Friday, March 5, 2021

Gregory Leyland Hunt (1966-2020)

GREGORY LEYLAND HUNT, CHS ’84

In the surf and at local restaurants, Greg Hunt was a household name. A passionate surfer, he loved travel and adventure, and never met a wave he didn’t like. Greg died unexpectedly in his sleep ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­November 30, at the age of 54.

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The oldest of three children, Gregory Leyland Hunt was immediately the life of the party, filling the room with his presence. He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 28, 1966, to Anne and Frank Hunt. His mother was born in Coronado (CHS Class of ’59). His father predeceased him.

Proud mother and her son Greg, at 10 months. March 1967, Pensacola Beach.

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On his mother’s side, Greg’s family was descended from Nova Scotian Cajuns, who emigrated to the Caribbean before subsequent generations came West. Greg’s grandfather, Rear Admiral Howard “Brigham” Young, graduated from the US Naval Academy, Class of ‘23. He was an aviation pioneer and the first pilot to land at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack, dodging enemy and friendly fire along the way.

Little Greg, October 1967, Kansas City.

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Greg attended Coronado Middle School and Coronado High School (Class of ‘84). As a young boy, Greg was completely possessed by soccer and hockey before discovering surfing, the latter of which changed his life and priorities forever.

Greg got his first surfboard, a shortboard, in 1978 when the family returned to Coronado from Minnesota. He was a goofy footer (right foot forward on the board) and loved the way a shortboard tucked into a wave. He loved exotic surf spots, seeking the elusive barrel, and big waves. He was good at what he did.

He also attended Cal Poly State University, where he graduated with a BS in graphic communications and print management. After college, Greg got into the printing industry. He worked at several major locations, including Neyenesch Printers, a top-tier printer in San Diego, where he specialized in sales.

Greg, standing, far left. The Rowdies, 1979.

As his network of businesses and clients grew, Greg decided to start his own business. He became a printing services broker, using the vast network he had built to put people and businesses together, to meet their printing needs. He did that for six years.

But, we were entering the Digital Age, and a lot of the printing companies he had worked with were dying off quickly, like dinosaurs, unable to keep up with climate changes in that industry. Suddenly everyone could do their printing jobs on their own computers and on the internet. They no longer needed brokers to steer them.

Like many in Coronado, Greg worked in the restaurant industry waiting tables. He worked for several years at Miguel’s Cocina and Chez Loma, becoming part of that family of young surfers alongside the late Stan Searfus and others. When they weren’t surfing exotic locations, they were waiting tables and saving money for their next surf trip. Greg actually lived and surfed in Hawaii for several years.

Growing up in Minnesota, Greg dreamed of one day becoming a surfer and riding big waves. His childhood friend Shane Jones recalled how they would sit around and draw pictures of surfers that looked like the Where’s Waldo character. “Yes, I remember as kids we would spend entire days drawing large waves on the biggest pieces of paper we could find, and populating them with more of our rough drawings of surfers in the water and on the waves,” said Jones.

“Greg and I learned to skateboard together. We eventually began to challenge each other by riding higher and higher up on the neighborhood hills. Finally, we were able to skateboard from the very top, down, without falling, going at breakneck speeds. I like to think that’s were Greg got his hunger for big waves.” Shane hadn’t seen Greg in 40 years when receiving word of his passing.

One day, at McP’s Irish Pub, Greg met Therese Ahlstedt, from Stenungsund, Sweden. It was love at first sight. The two married, and had three children – Isabella (16), Julia (14) and Liam (10). Greg loved their many trips home to Sweden together, and loved his kids and family.

Taken on the family front porch in 1984 are, from left, Annie, Greg, Bill and Laurie.

Greg was teaching his son Liam to surf at the time of his passing. “I’d never seen Greg so happy as when he was with his children,” said his mother Annie. “When Liam began to take to surfing, it gave Greg a whole new lease on life. They enjoyed going to the beach and to sporting events together.

“Fathers and their sons … It was such a joy to see the two of them together. Greg was very proud of his children and he loved them very much. Someone recently asked me what Greg’s legacy will be,” said Annie. “I think, without a doubt, his family and his surfing.”

