HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – He may not be able to walk on water, but when the mood strikes, Father Matthew Munoz can ride one gnarly wave all the way into the beach.
So Sunday at dawn, on the white sands of the town where the U.S. Surfing Championships were born nearly a half-century ago, Munoz and some two dozen fellow wave riders paused to thank God for all the joy the oceans have provided them.
Then, after the surfer’s ceremonial blowing of a conch shell for good luck, the pastor of Orange County’s St. Irenaeus Catholic Church shouted out a hearty, “Let’s surf!”
Clutching a board with an image of the Virgin of Guadeloupe inlaid into both sides, he led his flock and others in a race toward the water, diving in and paddling hard and fast toward the break.
The occasion was the Blessing of the Waves, a spiritual – but lighthearted – event organized by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.
One of the event’s organizers, Father Christian Mondor, helped kick off the proceedings by thanking God (or “The Big Kahuna,” as he also addressed him) for righteous waves and a killer ride for all the surfer babes and dudes assembled before him.
“May they hang 10 on thy oceanic bounty and, if it be in accordance with thy gnarly plan, may they not wipe out,” he concluded, reading from a tongue-in-cheek poem written by Los Angeles Times reporter Dana Parsons.
Meanwhile, the audience broke out laughing when Munoz – with brown hair that cascades well past his shoulders, a flowing beard and priestly robes – began his blessing by announcing: “I’m not Jesus. I need a surfboard to walk on water.”
But there were also moments of seriousness, as when Mondor, the 83-year-old vicar emeritus of St. Simon and Jude Parish, added his own prayer: “Praise be you, creator God, for the gift of sea and sand and endless surf that brings us joy of body and soul. Help us always care for this great ocean so that we and generations to come may enjoy its beauty and power and majesty.”
He timed the amen to that prayer perfectly, allowing rock band The Wedge to segue seamlessly into a power-chord opening of the surf classic “Wipeout.”
Then it was off to the water, where the waves, practically heaven-sent, were breaking 4 to 6 feet on a warm, sun-dappled day.
Of the approximately 400 people who witnessed the blessing, only a couple dozen came with boards and wet suits.
But many said they recognized what Munoz, the 43-year-old priest who has been riding the breaks up and down the California coast for more than 20 years, calls “real parallels to spirituality and surfing.”
“It’s not exactly like church,” said Rob Briggs as he stood on the sand with his board.
“But when you get out there past the break,” he continued, “it clears your mind of anything troubling you. Worries of everyday life just go away.”