Valley Neighbors: Local surf icon teaches life lessons
by Sandi Olson
Jul 18, 2013 | 4522 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There are some people that you meet in life who you know are special right away. Surfing icon, Richard “Frosty” Hesson, of Santa Cruz, is one of these people. After seeing the movie, “Chasing Mavericks,” I was intrigued by this veteran, big-wave surfer who coached others and helped them fulfill their dreams.

“Dream big. Envision what you want to accomplish. Live with joy and purpose. That's the message,” said Hesson. “If you have a vision and places you want to go, I can help you get there.”

Born in San Francisco and raised in Hayward, Hesson has fond memories of growing up in 1950s and early '60's, despite a turbulent youth.

“Mom had chronic health problems and spent a lot of time in the hospital,” he said. “When she was well, we would take camping trips to Big Basin State Park. I had no fear of the water, no matter how deep. I remember the first time I jumped into the ocean and the thrill of being carried by the waves. From that moment on, I was hooked.

When Hesson started Tennyson High School in Hayward, he fed his love for the water by swimming on the Hayward Bluefins swim team. He also dreamed of becoming a coach. Hesson was offered a full college scholarship. However, his father had a stroke and became incapacitated.

“Suddenly everything changed,” Hesson said. “We had to sell our home and move into an apartment. I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. Mom's health got worse and Dad handled all the pressure by drinking.” 

Hesson enrolled in Chabot Community College in Hayward, majoring in physical education and art. He also played on the water polo team. It was during this time that both his parents died — his mother from suicide and his father from a broken heart.

Soon after their deaths, Hesson quit school, married and moved to Lake Tahoe where his son, Josh, was born. The marriage didn't last, and he returned to Santa Cruz.

Hesson got a job in construction He also met Brenda Bowen, a preschool teacher. They married in 1978. Hesson's second son, Lake, was born, followed by a daughter, Roque. In his spare time, Hesson coached both the Santa Cruz Surf League and the Soquel High School surf team, and found time to surf.

“One day in the early 1990s, a skinny 12-year-old- kid named Jay Moriarity approached me and asked if I'd coach him. I could see that he was really focused,” said Hesson. “So I put him on a training program. A year later, Jay wanted to be a contest surfer. I helped him make a plan and visualize. Our relationship was special, and I did what I could to help Jay achieve his dream.”

About this time, Hesson heard about a surf spot called Mavericks off Half Moon Bay. It was said to have some of the biggest waves in the world. He joined an elite group of surfers and soon became consumed with surfing Mavericks.

“Before long, Jay announced he also wanted to learn to surf Mavericks. He had no idea what he was asking for,” Hesson said. “Until I knew he was fully ready, there's no way I'd let him take the risk.”

That day finally came in April of 1994. Moriarty was 15 and became Hesson’s training partner.

Then in 1997, Brenda developed a brain aneurism and died suddenly.

“It was unfathomable,” said Hesson. “I was now a single parent. Jay, and other surfers were invaluable in helping us put our lives slowly back together. One of them was Robin Janiszeufski, “Zeuf,” whom I married in 2000.”

Jay rose to the top of the surfing world and became phenomenon. He also and married his high school sweetheart, Kim.

“The day before leaving for Europe, Jay started having second thoughts,” said Hesson. I told him he had an obligation to fulfill. That was the last time I saw him. He drowned while free diving in the Indian Ocean. I was so devastated that all I could say was, 'I hurt.' I was tired of getting of getting hit!”

Despite of all the pain and hardships, which include Zeuf’s ongoing battle with breast cancer, Hesson continues to inspire others to fulfill their dreams. Today he visits schools and shares his life principles. He has also mentored hundreds of young people.

“I'm determined to live with joy and purpose, and help others do the same,” Hesson says with a smile.

His book, “Making Mavericks,” was recently published.

In my opinion, it’s a great read and remarkable memoir.

- Sandi Olson of Scotts Valley is a writer, speaker and teacher. She writes about interesting people in Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley. E-mail her at

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