Mike Purpus

Redondo Beach’s Don Swift plans swift return to surfing, with help from friends

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Don Swift in his favorite position at Topaz Street, Redondo Beach Photo by Tate Curran

by Mike Purpus

Everyday, Don Swift sat in his spot, 40 yards southwest of the end of the Topaz jetty waiting for the next set wave. It didn’t matter if it was one foot or 10 feet, freezing cold or blown out. Swift was out there by first light. He  had been out there for as long as I could remember, at least 30 years. He always got the wave of the day, facing into the bowl and coming off the bottom with a smooth turn into the top part of the curl with style and grace.

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Don has been missing in the lineup since October 14 when he was diagnosed with glioblastoma by the doctors at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Long Beach. A malignant tumor is attached to Don’s brain.

Don Swift’s craftsmanship has made him the go to shaper for Topaz surfers. Photo by John Siskowic

This isn’t the first time he’s been kept out of the water by physical challenges, and he’s confident it won’t be the last time.

“I am like a cat. No matter what life throws me I will always land on my feet,” he said.

On Christmas Eve, 2005 Don was surfing hollow 4-foot a-frames around Topaz. A perfect left popped up and the slender regular foot was in the tube grabbing his rail.

“I was spit out of the bowl but I got greedy and tried to backdoor the following section,” Swift recalled. “I went head first into a dry sandbar. I was face down in the water and couldn’t move anything. I was sucking in water and things were getting dark. I thought my life was over when everything turned black. Mac Borman’s hand grabbed my collar. He flipped me over and he and Brian Newman started to drag me to shore. When the lifeguards and paramedics were lifting me into the wagon my toe moved. Everybody saw it and gave a sigh of relief. I had a bruised spinal cord that was a hair away from being severed. I could barely move 10 days later when I started rehab. I was out of the water for eight months.”

Don Swift with one of his innovative creations. Photo by John Siskowic

On the Fourth of July of 2010 Don was enjoying a fun surf session at Latigo Point by Malibu. After a few hours Don caught a one foot wave to ride in. It closed out in front of him so he stepped off to keep his fin from hitting the rocks.

“My foot got wedged between two rocks snapping my shin bone and the bone next to it. My friends used my board as a stretcher to haul me out of the water. My foot was dangling off the side of my board almost separate from my leg. It was just a one foot wave and it kept me out of the water for five months.”

The stoic, 64 year old Redondo High School graduate (Class of ‘70) started surfing with his cousin Mark White when he was eight years old at the north end of the Hermosa Beach on a 9-foot-6 board his uncle made for them.

“My Uncle was a good carpenter and could make anything,” Swift said.

Swift spent the mid ‘60s surfing between Sapphire and the Redondo Pier. He jumped to the Topaz side of the jetty in the late ‘60s and has been there ever since, when not surfing in Mexico.

Don Swift with his posse. Photo by John Siskowic

Everybody who surfs Redondo Beach knows Swift. He is the big Kahuna. In the early ‘70s he worked for Grant Reynolds, glassing surfboards for every shop from Malibu to Newport Beach, including Jacobs Surfboards. Then Swift went on to work for local board builder Wayne Miyata. Don has been building boards for all the locals and patching boards for all the groms for the past 40 years.

Last October 14 Don fainted getting out of the shower after surfing, hitting his forehead on the a deadbolt and then a door know, which split open the back of his head.

The same Mac Borman who pulled him from the water 10 years ago walked in the door a few minutes later to find Swift bleeding from both sides of his head and rushed him to Torrance Memorial. He stayed there a week before being transferred to St. Mary’s in Long Beach.

The doctors did a cat scan, which led to a biopsy on a tumor in his brain.

“Glioblastoma is a malignant tumor inside the brain. They can’t operate without leaving me paralyzed. Next week I start aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatments six days a week. I can’t thank the doctors and nurses at Torrance Memorial and Long Beach Saint Mary’s Hospitals enough. They have been awesome to me through this whole ordeal.”

Swift went on to say that he was a vegetarian before going to the hospital but they kept feeding him these really good meals with meat in them. He gained 12 pounds

His friend Chris “Rooster” Rae said, “Nothing can happen to Don. He is the king of Topaz. Don is out there everyday surfing or directing traffic, surrounded by his loyal subjects”.

Even on crowded days nobody sits within 10 feet of Swift. The only thing Don hates more than missing a good wave is seeing a good wave go unridden. Don will point down the line screaming for the closest surfer to catch it. I call it the Don salute.

Swift has four friends taking care of him — Johnny Siskowic, Mac Borman, Lenny Treadwell and Tom Hourigan. I call them Don’s Pose. They are all good surfers and one of them is always close by.

“Don is a creative and beautiful craftsman, which is reflected in the boards he makes and in his unique surfing style. Nobody surf’s like Don and nobody will. He has been hurt before and has always bounced back stronger. If anyone can beat this, it’s Don,” Treadwell said.

Siskowic moved back to Topaz in 2000. He surfed every day with Swift until he broke his favorite board. “It was an epoxy and nobody had a clue how to fix it. Don took it and beautifully inlaid the center stringer. It worked better than it did when it was new. You can’t say enough about his craftsmanship, his honesty and the way he treats his friends,” Siskowic said.

Mac Borman rides nothing but Don Swift boards. “I call Don’s surfboard making Garage Soul because of his uncanny knack of knowing how to make the perfect surfboard for you from the shape job all the way through to the glassing and color scheme. He knows what the perfect board is for your surfing ability.”

Hourigan has known Swift since grade school when they started surfing together. “Don always wanted to surf everyday and the earlier the better. We would meet at somebody’s house an hour before daybreak and surf before school. Don is still like that today. We are always out there before first light with Don. It’s just not the same without him,” Hourigan said.

A GoFundMe.com account has been set up for Swift. Friends are asked to visit the site. The link: https://www.gofundme.com/don-swift?ssid=841648158&pos=1 ER

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