sync.  It’s a pretty hard one because this world keeps you in trouble and stuff happens all the time.  I think my faith has a lot to do with keeping me happy.  I try and follow through on the principles that are set in the Bible.  There are priorities there – family, friends, and work.  I try take care of those things first, and then all the rest – like surfing or whatever, comes after.  You have to balance it out, but you gotta take care of the priorities first.  If you don’t take care of the priorities, then even if you’re having fun, you’re not happy because you know you gotta take care of school, work, family or whatever it is.

God is the most important thing.  For me, it’s Jesus.  I didn’t always know that – I have been up and down all of my life with it.  But once I got that priority in mind, I’ve tried to keep Him in mind most of the time.  He kind of guides and helps, and everything turns out good, pretty much.  Even the problems.

NH: Have you always believed in God? 

SF: More or less, it’s gotten more intense in my older age.  I’ve been up and down.  When my first wife left, I had a period in my life that was pretty bad.  I call it my “ghetto period” and I went down the tubes.  Alcohol, drugs, hanging at the bar – the full worldly thing.  That was the worst.

Being who I am in the sport, a role model of sorts, it wasn’t good, and my kids were kind’ve messed up at that point.  I was in France and I took this long walk down the beach, and I just cried out to God.  I said, ‘I just want to the rest of my life to count.  I want to know I am in contact with you, I don’t want to question my salvation.’  I just wanted everything to get right.  I wanted my kids to get better.  So I came back a different person after that, and I’ve been pretty steady since then with my faith, and it’s just been wonderful.  My life just turned around and really got good.  And also, the lifestyle I live is such a wonderful lifestyle.  The whole surfing thing.  Like, making boards for people is like being Santa Clause.  Because people get so excited, you know, with me especially, because it’s so hard to get a board out of me.  The list is 5,000 miles long.  Well, it’s not that long because I don’t add to it any more than makes me comfortable.  But people really get excited.

You always need to do something that you really like.  So many people are unhappy in the job they are in and are not doing what they really like.  I think as far as a vocation or something, you’ve got to get something that you really like to do, no matter what it is.  It doesn’t have to make you a million dollars or anything, but it’s worth a million to just to do something that you really like, and that you can get involved in. 

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It just worked out for me.  I was just lucky.  I found surfing, and my parents weren’t happy about it.  All my energy went into it, and they didn’t see a future in it.  I am just lucky that it happened the way it did for me.  That I could make a lifestyle and make a living out of it.  But the passion I had was something I really loved, and I just pursued it every which way.  Not always surfing itself but learning about the building of boards, and it just turned out to be a really rewarding lifestyle and adventure.

NH: So it sounds like you got started in the surfing industry pretty early career-wise. 

SF: Kinda.  I didn’t start really surfing until I was like 16 or 17.  I hung around the surf shops, did odd jobs.  I cut grass for a living, and worked at supermarkets – a couple of different supermarkets as a bag boy.  Surfing was my priority back then, which was probably half the reason my first marriage ended, because I didn’t pay the bills like I should’ve.  There were a lot of holes there.  My priorities weren’t right.  But God showed me that through time, and as I came back to Him, if I took care of the priorities, he’d bless my surfing no matter when I got to do it.  I don’t get to hit it every day and every swell.  But, I try to take care of priorities first.  Then, when you do go surfing or whatever, you’re happy.  One thing I’ve noticed about the guys that hang at the beach all the time, the beach rats that are there all day, every day – they’re not stoked.  It has to be like the epic day of the year, and then they get a little buzz.  Whereas the guy that works real hard, he doesn’t even care if it’s blown out or whatever.

But God has really blessed my going and my coming with that situation.  And I ask for His help in it.  There’s nothing too big or too small He doesn’t want to be a part of, and I pray for His help everyday.  I pray about the day: who I’m going to meet; what I’m going to do; whose board I’m shaping; the family… there’s a list of stuff.   Having God in the process.  In Proverbs, there’s a verse that says, ‘We flip the coin but the decision is the Lord’s.’  So once in awhile, I’ll use that.  If I’m like, ‘Should I go here?  Should I go there?’  And whatever He says, I’ll do.

