There was a moment during Pat O’Connell’s speech for the Surfer’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony that he became overwhelmed.
O’Connell, 37, a Laguna Beach resident, began to reflect on his life, talk about the people he met and thank those who influenced him. It was all too much. O’Connell had to pause.
He fought back tears, just before placing his feet and hands on the concrete in front of the Huntington Surf & Sport store July 24. To be among the surfing greats on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street in Huntington Beach was special for O’Connell. But reminiscing also proved to be emotional.
“Any time I reflect on my life, I think this has been something special for me," O’Connell said. “Surfing has been a part of my life since I was 12. I look back with all these amazing memories. No matter what you’re going to do you get choked up. Surfing has been a huge part of my life. There are so many memories, some good, some bad."
O’Connell said there was another reason why he nearly cried during his induction speech. Back in November his six-year marriage ended in divorce.
"[The Hall of Fame induction ceremony] really hit home," he said. “It’s been a crazy couple of years."
Except for that emotional moment, O’Connell said he never truly embraced the fact that he became a part of the Surfers’ Hall of Fame.
His mind had been occupied with all the happenings at the Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing. For the past four years, O’Connell has been working as Hurley’s vice president of sports marketing.
Many are calling the U.S. Open of Surfing the best event in the 50-year history of competition at Surf City. There were record crowds, about 70,000 Saturday and nearly 150,000 on the final day, Sunday, when Brett Simpson, sponsored by Hurley, won the men’s title.
You better believe O’Connell was busy throughout the week, actually the past three past months, as he was part of several meetings in preparation of the Open.
“I’ll be honest, had that [induction ceremony] happened not during the U.S. Open I would be so intimately involved," O’Connell said. “I would have been able to soak it in a little bit better. With the circumstances I really didn’t get an opportunity to have it all soak in "¦ It’s been a little crazy."
O’Connell has grown accustomed to a wild life, or at least one that is, um, unique.
While he found great success as a competitive surfer, O’Connell is mostly known for being in the film, “Endless Summer II."
Surfing fans and surf-movie buffs fell in love with O’Connell’s high energy and positive nature displayed in the film.
Bruce Brown, the director of the movie, was also inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame last week. He was there at the ceremony along with Robert “Wingnut" Weaver, who also starred in “Endless Summer II."
That movie was obviously a big reason O’Connell had to gather himself.
Still, with Wingnut and Brown watching, O’Connell experienced some regret with regard to the film.
“I really wish I could do that [movie] again," O’Connell said. “It was a dream come true. I will say that I wish so bad to have that opportunity again. I don’t think I understood what was happening.
“To go around the world, surf and not get paid for anything for two years? Doesn’t that sound cool?"
O’Connell’s charm and sense of humor proved to be infectious for Brown. The renowned surf-movie director had already discussed the idea of “Endless Summer II" with Wingnut. Brown then spoke with other surfers.
When he came across O’Connell, Brown believed he was on to something special.
“When I talked to Pat, he was like, ‘I don’t care I’ll do anything,’" Brown said. “He’s such a lovable little fellow.
“He’s great. He’s super enthusiastic. Anything you wanted him to do, he would do. When I first met him, I knew: that’s the guy."
Aside from the movie, O’Connell also said that longevity in the sport was a highlight of his career. His ability to take time away from competition because of the film and then come back on the scene also proved to be noteworthy.
Another picture that flashes in O’Connell’s memory was a time he competed in the Pipeline Masters. He still views it in his mind: paddling out to the waves and looking back to the shore to see more than 50,000 fans cheering for him.
At times like that, O’Connell will smile, or sometimes nearly cry. Other times he might think back even further in his life.
He was born in Chicago, and moved with his family to Orange County when he was 12. The O’Connells first lived in Newport Beach for a bit then moved to Dana Point. Soon the waves seemed to be calling for O’Connell.
He couldn’t resist.
“I still remember the first wave I stood up on," he said. “I couldn’t believe it. For people who have never surfed, it truly is like walking on water. As the water is rushing on your board, you just can’t believe it. It’s just weird. I’ll never forget the first time I made it to my feet."
O’Connell will also never forget about those feet making it onto the concrete of the Surfers’ Hall of Fame.