Lunch with Marjorie: Surfing for souls in Laguna Beach, Calif.—part one

Editor’s note: The following is the first in a two-part series.

Balmy breezes cooled “The Stand” in Laguna Beach, Calif., as I chatted with my handsome son-in-law, Chris Williams, about his surfing ministry.

“Is this vegan?” I asked, noticing no cheese on the menu.

Chris ordered a persimmon-strawberry smoothie; I followed his lead, wondering whether this tall, tan surfer with sun-bleached sandy-brown hair usually lunched this lightly.

We talked about his name.

“My mom, because I almost didn’t make it at birth, dedicated my life to the Lord, naming me Christian,” he said.

“Did that influence you?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Things you see and hear and learn from your parents are huge. I’m a follower of Christ. I’m thrilled that my name is Christian. You can’t say my name without saying that.”

He reflected on his childhood.

“Battles over Mom and Dad…parents that were wild,” he said. “My parents split when I was really young. My dad was…a freewheeling surfer, a hippie. Loneliness in my opinion, and my experience, is your No. 1 driver of a lot of sorrow and pain and strange decisions people make, me included. But I felt like the Lord has always, always comforted me in real, tangible ways.

“I don’t want people to think that just because we lived in Laguna that we had money or a silver spoon in our mouth,” Chris said. “Money was always a struggle…a huge issue. Why do I bring this up? I can relate to people…who come from broken homes…who have sorrows over having drug-addict parents. When I work with someone or care for someone, it comes from being in those experiences and knowing what people go through.”

“Were your friends surfers?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah…just the topography of Laguna…there’s not a lot of traditional kick ball or basketball,” he said. “You’re down at the beach rip-roaring … swimming, body surfing. Think of the most exciting … quintessential boy’s childhood.”

“Your first surfing memory?” I asked.

“Together with my dad, reassuring me, helping me out to the waves,” he said.

“Did he teach you water safety?” I asked.

He chuckles. “I think my head got, uh,” (more laughter), “dunked under a wave just in the natural process of having fun and being out there. You learn a very healthy respect of the ocean almost immediately.”

A gifted athlete in several areas, Chris actively chose to surf.

“The beach community—was like a tribe,” he said. “There’s something different and unique about surfing…a death-mortality factor. When it’s big, when it’s small, when it’s dangerous, we feed off of that.”

During high school, Chris was a valet parker, a classic surfer’s job, then a food server. And Chris surfed the California coast.

“I had a laissez-faire parental program,” he said. “I think my parents recognized that I was a pretty solid operator. I wasn’t a trouble-seeker. Graduating from high school was a big victory…a huge peak. I was a popular kid; I ran with the popular crowd. It was quite a miracle that for the amount of school I missed…things I was going through—pretty much public information—for me to stick in there and graduate.”

After high school, he attended community college with no focus.

“I goofed around,” Chris said. “At 19 and 20, by far the youngest server in the dining room, I was…on Easy Street making $35K, $40K, living a surfers’ dream.”

He transferred to Biola University and skyrocketed grades to almost a 4.0.

“This was something I wanted to do,” he said. “I had met my first wife, and we had a baby on the way. The light went on.”

But things got rocky. With only a few classes and a senior thesis to complete, he walked away from school, working full time and caring for his son full time.

“I was…hurt so badly by the feelings I had for my parents,” he said. “I was not going to do that to any kids I had. I remember making that decision when I was really young. When my son’s mom and I split, I didn’t even think about it. I just knew I was there 100 percent.”

He worked nights as a restaurant manager.

“The best managers want to bring out the best in people,” he said. “That’s my management style. I get really frustrated with people that don’t give a darn, or give less than a full darn. It’s foreign to me that someone sees a winner and is intimidated by that. I’m completely turned on and stoked by a winner. We can fly. We can soar like eagles.”

Were you surfing then?

“Surfing had taken a major league backseat,” he said. “It was sad because that was a big part of who I was. Mentally, it’s very serene out there…therapeutic. I missed it greatly. I just didn’t have time. What I did do was to dream about when I would get out there again…to call upon the memories…I had enjoyed over the years.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at

From the June 28-July 4, 2006, issue

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