A good time to reflect, party

A picture can sometimes seem so simple, especially a group photo. But this wasn't just any typical picture.

There weren't any special poses, mind you. Just smiles. From those faces you could still see the youth and carefreeness that constantly showed during their days on the Orange Coast College surf team. Some 30 years later, sure they've all grown in age, but their personalities have hardly changed. Many of them are still part of the surf culture.

So what do you do at a party if you're a surfer? You drink and have a good time.

At this OCC surf team reunion (years 1978 to 1982), these guys, and gals, also caught up with one another. They talked about the old times, winning with OCC and learning from their great mentor, their coach: Laird Hayes.

When the drinks settled in and the food was running out at Hayes' home Saturday, the former OCC surfers gathered for a group photo. There was Felipe Bascopé still cracking jokes with a beer bottle in his hand. John Gothard can schmooze with people in high places, but he's never lost his down-to-earth attitude and quick wit.

What about Thom McElroy? Yes, he was there, the dude who surfed for OCC and went on to become co-owner of Volcom.

They were all happy to be there, to renew friendships, to thank Hayes and to party.

Shortly after the camera flashed for the memorable group photo, Mark Carter got all sentimental talking about the surfers' favorite coach.

"This goes back to 1979 when we had an end-of-the-year party at your house," Carter said to Hayes in front of the group.

Just as Carter said, "I'll never forget walking down the halls and seeing all the different awards and credentials. I thought it was cool," Gothard interrupted and said to Carter, "because you'll never get that?"

Everyone just laughed. Then they got quiet.

Carter said something that spoke true for the group.

"You were really an unbelievable inspiration to all of us," Carter said to Hayes.

You've heard of Hayes. He's been featured in the Daily Pilot before. He's part of this newspaper's recent top 103 most influential people in the community for a reason. He began as an administrator at OCC in 1976. In addition to starting the surf team at OCC, he also coached the men's soccer team for 24 seasons. He's modest about his work and will tell you others should have the credit for two state championships and seven conference titles, but his leadership cannot be denied.

That leadership also showed up with the OCC surf team. Surfing, in its pure form, is an individual sport. Somehow Hayes made it into a team sport at OCC. He had his surfers encourage one another, help each other and always respect other surfers. Hayes also made them follow rules and keep up their grades.

But there was also time for fun. When OCC sometimes competed against university club teams like UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, the OCC surfers left their impression when they swept through dorm parties. They also made sure they were remembered in the water.

OCC had some great surf teams back then. They went undefeated against teams from California for a year. Hayes pushed them to succeed.

"Laird represented a very high standard," said Francine (Hill) Udall, who was on the first National Scholastic Surf Assn. national team as a senior at Edison High in 1979 before going to OCC. "Laird didn't just lecture it, he lived it."

Hayes achieved goals too. He just completed his 16th season as an NFL referee. He officiated in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 and Super Bowl XXXVII in 2004, as well as his first conference championship game this past season when he worked as a side judge in the AFC title contest. Before his time in the NFL he was officiating Pac-10 games for 13 years.

The surf team reunion party came at a special time for Hayes, who is in his final semester at OCC. He is seven weeks from retiring at OCC. His son, Andy, who excelled in water polo at Newport Harbor, has gone on to USC, where he was a part of the Trojans' NCAA national championship team this past season.

There's been plenty of reason to celebrate this past year. Saturday was another time to revel, with thoughts of retirement for Hayes.

"It's been the greatest job anyone can ask for," Hayes said of working at OCC. "It's just been unbelievable. I've been a blessed guy."

The OCC surfers were also fortunate to have Hayes. They all expressed that during the party.

"Laird was a pivotal part of my life," McElroy said. "If I didn't have Laird in my life I don't know what I would do."

Hayes thanked everyone for coming to the party after the photo. The party had been in the works for quite some time now. Bascopé, now a creative consultant in advertising and an art and design instructor, had kept in touch with many of the surfers from the early 80s. He worked with Carter to help spread the word about a reunion at Hayes' home.

It all came together, and Hayes was so grateful.

"You've all blessed me so much and in so many different ways," Hayes said after the photo was taken. "John Gothard used to make fun of how horrible of a surfer I was. But everyone was so respectful of me. What's great is that there are so many successful people here in all sorts of areas in their lives."

Gothard is a success story too. He was a great surfer for OCC. After Coast, he went on to work in sales, selling wetsuits and eyewear. He's now the VP of sales for Sanük, a casual sandle-wear company.

"Laird had a way of conducting class; you had to be on time and you had to follow the rules," Gothard said. "There isn't a person that doesn't utilize what he taught us. My whole demeanor and the way I go about doing business is largely what I learned from Laird."

Hayes reminded the OCC surfers not just about the winning, but also about the rarity of that era. OCC doesn't have a surf team like the ones back then when the squad carried close to 80 surfers. They all traveled together and they all partied together.

"I doubt that there will ever be another experience like that," Hayes told the group.

Everyone agreed.

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