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Blessing of the Waves merges spirituality, surfing at beach

October 13, 2012 | 10:25 am
The faithful join a variety of spiritual leaders in the Blessing of the Waves ceremony at the pier in Huntington Beach in 2008

Surfing luminaries and religious figures will converge in Huntington beach on Sunday for an unusual event.

At the fifth annual Blessing of the Waves, an interfaith service sponsored by the Diocese of Orange, Tom Morey — the inventor of the Boogie Board — will represent the Baha'i Faith. Singer-songwriter Summer Watson, who has toured California and Hawaii to promote the Toes on the Nose clothing brand, will play a solo acoustic set.

And Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean — whose song "Surf City" gave Huntington Beach its official nickname — has recorded an audio greeting to help publicize the event and plans to attend for the fifth year in a row.

When the songs and speeches are all done, the crowd will stand at the water's edge to sing a final song: "God Bless America." Then, anyone who's willing will paddle out into the blue, immersing themselves in the body that's given Southern California a key to so much of its culture.

"It's a way of getting together once a year and saying, 'Thank you for this amazing resource,'" said Dan McCue, a spokesman for the diocese, who stressed that the event is intended for anyone who feels a spiritual connection to the ocean and not merely surfers.

His group, he said, got the idea for the event from a simple phenomenon: Over and over again, they noticed beachgoers standing by the waterline in the morning holding hands before the waves. The diocese summoned local leaders from several faiths, and the first annual event in 2008 drew about 400 people.

Since then, the crowds have grown to more than 2,000. Among those expected to attend this year are representatives from the Sikh, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Zoroastrian communities.

Keeping with the ceremony's interfaith theme, McCue assembled an eclectic lineup of musical acts this year. In addition to Watson, who will perform work from her new album, "Something New," the program features a Pacific Islander choir based out of St. Justin Martyr Roman Catholic Church in Anaheim and the Christian rock band Tim Reid & Friends.

The choir, led by Leo Taulanga, includes more than two dozen members who hail largely from Tonga and Samoa. McCue first invited them to join the blessing two years ago after a tsunami blighted their home countries, and they proved so popular that he's asked them back every year since.

Taulanga, one of whose fellow choir members lost a family member in the tsunami, said the dangerous side of the ocean gives the blessing an added layer of meaning.

"When we sing a song, it's a prayer," he said. "In prayer, we're asking for protection of God for people who are in the ocean — not just the surfing people but those who are fishing, those who are swimming."

Torrence, whose recorded greeting was sent by email and posted on Facebook and Surfline.com, said he didn't expect to perform but would do so if asked. He added, though, that he would decline the paddle out.

"The water's much too cold for me," Torrence said. "In Hawaii, I'd get in the water, but [here] I usually just show up."


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Photo: The faithful join a variety of spiritual leaders in the Blessing of the Waves ceremony at the pier in Huntington Beach in 2008. Credit: Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times