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October 11-18, 2006

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Brad Johnson with Sister Eileen

Brad Johnson with Sister Eileen: 'You have to just go in there gung ho and think, "Cancer doesn't have a chance."'

Godfather of Monterey Surf Community Struck With Cancer

Friends of surfer Brad Johnson to hold benefits

By Steve Hahn

The Monterey Bay surfing community is described by many of its members as a family, and Brad Johnson is continuously evoked as the father. So, when Johnson, who in the mid-'70s and early-'80s used his surf shop, Sunshine Freestyle Sports, as a space to unite a disparate surf community, was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, his honorary brothers, sisters, sons and daughters all rallied around their symbolic patriarch without hesitation.

Ron Triplett, Johnson's longtime friend and former rider for the Sunshine surf team, was the first to bring up the idea of holding a benefit to help pay Johnson's climbing medical bills. He was quickly joined by four local surf shops, including OntheBeach of Monterey, who decided to forego their 20th anniversary party to fundraise for Johnson, as well as dozens of surfers who were eager to contribute their time and effort.

"I think that if I hadn't stepped up to do this, there would have been 10 other people 15 seconds after I had who would have stepped up," Triplett says.

Johnson is currently in a six-week program that combines chemotherapy and radiation treatment, which will be followed by surgery. He says he is holding up "better than most" and that he has only been minimally impacted by side effects, although the radiation treatment has left him unable to surf.

Johnson gathers support from friends and family, including his wife, Laurie, and his daughter Hailey, as well as an optimistic yet pragmatic worldview.

"At first, when the shock of everything is going on, it's like, Holy shit, they got the wrong guy!" he says. "But that doesn't last long. If you have it, now what are you going to do about it? Am I going to get all mopey and sulk? What is that going to do for me? Nothing. The other option is to face it full frontal and take charge and line up the best medical care you possibly can, research it, find out about it so you can find out what to do to beat it. You have to just go in there gung-ho and think, 'Cancer doesn't have a chance.'"

When Johnson co-founded Sunshine Freestyle Sports in 1976, it was the only surf shop in Monterey and quickly became a comfortable place for surf crews from Seaside, Pacific Grove, Big Sur and Monterey to congregate, set aside their differences and talk about their mutual passion for surfing and skating. In 1980, Johnson founded the annual Sunshine Surfabout on Carmel Beach, an event he has continued to emcee each year.

"I thought at first it might be a big negative to not be a local guy," says Johnson, who originally came from Eureka. "But it actually ended up being a positive in the end because I wasn't from Carmel or PG or Monterey, so no one had any reason not to deal with me."

The open atmosphere of Johnson's shop, which he has since sold, offered young skaters and surfers a safe place to hang out where they could learn more about the sport they were growing to love from older veterans.

Sean Weiman, who opened Liquid Surf Shop in Seaside last year, met Johnson when he was 12 and immediately became a regular at Sunshine Sports. He was inspired by Johnson's "soulful" personality and his inclusive philosophy. He says he opened his own shop "in the spirit of Brad Johnson," and borrows many of his business practices from Johnson's example. He recalls how as a customer who wanted to buy something and didn't have enough money, Johnson would let him pay what he could and trust him to come back with the extra money.

Johnson, who left Monterey 10 years ago to become the manager of a West Marine store in Ventura, is grateful for the support he is receiving from his "family" back in Monterey and is confident that he will be back on a board doing what he loves in no time flat.

"Being a participant, no matter at what level, rather than a spectator, is where life comes from, that's the essence of being on the planet," he says excitedly. "I hope to be stoked when I'm 75 years old, so that gives me some incentive to get through this little bump in the road with cancer. There's a lot of years left."

Brad Johnson fundraising events in Monterey include an Oct. 13 screening at 7:30pm of the surf movie 'Flow' (with an appearance by filmmaker Josh Landon) at the Monterey Conference Center, 1 Portola Plaza; and an Oct. 27 dinner, auction and live music event at 6:30pm at Pirates Cove on Fisherman's Wharf II. Details on these events as well as updates on Brad's progress are available at

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