‘Swami’s will never be the same’ after two surfers die at famed beach

Dr. Johnny Greenfield carries his surfboard up from Swami's beach in Encinitas, where two surfers died recently at the well-known north San Diego County spot.

Dr. Johnny Greenfield carries his surfboard up from Swami’s beach in Encinitas, where two surfers died recently at the well-known north San Diego County spot.

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

A somber mood settled over many of the early-morning arrivals Tuesday at the famed surfing spot here known as Swami’s.

At the top of the winding stairs leading to the beach were impromptu memorials of flowers and farewell messages for two well-known Swami’s regulars. Both died in the past four days while surfing at a place that was at the center of their lives.

“Surfer dude, we all love you,” said a card dedicated to Kenneth Mann, 61, whose body was found on the beach early Friday morning still tethered to his surfboard. The medical examiner says he drowned.


“Rest in Peace, Joy,” said a card dedicated to Joy Froding, 57, who died Monday morning of a possible heart attack. The medical examiner has yet to pinpoint the cause of death.

Mann was known as a “midnight surfer” and had apparently gone surfing either late Thursday or early Friday, possibly to enjoy the unusually bright moon. His body was found around 5 a.m. by one of the Swami’s “dawn patrol,” who like surfing at sunrise.

Froding had just ridden “the most perfect wave” of her life, said surfer Phil Senese, who was beside her. Sitting on her board, waiting for another wave, she began suffering chest pain.

Senese and other surfers helped get her to the beach. Off-duty paramedics, who were spending the morning surfing, immediately started CPR. She was rushed to a hospital; the medical examiner put the time of death at 11:15 a.m.

Mann, described as quiet and introverted, was a master surfboard sander at a local surfboard company. Froding, outgoing and gregarious, was an artist known for her painting, sculpture and jewelry designs.

“Joy was beautiful, everyone will tell you that,” said Sharon Senese, tears streaming down her face as she stood at the bluff top and peered down at the beach. “I can’t believe she’s gone. If you met Joy, you’d remember her laugh and her hugs.”


Mann was a native of San Diego County. Froding moved here a decade ago.

Each was drawn to Swami’s and lived nearby. They reveled in the Swami’s experience: the surfing, the sense of community and a certain spiritual aura. Swami’s is adjacent to the Self-Realization Fellowship with its ashram, retreat, koi pond and plush landscaping.

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Local lore holds that Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, who founded the fellowship monastic order in 1920, liked to surf. At the very least, he liked to walk on the beach before returning to his devotional studies.

“People come to Swami’s as part of their journey, to enjoy the goodness, the spiritual feeling,” said Lena Amark, who was an actress in Sweden before becoming an occupational therapist. She walks the beach to strengthen her knee and help her avoid surgery.

While best known as a surfing spot, Swami’s also draws joggers, walkers, divers and photographers. Overlooking the beach are benches dedicated to local surfers and one to a newspaper photographer, Bob Ivins, who died in 1991 and whose plaque reads: “Waves to ride, sunsets to shoot, footprints left behind.”

For many years, Swami’s, 25 miles north of San Diego, was a kind of local secret. But that ended with the surfing boom in the 1960s. The Beach Boys included Swami’s along with other better-known breaks in their 1963 classic “Surfin’ USA.”

Today, the spot draws locals and visitors alike. Dr. Johnny Greenfield, 43, a physician from Sacramento, said he comes to Swami’s every chance he gets.

“Swami’s breaks are consistent and they line up very well,” he said as he prepared to rejoin his wife and children on vacation in Carlsbad. “There is always a good major break, also a second break.”

Not that Swami’s is easy. At high tide, and during the winter swells, the waves crash into the rocks at the foot of the bluff. Mann’s board had been split in two.

“You can get hammered by the backwash at Swami’s,” said Steven Duncanson, 55, who runs a commercial building firm. “Let’s be honest: there is a danger to surfing. That’s part of the thrill.”

Age can be a factor in surfing injuries.

“We’re all getting older,” said Ron DeFreitas, 63, a retired firefighter. Of Mann and Froding, he said, “that could have been any of us that morning.”

For many of its regulars, Swami’s presents a kind of alternate environment from their workaday lives. Friendships are formed and thrive at Swami’s but are not followed when surfers return inland.

“I didn’t know her out of the water,” said Chrissy Timoschuk, 41, a nurse, as she brought flowers to remember Froding. ‘’She always had that bright pink lipstick.”

As more surfers arrived, and empty parking places began to disappear, discussions of Mann and Froding were common.

Phil and Sharon Senese embraced as they looked at the beach below and remembered their lost friends. He runs a cab company, she’s a teacher.

“Swami’s will never be the same,” she said.

Twitter: @LATsandiego


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