City Lights: Where surf meets spirit

Surf City, meet "Planet Surf."

That's the title of a two-part documentary that, a few months from now, will broadcast a glimpse of Huntington Beach's surf culture on French television. Frances Wimberge, a director for the public station France 4, visited town with her cameraman Sunday to record the Blessing of the Waves, Duke's, the International Surfing Museum and other local staples.

But her documentary, which is scheduled to air in January, is not intended just as a tribute to Huntington. Rather, it's a look at how people around the world use surfing for the good of the community, whether it's providing recreation for inner-city kids, teaching the disabled to ride a board or bringing the religions of the world together.

That's what the Diocese of Orange did Sunday in Huntington, as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Mormon and other faith leaders gathered at the pier to make speeches, give a prayer over the waves and surf. Yes, some of them did get in the water at the end of the service — including the Rev. Christian Mondor, who is 85 years old and sported a wetsuit under his brown friar's robe.

The scenario, Wimberge said, sounded to her like the beginning of a bar joke: "A priest, a rabbi and an imam get in the water, and…" But when she read an article about the blessing online, she knew that she had to include it in her film, even if it amounted to only a few minutes of footage.

"First, they're going to smile when they see that," Wimberge said Monday, imagining the reaction her French audience might have to a surfing Franciscan friar. "I'm sure that's going to be the first reaction. Because, you know, it's like, where else in the world can you get that but California? But then they're going to go into it the way I did yesterday, because something is really happening by that ocean, by that pier."

Wimberge, who has worked for France 4 for 13 years, found the Blessing of the Waves when she Googled "surfing," "spirituality" and "California." A Los Angeles Times article on the blessing came up, and she got in touch with the diocese.

As it turned out, Mondor, who served as her tour guide Sunday, had appeared on French television before. A year ago, a film crew interviewed him for the show "Incroyable Mais Vrai" — "incredible but true" — about his life as an octogenarian surfer. This time, though, he was more than glad to show off the spiritual side of the town Jan and Dean immortalized.

During the filming, Mondor said, the director lobbed him a question about the stereotype of Southern California surfers as lazy kids who hit the waves as a way of avoiding personal responsibility.

"I said, 'There certainly has been that aspect of surfing, where it was really the image of carefree, irresponsible youth whose only goal was to surf,'" he said. "But my experience with it, which I talked to her about, was [that] there is this whole older generation of surfers who have grown up and taken on responsible work for themselves and their community. But they still surf, and they've found there's a whole spiritual aspect to surfing. It can be a very contemplative experience."

He added, "I've talked to so many surfers who say this is their best prayer time."

Sounds like a blessing to me.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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