There was one night, I was getting ready to go home and I lost a set of keys.  I have three sets of keys, and the main keys were on this key ring.  I looked all around, looked in the car, called home, asked my wife to look by my bed, and she couldn’t find them.  And I’m freaking out, you know?  So I start praying about it.  I go, ‘Okay, I’m just going to use the coin.  Lord, I gotta break it down, I gotta know what’s happening.  So I went, ‘Okay, heads is yes, tails is no.  Are the keys at the shop?’  And I flipped the coin: no.  So I’m going, ‘Well, I was down at the beach earlier today.’  So, I go, ‘Lord, are the keys down at the beach?’  And I flipped the coin: yes.  So, I jumped in my car, went down to Tourmaline, and I pulled in a slot, and I walked over to the curb and there they were.  I took God into the equation.

There’s nothing too big or too small He doesn’t want to be a part of.  He wants to be a part of every part of our life.  Everything and anything.  And the Bible says we’re supposed to be concentrating on Him all the time – praying without ceasing.  It’s hard to do, we all get sidetracked.  Surfing… family… you know?  That’s why I have books here that I used to have at home.  I start every day with prayer and I have a couple of books I read.  The Bible is one of them.  I’ve got a book here that goes through the Bible in a year.  I’ll just sit back in quiet time, and thank God.  That book there, “Jesus Calling” is unbelievable.  It’s like Jesus talking to ya.  In fact, I’ll just read you today to give you an idea:

‘Don’t be so hard on yourself.  I can bring even good out of your mistakes.  Your finite mind tends to look backward longing to make decisions you have come to regret.  This is a waste of time and energy, leading only to frustration.  Instead of floundering in the past, release your mistakes to me.  Look to me and trust, anticipating that my infinite creativity can weave both good choices and bad into a lovely design.  Because you are human, you will continue to make mistakes. (SF: Yep)  Thinking that you should live an error-free life is symptomatic of pride.  Your failures can be a source of blessing, humbling you and giving you empathy for other people in their weaknesses.  Best of all, failure highlights your dependence on me.  I am able to bring beauty out of the morass of your mistakes.  Trust me and watch to see what I will do.’  

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That’s it, right there.  God is in charge of it all – he’s in charge of our lives.  Where we are going, what we are doing.  We will go where we want to go, but I always put Him right in the thing.   If I’m going up to San Onofre, or going down to surf – whatever I’m doing, I want Him to be there.  I want to be reflecting Him in all that I do.  His love, His wisdom – I want to pass that on to others.  It doesn’t always happen, but that’s the goal.  That happiness, right there.  Seeing God working in your life?  How much better can that be, you know?  

NH: So you believe that God had a plan for you.  That this is what you were supposed to be doing? 

SF: Oh big time.  He had a plan.  Even when I went down South – in my ghetto period.  I was out there- the Devil had me by the throat and was leading me around.  But God just let me get through that and then as life got better, I’d take a few moments and go, ‘Oh Man, thanks.  This is so much better than when I was back in the ghetto period.’  Nothing touches God’s heart more than just being thankful.  Thankful for anything.  We live in such a great place: here in the United States, in San Diego especially.  We’ve got so much to be thankful for.  But most of the time, we’re the other way around.  We’re going, ‘Well, why don’t I have this,’ or ‘Why don’t I have that.’  But we are so blessed.  The problem is here in the United States, especially, we have too much. We’ve just got too much.  Simplify.  I’ve always been that way, I try to keep it simple.  Keep the business simple.  Keep everything simple.  So you’re not encumbered with so much stuff, you know?

NH: What are your favorite surf spots in San Diego? 

SF: Well, my home spot is Tourmaline Canyon.  I caught my first wave in PB – it was just soup.  But, I caught my first real swell just north of Tourmaline in PB Cove.  I grew up around the point, PB Point.  That’s my home spot.  I like Sunset Cliffs a lot because you got the kelp outside that keeps the chop down from the regular onshore wind.  San Diego in general is really one of the best spots.  I’ve done a lot of traveling, surfing around the world… and I mean here, you’ve got North County which is really good with all its reefs – Cardiff and Swami’s.  Even San Onofre.  San Onofre in the summer, that’s all I think about.  July through September.  You’ve got Trestles and Church and that whole area is still untouched really.  You drive in and it’s all dirt roads, man hasn’t messed with it too much.  But we live in a really, for water sports and surfing in general, we live in a really wonderful place.  We should enjoy that.  Rincon used to be my favorite place.  Rincon and Malibu.  Rincon in the summer and Malibu in the winter.  But they’re so crowded now.  My 50 years of surfing was in 2008 and so we all went up there, and had a great time.