Greg’s friends were eager to share stories about surfing and their many adventures together. “My favorite thing about Greg was he never made it about himself,” said good friend Curtis Pepper. “He had a terrific attitude about surfing. He was always a shredder on the waves, frequently getting the wave of the day. But it was never about him. He was always telling you how great you did, and how great your waves were.

“We did a Hawaii surf trip together last March,” said Pepper. “Greg rode triple-overhead Sunset Beach. He was in great form and completely fearless on that wave. And, from the moment I picked him up until I dropped him off, we laughed non-stop. He was always laughing and the life of the party. He was a really fun guy, and I’m going to miss him a lot.”

Greg, showing off his perfect teeth.

Shane and Curtis weren’t the only friends who were overflowing with memories of their fallen friend. “Greg was a good all-around athlete,” said Manny Granillo, local surfer and good pal. “Not many know that because he pretty much hung up his hockey skates once he started surfing.”

Granillo, who owned Island Surf (Coronado’s oldest surf shop at the time), knew Greg well. “I surfed with him for years,” he said. “He got more than a few boards from me, and he really ripped on them, no matter how old and patched up they were. His type of surfing was always going for the tube ride. It didn’t matter if it was the Great Wall of China close-out at Outlet. If he could ride the tube at all, he would pull in. That was the type of surfer he was.

First time leaving for Hawaii. 1988.

“We grew up in an era, on the edge of time, where surfing communities bestowed humorous and descriptive nicknames on each other. Greg’s nickname was, ‘Lips.’ We all called him that.”

“Because of his sensitive skin, he would rub white zinc oxide all over his face before paddling out. Greg loved the sun, and he loved to surf for hours and hours, hang out on the beach, and then go back out surfing again. Eventually we all just started calling him ‘Lips,’ and it stuck,” said Granillo. “Greg was a great guy and a great surfer. I’ll miss him in the water.”

Graduation Day, Cal Poly.

Greg lived in Hawaii on and off for years after he graduated from high school. He worked hard his whole life. He’d save his money and do surf trips with his friends. He made numerous trips to Baja and Hawaii, but he also loved to surf Outlet in Coronado, and Abs at Sunset Cliffs, the latter being one of Greg’s favorite lefts. His only rule of thumb was, “The more tubular and the larger the wave, the better.”

Childhood friend Mike Dennis recalled from his home in Hawaii a couple of memories with Greg. “His laugh and smile were what I will remember most about Greg,” said Dennis. “He really loved to hang out and have fun. He truly enjoyed his friends.

A family Christmas card shows, from left, Annie, Laurie, Bill and Greg, in front of the iconic Hotel del Coronado.

“When surfing, Greg would always yell, ‘Pull in Surfer!’ I think our friend Eddie Kozar coined that phrase, but Greg adopted it as his own over the years, and we heard it a lot in the water,” laughed Dennis.

“We did our first trip to Hawaii in 1985. We were having so much fun at the San Diego airport that we missed our flight. Our boards, however, made it. Fortunately, a good friend in Hawaii picked them up and we caught a later flight.

“I’ll never forget we were sneaking down this path to a secret spot when we encountered three or four big Hawaiian dudes coming towards us. We jumped into the bushes with our boards and just held our breath. We finally got in the water, but, if they had seen us, we would have been pounded.”

Therese and Greg at Center Beach.

Mike Dennis also remembered another trip to Hawaii, in the summer of 1989, when Greg bought a ratty old car and it broke down on the south side. “We were trying to fix it when we met a local who traded us for his 1964 Ford truck,” said Dennis. “It was an old backcountry vehicle. I think the guy just wanted the stereo in our car, but we drove home in that classic old Ford truck – no papers, no pink slips, no money changed hands, no nothing. And it ran like a charm.”

This beautiful family portrait was taken six years ago. Greg and Therese with their children (from left) Liam, Isabella and Julia.

The general consensus among Greg’s friends was that he lived hard, played hard, and surfed hard. Everyone agreed he was a happy person who loved his family and friends to the end.

“We had been friends since 1980,” said Mike Dennis. “We had just started high school and Greg had just moved here from the mid-west. We basically learned to be good surfers together.

Greg, summer 1991, 25 years old, sporting that classic look of the Chez Loma waiter.

