Blessing of the Waves brings religions together this Sunday for one common love: the ocean

September 7, 2018
By Laylan Connelly
Orange County Register

Water is a bridge – a part of nature that bonds people, even if they have different beliefs.

That’s how Blessing of the Waves organizer Dave Garofalo described the multi-religious event happening Sunday, Sept. 9 on the north side of the Huntington Beach Pier, a gathering that draws an estimated 1,000 people to share traditions and give tribute to the sea.

“It brings everyone together,” Garofalo said. “It’s a reflection of how important the environment is to us, particularly in Huntington Beach. In every religion, water plays some part.”

Now in its 11th year, the event is put on by the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council, which aims at joining various religious groups together to share their beliefs and to educate others on their traditions.

There are two words Garofalo uses when he thinks of the annual event:

Better together.

“There’s no doubt, everyone looks at their own religion as their own way of life,” he said. “We don’t really care what you call your god – your god is your god. We’re more better together because we believe in something. I think that’s what brings us together.”

Remembering late leaders

In addition to various religions sharing their beliefs and talking about how water and the ocean play a part in their religions, a special tribute will be made to two leaders in the religious and surfing community who passed away earlier this year.

Pastor Sumo Sato, who ran H20 in Huntington Beach and who died of colon cancer in March, and Rev. Christian Mondor of Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic Church, known as the “surfing padre” and who died the following month, will be remembered with a bronze statue to be placed on the pier near lifeguard tower zero.

“Both of them were an integral part of our community, particularly of our surfing community,” Garofalo said.

Sato, an avid surfer from Hawaii and chaplain for Huntington’s Marine Safety Department, could be found on most day riding waves on his longboard on the north side of the Huntington pier.

Sumo spoke at the 2016 Blessing of the Waves after learning he had been diagnosed with cancer.

He talked about surrendering to God, and told a story about nearly dying in Hawaiian surf in October, at first panicking but then recognizing he was being cared for by a higher power. At that event, he thanked the crowd for their prayers as he battled cancer.

Mondor rode waves until a heart attack at age 88, but continued to be a spiritual voice in the surfing community by leading prayer at community events such as the Surfing Walk of Fame each year.

Each year at the Blessing of the Waves, Mondor would bless the crowd with rosemary branches soaked in salt water:

“We ask your blessing upon all the creatures that inhabit the sea, from the smallest plankton to the formidable sharks and humpback whales, for they all have a place in the order of your creation…

“But please keep the great whites always in their space, and not in ours,” he said, drawing a chuckle from the crowd.

Mondor would then lead a group down to the water, saying a prayer before surfers gathered for a paddle-out, where they hold hands in a circle.

He would often talk about the ocean’s beauty.

“It’s God’s great gift to us all,” Mondor said in front of the crowd in 2103. “It’s wonderful to have this opportunity to say thank you to a lovely God who has given us this great gift.”

‘Walk away smiling’

With the surf expected to be strong – in the 4-7 foot range with some larger sets – it’s unclear whether surfers will hold the paddle out in the ocean after the ceremony in the Pier Plaza.

“But it’s the weather – when is the weather ever right” Garofalo asked.

Even if the paddle-out doesn’t happen, those who attend will learn much about how the ocean plays a part in various religions from around the world, he said.

“When people do that, you learn you have more in common than you have differences. I never in my life would have gone to a synagogue, a temple, a mosque – and I’ve been able to do that by participating in the Interfaith Council, because we visit all those places,” he said. “You walk away smiling, even if you do things differently.”

When: Sunday, Sept. 9, 8:30 a.m.

Where: North side of the Huntington Beach Pier in the Pier Plaza

More info: