Joe Surf: Collins made huge impact on surfing industry

Surfline has planned a paddleout to honor its founder and one of the most influential surfers in the history of the sport, Sean Collins, at 11 a.m. Sunday on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.

Collins, 59, passed away after suffering a heart attack while playing tennis the day after Christmas.

While the paddleout will be a moving tribute to Collins, I can't help but wonder if there isn't more the city and its citizens can do.

Would it be too much to ask that the Huntington Beach Pier be renamed the "Sean Collins Memorial Pier"? Or how about the "Sean Collins Memorial Pier at Huntington"?

Collins' influence on surfing and the exploding surfing industry cannot be overstated. Surfer Magazine named him one of the 25 most influential surfers of the century in 1999, and in 2002 the magazine named him the eighth most powerful surfer in the surf industry.

But it's so much more than helping surfers find a good wave. His forecasts have helped event organizers determine where and when they would hold their contests.

Contests got bigger and better when the waves were optimum. And consequently, the surfing got better, and interest grew and grew.

Now, the surf industry is a billion-dollar business. It's why a farm boy in Nebraska can go to his local mall and buy a Hurley T-shirt and board shorts.

And it's why surf towns — like Huntington — have thrived. Sure, there are the old school surfers who don't like the big hotels and all the tourists, but the economic boon to the city has been an overwhelming positive on the whole.

Collins' influence stretches past surfing and the surfing industry as well. Surfline provides weather and forecasting services to every lifeguard agency in California, the Coast Guard, the Navy Seals, National Weather Service, television and movie production companies, and domestic and international governmental agencies.

I interviewed Collins for a column last April, and he said he simply saw a need and filled it.

"It was hard to find data to forecast storms, let alone swells," Collins said in April. "Basically, you had to rely on satellite information and usually half the satellites were down. There were not very good global weather models.

"When I learned how to forecast, the primary challenge was finding information at all, let alone having the network to distribute the information like now."

Collins used weather charts obtained through shortwave radio and ultimately developed his own system of forecasting. But before he would share his knowledge with the world, he shared it with his friends.

"We'd look out at Huntington, and it would be 2 feet," Collins said. "Then I'd say, 'It'll be 8-10 feet tomorrow.' And they'd say, 'Yeah, right.' Then it would be huge the next day. They thought I was a witch doctor.", the office of which is at Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street in Huntington, posted the following statement regarding the paddleout on Sunday. Interestingly, the paddleout initially was scheduled for Saturday, but was changed presumably because of potential stormy conditions forecast by

"Fading but still fun WNW swell and nice weather is the call for this day of remembrance and celebration of our friend and colleague, Sean Collins. The storm we're watching for our waves is still in the development stage, but at this point it looks like the powerful, WNW (280-295) groundswell will top out with strong surf on Friday, Jan 6th, then wind down through the following weekend. So by Sunday, 8th, we'll have fun 3-4-5' waves suitable for a large group of people around the pier. We'll continue to watch this still very active storm/swell system and keep you posted on its progress to properly inform all those who wish to join us, so that you can make the most informed decision on whether to paddle out or not. Please know that you'll be a part of this celebration of Sean's life whether it's from the water, the beach or the pier. We'll be updating this forecast every couple days during the upcoming week. Stay tuned.

—The Surfline Forecast Team"


Memorial fund created

In addition to the paddleout, a memorial fund has been set up by the Collins family to raise money that will be donated to charitable causes that were meaningful to Collins.

Checks can be made out to the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) and sent to 4041 MacArthur Blvd., suite 510, Newport Beach, 92660. Specify "Sean Collins Surfline Charitable Fund" in the memo section. Online contributions can be made at


Surfers acknowledge Collins' death

Eleven-time world champ Kelly Slater and Huntington Beach local pro Brett Simpson tweeted on the loss of Collins.

Slater: "RIP Sean Collins. You've been a friend for over 25 yrs. Thanks for the memories, surf trips and wave knowledge."

Simpson: "Thoughts and prayers are with the Collins family! Sean was a huge asset to where surfing is today! He will be missed greatly. Much love."

Others from the surfing world have their comments posted at Here are my two favorites:

Rob Machado: "I had the honor of going on a trip with Sean to chase a swell. At that point, I wouldn't really call it chasing. More like knowing. His intuition was spot-on and we scored. Imagine that. The best part was watching Sean pick apart the swell. Why it was pulsing at certain times. What the wind was doing. The tides. His mind was like a data bank that was constantly gathering info. That was my first trip with Sean. But I traveled on many more missions with Sean's words tucked in my back pocket. So thank you, Sean. For your passion and love for this beautiful thing we call surfing. Because without waves — and knowing where to find them — who knows what we all would be doing. Rest in peace."

Bob Hurley: "Got to spend a few quiet moments with Sean at the US Open. He was congratulating me on the success of the event and on our company. Being a huge Surfline fan, I responded in kind. He quickly reflected on his career, his successes and failures. His conclusion was that he was the luckiest man alive. He lived his passion, and was able to support a beautiful family while doing so. He felt blessed because his job never felt like work. My feelings mirrored his, and we high-fived each other. At that point, Kelly interrupted us with yet another crowd-pleasing air, and we both giggled like eight-year-olds! I will miss Sean deeply, and when I do, will reflect on the amazing moments we shared."

Collins is survived by his wife, Daren, sons Tyler and A.J., mother Gloria, and his siblings Whitney Jr., Gloria Burdette II and Robert.

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

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