Submitted by Norman Huff
It was a sad day for me when I received an email that Surfer John had transitioned. My story about John Elwell, I consider a true compassionate friend, that I had met when I was a first-year student and freshman at Coronado High School in 1979. Even though I lived in many Navy towns: Warrington, FL, San Francisco, CA, San Diego, CA, Long Beach, CA, Belmont, MA, Racine, WI, Coronado was always my personal choice. When my father later retired from the U.S. Navy, he married his second wife Phyllis Jane Huff in 1978, he decided to return to his old home that he’d bought in 1939 (just prior to being assigned to VF-14 in Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese Attack at Pearl Harbor and NAS Kaneohe Territory of Hawaii (TH)) to live at 155 Alameda Blvd.
Since I was a freshman that had not attended and graduated from Coronado Grammar School, I found it hard to make new friends. I was a shy student for the first 6 months. My father had some friends he knew from 1933 while living in San Diego. His friend’s name was Ed Koehler, who had a son Carlton “Sunny” Koehler my age. I found my first new friend during the first part of the summer of 1949. After school started, I first met John when I was his pool partner in a game of pool. During the two years that I was there I would always see John and his friend Pat Flynn at Center Beach fishing for sharks and catching lobsters from the ocean floor. When I would meet him, he gave me some tips on how to catch halibut, lobster, and dig for clams by diving for them.
I grew to love Coronado. I loved the oceans and the three (North, Center, and South) beaches. I later made three new friends that like to fish. We would ride our bicycles and walk and fish in the ocean on the large dark boulders that were used for ballast in the hulls of sailing ships. We used to get our catch of five-pound bass and three-pound bottom fish. Through the years, the sand and currant from Point Loma have slowly covered up the harbor, and almost all the ballast rocks in front of the Hotel Del that used to protect the boats that were docked in the harbor during early days of the Hotel Del.
I got to know some close friends when I was a member of the CHS Swim Team. I was always at Center Beach and meeting a girl that I really liked. Unfortunately, my mother who was living in Pass Christian, MI wanted me to visit her for the summer of 1949. I ended up attending a Military School and graduating in 1951.
I returned to study at San Diego State University (SDSU) and became interested in longboard surfing. That is when I met John Elwell, Tom Carlin, and the famous surfer Robert “Bob” Simmons down at the Tijuana Slews. John was a close friend of Simmons, traveled all up and down the California spots gathering notes and meeting surfers at all the places that surfed with the old redwood and balsa planks.
Through our emails for some 20 years, he writes that he used to be a high school principal. He has command of the English Language. Smooth writer. John just published his picture book titled “Surfing in California.” When he moved to DelRay, Florida I felt I had lost a friend. He liked my aviation stories. He was an icon in the surfing industry. He will be remembered by his many friends. I will silently pray that we will meet again. He will not be forgotten. RIP good buddy.
– Norman Huff, aka my early nicknames while flying the Air Force my fellow pilots came up with and they were “Normo,” “Norm,” “Rocket Man,” and finally “Normal Norm.”