Hundreds of surfers paddled into the waves on Sunday in “Surf City” to pay tribute to one of the sport’s pioneers, Sean Collins, who died in December from a heart attack at age 59.
They brought flowers and the laid-back "aloha spirit" that comes with the sport as they paddled out into a fading swell under sunny skies in the shadow of the Huntington Beach Pier.
They remembered Collins as a man who helped them explore perfect waves around the world.
“He was a true mentor and father figure to me,” said big wave surfer Mike Parsons, standing at a podium in front of hundreds of people who gathered on the beach and the pier. “Thank you, Sean, for teaching us all so much about the ocean.”
They were there to honor a surf legend, a humble man who taught himself meteorology and created one of the most popular sports websites, surfline.com. They marveled at the amazing gift that Collins left.
“It’s amazing that this day and age we’re able to predict and track waves around the world and chase them,” Parsons said.
One surfer said his daily ritual was to read the Bible first every morning, then check Surfline. Another big wave surfer, Brad Gerlach, called Collins "the Steve Jobs of Surfing.”
“He helped me dial in some of the biggest waves that I’ve ever ridden,” Gerlach said, fighting to keep his composure. “Sean was just a really passionate guy about surfing. He was also really friendly and helpful.
“Whenever I personally would get a good (wave) I could feel him really happy for me. He wanted to be riding that wave with me. Sean’s impact on the surfing world ... I don’t know how to measure it."
Collins, a member of the Surfers’ Hall of Fame, took surf pictures and waited tables in the 1970s and 80s to pay for his world travels to surf and study waves. He taught himself meteorology and recorded weather reports and forecasts via shortwave radio before founding Surfline. In 1999, Surfer magazine named Collins one of the 25 Most Influential Surfers of the Century.
“He inspired us and told us where to go when the waves were good and when not to go,” said surfer Steve Fawley, as he was getting ready to paddle out into the waves on Sunday. “He’ll be greatly missed. Sean’s the man. Sean’s the man.”