When the Rev. Christian Mondor began surfing, he was more of a menace to the waves than a blessing of them.
The vicar emeritus at Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic Church in Huntington Beach first hit the waves in the late 1930s. At the time, he lacked a surfboard, so he crafted a 6-foot slab of wood with a sharp point on one end. The board was too thin to stand on, but it was effective in one way: Whenever Mondor paddled out on his stomach, other surfers would veer out of his way to avoid being skewered.
"It was a dangerous weapon," Mondor, 85, said. "I could have had a lawsuit, even in those days."
It wasn't until age 70 that Mondor finally bought his first authentic board. But he honed his skill enough that two years ago, when the Diocese of Orange organized its first Blessing of the Waves by the Huntington Beach Pier, Mondor was among the first people it called to participate, because religion and surfing were the event's two dominant themes.
Sunday, Mondor will again be one of several religious leaders gathering at the pier for the third annual event, in which representatives from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Zoroastrian and other communities pay tribute to the ocean. Following the ceremony, surfers are invited to hit the waves for a paddle-out — and Mondor, who plans to wear a wetsuit under his Franciscan friar's robe, may be among them.
The event, which drew about 400 people its first year, saw its turnout more than triple last year, and organizers expect up to 2,000 people to crowd Pier Plaza on Sunday. Diocese spokesman Ryan Lilyengren noted that while the Blessing was scheduled on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology, the event's theme resounded with all religions.
"Every faith has a very strong connection with the environment, and particularly with the ocean," he said. "So this event is really using the ocean as a medium to bring all these different faith traditions together."
The Blessing, however, is open even to those without a religious affiliation. The event will start with bands playing Polynesian, Samoan and American surf music, followed by prayers by the different faith leaders. The crowd will then head down to the shoreline for another prayer — the "blessing of the waves" — before the bands play again and surfers take the water.
Father Matt Munoz of St. Irenaeus Catholic Church in Cypress, who is also participating for the third time this year, said the Blessing has a personal significance for him: Every time he immerses himself in the ocean, he remembers his own baptism as a child. In addition, the lifelong surfer rode some of his first waves near the Huntington Beach Pier.
Given Huntington's reputation, Munoz said, the ceremony also works as a tribute to Surf City, but he stressed the universality of the message.
"When you stand here and give the blessing, you're sending it out to so many countries in the world," Munoz said. "We're not just sending it out to our small community."
If You Go
What: Blessing of the Waves
Where: Huntington Beach Pier
When: 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday
Information: (714) 282-3045