Lunch with Marjoire: Surfing for souls in Laguna Beach, Calif.—part two

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. Part one appeared in the June 28-July 4, 2006, issue of The Rock River Times.

In 2004, Chris Williams left a successful restaurant management career to launch a surfing ministry in Laguna Beach, Calif. This is the rest of his story.

Chris Williams (my son-in-law) and I sipped persimmon-strawberry smoothies blended from fresh whole fruit at “The Stand” in breezy Laguna Beach, Calif., discussing his leaving the food business to follow his dream.

“I was managing the little Taco Loco, a popular, super-busy local restaurant where I had my first interaction with the action sports scene, the surfing scene from the business side,” Chris said. “We would do a lot of backstage parties…work with…stars…surfing stars, movie stars, music stars. It was exciting.”

That’s also where he met his future wife, Karen, my daughter.

“Karen came into the picture and was this heaven-sent, total angel who loved me and my son, and was 100 percent committed to everything I was and represented,” he said.

He moved to corporate management.

“Making more money, having fun, helping to train managers throughout the region…suit and tie…utilizing the stuff I’d learned in school…leading teams,” he said. “I got to spread my wings—show some leadership. That was a big, big deal…one of the top restaurants in Orange County. Exciting—but I was there late, working long hours. It was stimulating…but it left me asking, ‘Is this what I really want to do?’ At the end of the day, the answer was no. I could have gone much further, but it lacked the one key ingredient that would sustain me that I didn’t want to have lacking for a life long career: passion.”

It was a prayerful time.

“The epiphany was we now had two boys, and our third baby was due,” he said.

“Some people would take that scenario and decide that they don’t have the luxury of taking risks,” I offered.

“Some of my friends thought I was certifiably insane,” Chris said. “Most did. It says in the Bible that if you have a mustard seed worth of faith, you can tell a mountain to move here or there. I had a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of faith, and the Lord has parlayed that incredibly in my life. The Lord gave me all these skills to manage people, relationships. Now he gave it to me in a place I love to be: the surf world.”

The owners at The Stand walked by, carrying flats of wheat grass and persimmons, loading them into a Volvo.

“Surfing is now ministry?” I asked.

“All of us have a soul,” he said. “We’re being used by God to surf through souls and touch them with His gospel. Our company is three parts: We will teach any client how to surf…the majority of what we do. Two is the all-Christian camps and lessons. Both of these are for profit. Third is free camps for kids at risk, underprivileged. Sponsors are on board with that. Anybody can contact us and request a free camp. That’s been a hugely successful ministry. A lot of these inner-city kids are from broken homes…gang issues, drug issues…mixed with just the awkward age of being pre-teen and teen-agers.

“We see kids hurting, big time,” he continued. “They’re scared…acting real tough. We get them in the water. What a great equalizer that is! They get out in the ocean, and they get humbled…a lot of tears. As those waves wash over them, it’s almost like what washes away is the facade, the hurt, and the pain (they have) built up. Back on shore, we give a message of Christ’s redemptive power. You see these kids break down, raise their hand and accept the Lord. It’s like night and day.”

The ministry is expanding—a third camp in La Jolla, Calif.

“I have opportunities to go to China…all over the world to teach surfing,” he said.

Staff reaches as many as 60 in high season, and sponsorships include Billabong and others—surf forecasting people, surfboard builders and skateboard builders. One individual gave a huge, unsolicited gift at the beginning of the ministry.

Chris still surfs competitively.

“There’s a kinship, especially with the kids that are developing, going in that direction,” he said. “You can’t have that connection unless you’re currently competing with them. You can talk about the glory days. But if they see you in the water, see your name in the newspaper. …”

“The future?” I asked.

“I take days as they come,” Chris said. “I feel like the Lord’s got the details figured out. My family is my first ministry. I’ve already (said) no to a lot of things that seemed exciting and crazy and fun. I don’t want to go off on a wild goose chase just because that would be fun.”

“You’re doing what you love,” I said.

“There’s no down side,” he said. “I wanted to put on the back of my business card—Pinch Me. Period. Chris Williams—Pinch Me.”

From the July 5-11, 2006, issue

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