Joe Surf: His thoughts on going cold

What's a surfer like you doing in a place like this?

That was my first thought when I saw Huntington Beach's own Timmy Turner at a neighborhood Christmas party the other day. Turner had his five-month old daughter, Tynzlee, strapped to his chest in one of those child harnesses as he socialized at the party, hosted by Paul and Carolyn Fetters, owners of The Training Spot on Main Street.

It's the only holiday party I've ever been to that every year has an appearance by a Santa Claus who stands about 6-foot-6. But seeing Turner there was just as strange a sight, considering most might only recognize him in pictures riding barrels in Indonesia.

He is widely known for his battle with a staph infection in his brain that nearly took his life six years ago and resulted in numerous surgeries, including the removal of three-quarters of his skull.

It is believed that he contracted the infection while surfing in water with high levels of bacteria, too soon after heavy rains washed human and industrial waste into the ocean.

He has a new "skull" now, one made of polymethyl methacrylate, which was connected by titanium plates and screws to what was left of his existing skull.

But at the party he was just Timmy, rushing to the bathroom to wash his daughter's hands and face after a nearby partygoer sneezed.

He admitted that he's kind of found the cruise control switch in life, instead of just flooring it. But for Turner, cruise control doesn't mean slow.

Turner, 31, has gained international notoriety for the films he's made, particularly "Second Thoughts," which chronicles the adventures he and two friends had camping out and surfing for a month on an uninhabited island in Indonesia.

Second Thoughts was the 2004 winner of Surfer Magazine's Surfer Poll Best Movie award. Another widely acclaimed film made by Turner is "The Tsunami Diaries: A Voyage to the Epicenter," a documentary from 2006 on the relief efforts he and his friends made after the devastating Indonesian tsunami in 2004.

Now, Turner is working on another film, the idea coming directly from his brush with death and the resulting effects.

Turner returned to the waves after extensive rehabilitation, even though some might have thought it was too soon. But there was one edict that doctors made, and one that Turner's wife Jessica reinforced: no warm-water surfing. Chances of another infection were more likely in warm water, so if Turner wanted to surf, he had to go cold.

"That's what made me starting thinking of my movie 'Cold Thoughts,'" Turner said. "I have made four movies in Indonesia and I was so motivated when the doctors, and my wife, told me that [I couldn't surf in warm water]. OK, I'll make a movie in cold water. Who cares if I can't go to the tropics? I'm just going cold."

The filming of the movie is complete, and Turner will soon get into the editing room in the hopes of having the movie out in late spring, early summer.

Getting to this point was not easy. Surfing and filming in places like Alaska and Iceland presented challenges he never faced in Indonesia.

"Fortunately, my cousin lives in Alaska and runs boat charters, so it was a perfect first trip on going there and looking for waves," Turner said. "I wanted to make it like 'Second Thoughts', but in colder places. We were camping in the snow, catching fish, seeing all the wildlife."

As it turned out, Turner might have had a few second thoughts about making "Cold Thoughts."

"It cost a lot of money going to all those places and bringing someone to film," he said. "Indonesia was always perfect because when the waves came, it was easy. It was offshore, beautiful swells, and you just hire someone, anyone, teach them how to film and they'd sit on the beach for $10 a day.

"But now, going to these cold places, no one's there. We're there camping on these islands with cougars, black bears — you name it. There's so much wildlife and it's just you and your friends."

The waves were a problem at times, much more inconsistent than what he experienced in Indonesia. When the waves were good, one of Turner's "crew" had to sit out a chance to get into the water and do the filming himself. Oftentimes, it was Turner.

"I did do a lot of filming, but I did get a couple waves for the movie," he said.

When he isn't in the editing room, he's busy just being Timmy: Jessica's husband and a father of four, working at the Sugar Shack Cafe on Main Street, a popular downtown eatery that's owned by his mom, Michelle.

"If there's waves, I will drop work and everything and just go and surf," Turner said. "If Huntington's good, or up north, or down south in Mexico. But if there's no swells, like it has been, I'd rather just work and make money.

"I'm still getting sponsor money, so I'm sitting really good. I have six months left with Rip Curl, and if that's it, then I'm happy with how long I've been able to surf and get a paycheck. No worries."

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at

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