Vince Ray shared the surfing stoke with over 12,000 kids as coach, and even more as Surfing Santa
by Kevin Cody
Vince Ray brought the joy of surfing to over 12,000 kids, as director of the Chevron Hermosa Surf Camp, and holiday joy to even more kids as Easy Reader’s Surfing Santa. Ray passed away Wednesday morning, January 3, at age 66, after a year-long fight with pancreatic cancer.
Ray was a special education teacher for the Manhattan Beach Unified School District. But it was his surf camps, held when school is out and kids need something to do, for which he will be best remembered.
Surfing is a difficult sport to learn, and even more difficult to teach. Ray met these two challenges by insisting his instructors, all school teachers or former beach lifeguards, make his surf camps safe and fun.
The promise to his kids, which he never failed to keep, was they would stand up on a surfboard on their first day of camp.
Hermosa waves in the summer are often difficult to ride standing up. So he taught his kids they could still have fun riding prone in what he called the coffin, cockroach and model positions.
And more importantly, he taught “the aloha spirit.”
“We teach the kids to clean the beaches, encourage one another, respect the locals, learn surfing etiquette, and to talk ‘story,’” he said in a 2015 Easy Reader interview.
Ray’s surf camp was sponsored from 1992 to 2015 by Chevron and Becker Surf. In later years the camp was funded by Spyder Surf, Kinecta Savings and Loan, and surf industry vendors. In its final years, as costs continued to rise, Ray used his savings to help fund the camp.
Last year, when he was diagnosed with cancer, he contemplated giving up the camp. Longtime instructor Joey Lombard and retired lifeguard Kip Jerger offered to help him. Ray continued dry land coaching, but no longer had the strength to push his kids into waves.
Ray brought to his two decades’ long role as Easy Reader’s Surfing Santa the same stoke he brought to his camp.
During many of those years, he brought Easy Reader editors and photographer Ray Vidal to the point of panic because he was insistent Santa only surf good waves. He didn’t want Santa to look like a kook, leading to fears some years there would be no Surfing Santa on Easy Reader holiday cover. But he always delivered on overhead waves, with stand-up barrels, cockroaches, and coffins, and his signature “model pose.”
Ray described himself as the “most famous surfer ever, from Oklahoma,” where he was born. He grew up in Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach. He attended Mira Costa High School and El Camino College before earning a degree in special education teaching at California State College Dominguez Hills.
A paddleout will be held in his memory, but the date has not yet been set. ER