Huntington Beach Community Comes Together for Annual Celebration of Water

Photo by Kellen Aguilar
Surfers enjoying the water in Huntington Beach, Calif. (Photo Kellen Aguilar)

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay “Nature” that in the American wilderness “The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.” For Emerson writing in the 19th century, God and Man were joined through Mother Nature.

One wonders what Emerson would say if he had lived two centuries later. Certainly he would balk at the ripples modern industry has created in God’s ocean: pollution caused by oil spills and reckless waste disposal, acidification through excessive carbon emissions, over-consumption of our seas’ natural inhabitants. But would Emerson despair?

The compassion shown by the crowd of attendees at the 7th Annual “Blessing of the Waves,” an interfaith event to give thanks for the sea and express hope for its future, would surely give Emerson reassurance.

The event, organized by the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council and held at the Huntington Beach pier, began Sunday morning with live music by Dusty Watson and The Slackstone Band. Compassion was present indeed: Rev. Dr. Peggy Price took the stage to promote “Compassionate Huntington Beach,” a movement to spread acts of kindness and goodwill throughout the community.

Leaders from all walks of life came to speak. Pastor Sumo Sato of the H20 Church gave the opening invocation. He was followed by Mayor Matthew Harper who welcomed all in the morning’s celebration of water.

Photo by Kellen Augilar
The Rev. Christian Mondor speaking to the crowds at the 7th-annual “Blessing of the Waves” (Photo Kellen Aguilar)

Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange bishop Kevin W. Vann gave the keynote address: “Water, in its own way, draws all of here again this year. Is not this a sign of the power of the draw of God for us?” He spoke of the calm and the storm of the ocean, “but again and again, the calm and the beauty always returns.” The bishop also joked about living in California versus Illinois, where he grew up: “Sometimes I come down here to watch the sunset over the Pacific. I always email this to my friends back in the corn and soybeans in Illinois, you know.”

Bishop Vann ended his address by leading the audience in prayer: “Oh rushing waters pure and clear make music for our Lord to hear. This is our blessing, the music of our lives this day as we have music along with the music of the ocean. Our prayers today as we bless the wave and bless God in all moments and all times of our lives. Amen.”

Ten-time surfing champion Rick “Rockin’Fig” Fignetti was awarded the Blessing of the Waves Surf Culture Champion Award.

Photo by Kellen Aguilar
Hundreds gathered to celebrate the sea on a warm southern California morning (Photo Kellen Aguilar)

“Wow, what a great day isn’t it? Kind of tropical out here — a great day for ‘Blessing of the Waves!’” Fignetti said. “Boy, oh boy, have we been having some big surf lately. That’s a blessing in itself! Thank you Jesus!”

Fignetti acknowledged the diversity of the Huntington Beach surfer community and even named Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti “one of my bros.” Fignetti admonished: “Surfing is spiritual, it’s the water that joins us together. That is our common bond: we love the ocean. Treasure it; respect it!”

Olympian Janet Evans, widely considered the greatest female distance swimmer in history, received the Blessing of the Waves Lifetime Achievement Award. “It is such an honor to be here with everyone that loves the ocean,” Evans said. “I understand what [water] means to us because for me it is my peace, it is my solitude  . . . as an Orange County person, this is part of my soul.”

Evans joked, “Rockin’Fig, I can’t surf like you so I don’t know if you want to give me a surf lesson. But Bishop [Vann] . . . I could give you a swim lesson!”

Photo by Kellen Aguilar
Olympian Janet Evans addressing the crowd (Photo Kellen Aguilar)

The audience was treated to the music of The Tongan Singers throughout. The polynesian group’s lively percussions and incantatory vocals were a fitting counterpart to the upbeat, spiritual vibes of the day’s many different speakers.

“Our mission is to bring people together from very divergent ways of life,” Director of the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council Dave Garofalo explained. “It’s not easy to sell a religious message. We do it by producing a relatively entertaining format so that people from all walks of life will come and enjoy the moment and experience the spirituality regardless of what their faith is.”

Garofalo went on: “The one thing that is common to all of us is water . . . every religion in the world references the environment and water. Whoever you believe your god is, that god made a creation and that creation was us and the earth.”

The crowd was diverse. A Mater Dei High School Junior and Edison High School sophomore came to support Janet Evans whom they knew through the Golden West Swim Club. The two students expressed that “if you can spread [environmental] awareness, but still have the spiritual aspect, that’s great. The two go hand in hand.”

“We need to thank God for the gift that he’s given us in the first place,” Huntington Beach native John Haslam said. “Our obligation is to turn that around and show our respect for the environment.” Haslam continued, “I think our society is moving in the right direction of realizing that they need to do more to care for the environment.”

Photo by Kellen Aguilar
Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguards – the next generation of wave blessers. (Photo Kellen Aguilar)

Huntington Beach Marine Safety Division Chief Michael Beuerlein was the last speaker at “Blessing of the Waves.” Beuerlein offered sobering advice in the wake of recent hurricane swells: “We need to respect the power of the ocean,” said Beuerlein. “Those of you who are novices or have not been out in the surf this year, you should not be out there.”

A “Paddle Out” was scheduled for the end of the event, but was cancelled.

Instead, the Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguards led the way from the pier to the beach so that, as Beuerlein put it, all could “marvel at the power of the surf and Mother Nature.” In this way, the morning’s festivities officially concluded.

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About the Author

Kellen Aguilar is a student at Whittier College. His majors are English and History and his minor is Spanish. Kellen has come to deeply appreciate nature through literature and history. His favorite author is Ernest Hemingway. As a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, Kellen is currently researching the presence or absence of racial themes in Hemingway's oeuvre. See some of Kellen's other work at The Quaker Campus.