NH: What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

SF: It’s all the Bible.  That’s the learning book for the human beings.  There’s so much good advice in there about everything.  One thing is just having a giving spirit.  Human nature is more of a taking spirit.  Everybody wants.  They want this, they want that.  But I’ve found that, especially when you’re really down, if you really get down, go out and help somebody.  Just go help Mom or Dad or whoever.  Find somebody and do something for them.  That will take you out of any funk that you ever had.  Doesn’t take much, just a little bit for somebody, man.  Go find somebody on the street and give them a dollar.  Whatever.  Just helping somebody out sometimes, somewhere, will always take you out of the pity party or the funk, or whatever you’re in.

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NH: Do you have any advice for 20-somethings trying to find their way? 

SF: Stay away from alcohol and drugs.  I’m a living witness to that.  I’ve been there and done that, and it didn’t help at all, man.  It just made things worse.  It might feel kinda good, kind’ve euphoric for a moment, but there’s always a bad side effect of it, you know.  So stay straight.  God gives us just what we need – He gives us sound mind and everything – just what we need.  Eat good.  Eat vegetables and fruits.  They say the body is the temple for your spirit, so keep your temple clean, make it good.  I gotta talk to myself that way because there’s a lot of foods, like Mexican food and pizza, like I get these pizza cravings.  But ehhh, that’s another one that tastes good but it’s not good for you.

NH: Moderation.

Yeah, moderation is a good one.  Even the way you eat.  They have this Bible study down at the beach on Saturday mornings, but they were talking about how the word of God is like the food for the spirit, like physical food is food for the body.  And they say the best way to eat is to eat little meals all day long.  That’s what I do, I eat breakfast, and then at night I’m just (gobble noises/laughter), and that’s kind of a bad way to eat.  But the same way with the word and having your time with God, you should have little breaks during the day.  That’s why I have “Jesus Calling” here.  It’s kind of like happy hour with Jesus.  You just get the calm and quiet time.

In this day and age, it’s hard to just get alone, be quiet, and decipher your thoughts.  Usually when I get up, I’m the first one up in the house.  I’ll make my tea and go sit in the front room, in the quiet.  I’ll just talk to God and try to listen.  He talks to you through your mind.  It’s that still, small voice.  And that’s another thing about drugs, see.  The dark side talks to you, too, through your mind.  And when you’re normal, the dark side might say, ‘Hey Man, you can take that, don’t worry about it.  Go ahead, you can pinch that bit off of there.  You can take a couple puffs.’  But when you’re on drugs it’s like, ‘HEY YOU!’ (Shouting/Laughter)  It’s more intense.

I had a pot habit, and I couldn’t kick it.  And I was coming back to God, and I said, ‘Man, I got this problem.  And you gotta help me with this.’  So He showed me, He showed me it was like incense for the Devil.  He pulled me away and showed me what surrounded that.  Because you know, I was still like, ‘I can take a couple hits…’  Man, it took twice for that to happen, and I said, ‘Okay, I got it.’  He scared me right out of it.  But He just showed me that all that stuff, it’s just a way for the dark side to get in there.  Like when people get drunk, same thing.  The dark side can get right in there and twist and turn, and make it ugly.

NH: It makes you suffer more. 

SF: Yeah!  So try to stay away from all that stuff.  It’s hard when all your friends are partying and stuff.  I lost some friends that way because I don’t party anymore.  For young people, keep it clean.  And try to find something in life you really enjoy, as far as a vocation.  It just happened for me, I can’t say that everybody can follow my path because I grew up in a different era and everything, and it just kind’ve worked out.  But you gotta enjoy what you’re doing.  You gotta have a little bit of a passion for whatever you’re doing.  Sometimes, something might be more economically viable, but you don’t have a buzz for it.  I’d say, just go for something you have a passion for and follow through.  Because your energy is going to be more involved in doing whatever you have a passion for.  If you have a passion for something and you really enjoy it, just keep with it.  It will follow through, and you’ll have fun, and you’ll be successful at it.  

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