“Even as recently as last September, we had surfed Officers Beach and Erdies together on a south swell. It was only head high, but offshore and really clean. He surfed and surfed, then left to grab a quick bite to eat, and came back and surfed some more. That was Greg.” [NOTE: Erdies is Erdmann’s Beach, on North Island Naval Air Station.]

Old friend Kirk Horvath remembered that day. “Greg, Mike and I walked down together from the rocks. We paddled around the fence and scored perfect waves for four hours. The whole morning was so perfect. Now, Mike and I both realize how blessed we were to be able to surf with Greg that last time at Erdies. It’s a memory we’ll never forget … perfect waves and good friends.”

The “south swell,” in Coronado surf lingo, is as iconic an event as ever was. The massive south swells would march up out of Mexico, usually around August, and the most amazing surf would take place at Outlet and North Beach, and across the Navy fence at Officers’ and Erdies.

Greg, doing what he loved most, pulling into a barrel.

“Greg and I never missed a south swell at Officers’ Beach,” said best friend Billy Reynolds. He grew up with Greg, Mike Dennis, Curtis Pepper and a few others, all learning to surf and fight their way into the lineup together.

“I remember lots of little things that were special about Greg. He was a great dancer and women seemed to gravitate to him, which was good for his friends. His kindness and generosity were famous. He was an artist and loved to draw large images of waves. Everyone loved Greg, but it wasn’t always that way.

“In middle school it seemed there were a lot of fights,” remembered Reynolds. “I think it was Greg’s first week, fresh from Minnesota. He had this hockey hat on and some guy knocked it off. He did it again, and then the two kids went at it with all the ferocity of a lightweight title fight. Of course, all us other kids gathered in a circle around them, cheering and egging them on.

Greg Hunt, tucking in at Coronado’s Outlet. If ever he called one wave, one break, home, Outlet was it. The saying coined by these charging short boarders was, “No leash, pull in, and grin.”

“That was my first introduction to Greg Hunt. I remember Greg really took care of business with that kid. Then he got his first surfboard, and that was all she wrote. We had a year or so on him, ability-wise, but within a few weeks, Greg caught up with us.

“With those shorter and lighter surfboards, you could really pull into a wave. And, if you didn’t, it was, ‘back to G Street for you.’ At North Beach the rule was simple,” said Reynolds. “No leash, pull in, and grin.”

Greg and brother Bill, North Shore of Hawaii, last summer.

Moving back to Coronado was a dream come true for mom Annie Hunt. For little Greg it was a chance to see the wonderful island he had heard so much about from his mother. While surfing soon dominated his life, there was far more to Greg Hunt – dreams, family, spirituality.

“My son was a Christian man and believed deeply in God,” said his mother. “He was an infrequent visitor to Sacred Heart Church, that is, until he realized the best surf was usually the same time as church service,” she added with a smile.

 

“He once ended a handwritten letter to me, from Hawaii, with, ‘Ask not what surfing can do for your country, but what surfing can do for you.’ I had to laugh. He was only 26 at the time.”

Greg is survived by his wife Therese Hunt and three children, Isabella, Julia and Liam (Tierra Santa) and his mother Annie (Santee). He is also survived by his sister, Laurie Hunt-Puglia (Tony) of Kauai and brother William Hunt (Josie) of Hawaii.

A surf paddle-out took place Saturday, February 6, at Outlet (Coronado’s North Beach). Twenty-five surfers participated in the cold, winter surf. There was a Celebration of Life on the beach beforehand, where family and friends spoke and shared memories.



Editor’s Note: Joe Ditler is an author, historian and frequent contributor to The Coronado Times. One of the services he provides is the capturing of one’s story in obituary format, and, when possible, before it’s too late, in living-obituary format. In the latter, he sits down with our community elders to create a visual and oral legacy that will be appreciated for generations of his or her family to come. On the digital recording of the interview, family members hear the subject telling their very special story, in their own voice. They hear them laugh. They hear them cry. In Ditler’s words, “Sitting down and doing a living-obituary is the most special gift in the world you can leave for your family.” For more information, write joeditler@gmail.com.

 

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Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call joeditler@gmail.com, or (619) 742-1034.
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