JOHN “LARGO” LONG
Johnny Long was a force to be reckoned with. He hovered around five feet but he cast a mighty shadow. He was built like an Adonis from all his years of surfing and working with brick and cement. He had an enormous chest and surf knots on his knees and ankles as big as baseballs – typical of the surfers in the 1960s.
Throughout his childhood in Coronado he made many friends. He left here in 1977 and moved to Redding, where he started a family and continued to specialize in brick and cement, and in particular, focusing on the inventive laying of curved brick; one of the more artistic aspects of brick & mortar work.
John Seth Long died April 29, 2015, at a Hospice in Longview, WA, surrounded by three generations of loving family. He was 67 when he lost his five-year battle with liver cancer.
Largo, as his friends called him, was born on January 29, 1948 as John Seth Long, one of four children born to Richard and Martha Long. His father was a naval officer. It was the navy that brought the family to Coronado when Johnny was a young boy.
John and his older brother Dick “Kingfish” Long rented surfboards to tourists from their F Avenue garage, just a couple hundred yards from Coronado’s Central Beach. A frequent summer customer of theirs was actor Lloyd Bridges, who would rent boards for his two young sons, Beau and Jeff.
In the water John had a laid back style. He loved to drive from the tail, but he walked, and occasionally got some nose time on those old cumbersome surfboards. And when the August swells hit, it was usually Largo screaming down those large faces the younger kids saw, as they arrived on their bikes, well before the sun came up.
John attended Coronado High School (Class of ’66). He played Little League in Coronado and was a member of the original Coronado Surf Explorers headed by John Elwell. He attended Santa Barbara City College for two years.
At the age of 14 he began learning his craft from master bricklayer Bud Bernhard. He learned all aspects of contracting from Bud and worked in that industry for nearly 50 years.
He was a staple of Bernhard’s infamous construction crew (that included others such as Jim Bullock, Winn Schwint, Mike Hoppe and Tom Christiansen, followed by generations of younger workers – many of whom continue to celebrate Bud’s legacy on and off the island).
Bud Bernhard and his crew built more chimneys, walls, sidewalks, driveways and patios than all the other Coronado contractors combined. There are dozens of homes, restaurants and businesses still standing in Coronado that were created with John Long’s contribution of diligence, hard work and an enviable work ethic.
For John Long, that trade took him as far afield as Nigeria (he and Hoppe were flown over to teach the natives of Lagos how to build).
He was a foreman on much of the Interstate Five project in Northern California, and his bricklaying, particularly his ability to lay curved brick, captured the attention of Merle Haggard and John Travolta, who hired him to do custom jobs at their homes.
“I met Johnny in 5th grade,” remembered Jim Bullock from his home in Oregon. Bullock introduced Long to Bernhard as teenagers. “We competed against each other in Little League. I remember he played for the Martin Home Furnishings’ team. Until our final year of high school, it seemed we had classes together every year.
“We started hanging out at the beach around 1960 and began surfing at about 11 or 12 years of age. We would always be out there on something – rafts, boards, or whatever we could find. He and his brother Kingfish had a little surf shop behind their house on F Avenue, where we would fix boards, glass and sand for money.
“Our little gang consisted of me, Dennis Dobranski and John Long. And most of the guys would keep their longboards there so they didn’t have to carry them across town when the surf was good, which made John’s house a major gathering point for all our friends.
“Of course, we ran amok in junior and high school. We drank a lot of beer in those days. We did a lot of crazy things back then, but that’s what kids did.
“The Hotel Del would host all these food conventions, and it was easy for us to go down there with large grocery bags and just fill them up with food samples. We were die-hard Dodger fans, so we would take all that food and gather at Johnny’s place to watch the ballgames on TV.
“John was someone you could trust. That’s basically what our friendship was built upon, and what caused it to last a lifetime. He was a leader among his friends. Even though he was short in stature, he projected himself much larger. People looked up to him.”
Others remember John Long as well. One is Coronado resident Bo Bucklew, who recalled numerous surf trips, both south to Mexico and north to Hollister Ranch. He shared several adventures with Largo that included difficult climbs up Mount Diablo in Mexico, along with Bud Bernhard and the Sierra Club.
“In the water Johnny was old school,” said Bucklew. “He had an easy, laid back style of surfing. He had a low center of gravity and could really drive that surfboard from the tail.
“Having said that, he also liked to walk, and he was no stranger to the nose of his board. Surfing was paramount to us in those days. Everything else – clothes, food, money, girls – was secondary.
“Johnny was a really nice guy. I’ll always remember our adventures together, both in the water and on land. I miss him every time I think about those days.”
Mike Hoppe, long-time partner in the construction business with Largo, also remembered him fondly. “I too met Johnny through surfing as kids in Coronado. Then we became a team working for Bud and that took us to Nigeria in 1975.
“As kids we did a lot of Baja surf trips. Bud was also known as the Batman of Baja because of his incredible hiking and survival skills. Our relationship with Bud introduced us to an entirely different world.
“Once Bud took us up Wall Street – the slot wash of Mount Diablo. That was a hike to remember. Johnny was always there with me on those adventures. He was always upbeat, never down.
“I think of him often. We had pretty good history together. When we parted ways we never really hooked up again, but yeah, I think of him now and again and it always brings a smile to my face.”
Many remember, few will forget. And what better legacy could one man hope for as he makes his way into the great beyond. One such friend took time to share his memories of John Long all the way from New Zealand. Craig Culpepper was younger than Long, but has many memories of growing up with the little man called Largo.
“Two words sum up John for me,” said Culpepper, “’BIG HEART.’ He would help you with anything and share everything.
“When I think back to the Coronado Surfing Explorers Post days, and our 100-Mile Paddle in San Diego Bay, it was John who shared ideas of how to enter the water, to paddle efficiently and how to turn around.
“But more importantly, his 1950 Plymouth station wagon became our ‘hotel’ for the event, with several of us sleeping in the back in variously contorted positions. I still have bruises to prove it.
“John was also generous with his boards, his house, his yard, his surf knowledge, and even his zinc oxide for lips and nose. BIG HEART.
“John was a fashion trend-setter of sorts as well. All us younger guys envied his blocked hairstyle, big muscles and surf bumps. And of course, we all had to wear long sleeve, white dress shirts to junior high school, with the tails hanging loose – just like John.
“I remember losing my surfboard once at Avalanche, North Beach. If our boards went in to shore (of course, this was long before things like wetsuits and leashes), the Military Police would confiscate them, and, as we were to learn later, many of those boards would end up in Viet Nam with deploying troops.
“While others were laughing or feeling sorry for me for losing my board, John calmly caught a wave in and recovered it just in time. BIG HEART.
“John’s infectious smile, his prowess in the surf, his generosity and friendship had a lasting effect on many of us younger guys. I like to think that little bits of his big heart will continue to live in us all. I know it does in mine…”
John Long was preceded in death by his parents and younger sister, Sarah L. Long. He is survived by his wife Susan (McKay-Brown) Long of Kalama, WA; sister Susan Long-Foley of Concord, CA; brother Richard Long of Concord; daughter Sarah A. Long of Concord, and daughter Renee E. Harteloo of Kalama.
Grandchildren Landon Seth Harteloo and Sophia Grace Long also survive him.
NOTE: Private services were held in Kalama and the family wishes to thank everyone who so kindly sent memories and well wishes. A Coronado paddle out and celebration of life was hoped for, but the family was spread out from Kuwait to Northern California and logistically that never materialized – hence the delay in posting the obituary. We felt that to post his obituary late, rather than not at all, was a must, because of Johnny’s many friends still living on the island.