On this date in 1964, the following ad for Surf Boards By Jack Haley ran in the Los Angeles Times.
This is just one date in time from one man’s notable life. Jack Haley was and remains a Seal Beach institution. In his sixty-five years of life, He was so many things: family man, surfing pioneer, lifeguard, entrepreneur, mentor, and restaurateur. People who knew Jack Haley called him, “Mister Excitement.”
Mister Excitement first came to prominence on September 22, 1959 when he became the first West Coast Surfing Champion. This was in the early long board days of the surfing culture before it blossomed into a multi-millionaire industry. The enthusiasm and personalities of young surfers like Haley, Blackie August, Rich Harbour, and so many others influenced the shape of that culture, and that influence is still felt today.
But surfers need day jobs, and Jack Haley kept close to the waves and beach by becoming a Seal Beach lifeguard in the early sixties. If you’ve ever spoken to Seal Beach lifeguards, you know they have countless stories about their experiences. Two incidents from Jack Haley’s lifeguard days were noteworthy enough into the Long Beach Independent Press Telegram.
The first is a typical lifeguard rescue story. Four surfers had been swept half a mile out to sea on a Sunday afternoon in February 1963. The teenagers lost their surfboards in the breaking waves at the mouth of the San Gabriel River where the ocean tides mixed with river’s current. Three of the surfers, teenaged friends from Whittier, were saved by boat, and it was uncertain when the story was written whether or not the fourth, not part of the Whittier group had made it to shore independently.
“The surf out there was terrible,” said Lt. Lifeguard Haley. “When they lost their boards they couldn’t swim against the river’s current. They were rescued near the oil drilling island, which is a half-mile from shore.”
According to Haley, it was the first time in ten years the waves were breaking beyond the end of the the quarter mile long Seal Beach pier — the sort of detail a seasoned surfer would note. In the newspaper story, Haley seems to be the source for the information about the rescue, but care was taken to also give credit to Seal Beach lifeguards Fred Miller and Tim Dorsey for other less striking and yet important swimmer and surfer rescues under rough conditions.
At nightfall, the fourth surfer had still not been located, and the Coast Guard planned to resume searching the next day. There is no follow up story, so one hopes the surfer made it to shore, safe but unnoticed.
The second story is little more unusual and takes places two months later in April 1963. Under the lovely headline of “Surfboard Terror Arrested At Sea,” the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram of surfer Terry Lee Gardner of Garden Grove. Gardner had attached razor blades to the skag (rudder) of his surfboard and threatened to “cut to ribbons anyone who got in his way.”
At the time, there were 150 surfers in the newly designated surfing area. Gardner tried to run his fellow surfer down until the Seal Beach police arrived and ordered him to shore. Instead of complying, Gardener paddled out to sea.
Haley set out after Gardner in a rowboat, and the Long Beach Harbor Patrol boats were called out. When Haley and the patrol boats caught up with Gardner, he was frantically trying to remove the razor blades from his board. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
Not every workday in a lifeguard’s life are as dramatic as these, but rescuing, life-saving, maintaining a safe beach and waters, and aiding beachgoers and swimmers are regular events, whether newspapers take note or not. A single lifeguard can have an immeasurable, but significant impact on thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives during his or her career.
One would think being the first West Coast Surfing Champion and a Seal Beach lifeguard would be enough for one lifetime, but Jack Haley had an entrepreneurial spirit. Riding the wave of his success as a surfing champion, he opened his own surfboard shop in Seal Beach in 1961.
Next on Jack Haley’s list of accomplishments came in 1965 when he opened Captain Jack’s in Sunset Beach. The first few years of business were a struggle for Haley and his family, but over half a century later, you can still get a table at Captain Jack’s, and enjoy a cocktail and a nice steak or seafood meal with a complimentary basket of bread. Other long-lasting local restaurants like Sam’s Seafood, the Ranch House, and the Glide ‘er Inn have slipped into history, fondly remembered and gone, but Captain Jack’s is still flourishing and is still run by the Haley family.
In 1997, Haley spearheaded a successful campaign to privately fund construction of a lifeguard station at the base of the Seal Beach pier, and the station was named for him. In July 1999, Haley was inducted into the Surfer Hall of Fame.
For all the drive for success and excellence and variety of activities that Jack Haley poured into life, he did not neglect his family: his wife, Jeanette; his mother, Virginia, another notable Seal Beach citizen; and children, Tim, currently manager of Captain Jack’s, Sondra, and Jack Jr., who played two seasons for the Lakers and passed away in 2015.
In a 2015 Los Angeles Times profile celebration of Captain Jack’s 50th anniversary, Tim Haley recalled various family outings like cruises to Catalina on the yacht, Christina, ski trips to Mammoth, and motorcycle rides to Enseneda. The family would have dinner together every night.
On March 26, 2000, Jack Haley passed away at age sixty-five to cancer. True to form, Mister Excitement had planned his own beach party memorial with Hawaiian shirts and mariachi music. “He demanded there not be a tear at the party. He wanted it to celebrate his life,” said Tim Haley in the Los Angeles Times obituary. Later, Tim added, Jack Haley’s ashes would be spread in the sea at Maui and Cabo San Lucas, “so he will continue surfing.”
You can visit Captain Jack’s web site here, or call after 3 p.m. 562-592-2514 for reservations.
– Michael Dobkins
P.S. Because it’s come up more than a few times over the years, Seal Beach’s Jack Haley was not related to Jack Haley, the song and dance man best known for his role as the Tin Man in the 1939 MGM musical, The Wizard of Oz. Or Bill Haley of “Rock Around The Clock” fame. Let’s stop spreading these myths, folks!
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