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Beach Talk with Huntington Beach’s legend, Timmy Turner

I met up with Timmy Turner on a warm afternoon during the US Open of Surfing. The beaches of Huntington Beach were crowded with locals and tourists, all waiting to witness the best of surfing. The waves were terrible, but the crowd were still sitting there, cheering on their favourite surfers. Finding Timmy wasn’t an easy task, but I finally managed to find him while he was busy building sandcastles with his kids – a lovely summer activity. There was no introduction, no small talk – Timmy and I jumped into the real conversation right away.

Huntington has developed so quickly. Before you were born, in the 90s, the back alley of The Sugar Shack was completely empty. My mom and my dad used to park the car back there because they used to work at 3 in the morning. My sister, my brother and I would sleep in the camper. Now you can’t do that anymore as it isn’t allowed.

We then changed to another subject I didn’t even know was a must in Huntington Beach – The Sugar Shack. More than a restaurant, The Sugar Shack is a family business and institution for Timmy since he was a kid. “My mom always worked at the restaurant, she has been there from day one. My grandma owned it before with her partner. They worked their butts off! My dad did too, he always had like three jobs. Back in the days, you could get as much overtime as you wanted” Working also means taking the time to go on vacation once in a while, “we always did one or two family trip a year to go camping. We were going to Bishop by Yosemite, just to camp and fish for a week”.

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Timmy is a local from Huntington Beach and it seems like he knows everything about this place. Having The Sugar Shack as a part of your childhood probably does help though. The restaurant, located on Main Street, is a popular spot for surf legends and anyone locals. This is where you go and spend at least two hours looking at the walls covered up with pictures of surfers and cover of surf magazines. You can imagine the place – exactly where you need to be to keep the inspiration alive. There was a picture on that wall of Timmy surfing in Indonesia; I always wondered why everyone loves that place so much.

We started surfing when we were so young, it wasn’t that crowded at the time. My dad used to take us surfing and the cool part is that we would drive on the beach with him. Back in the days, you weren’t allowed, still, you are not allowed to drive in a city truck, but we were doing it anyway. My dad worked all the time, so he would pick us up at 6 in the morning and drive us around. People would stare at us like we had guns or something. It was nuts!

The waves in Indonesia are PERFECT. It’s a photographer and a pro surfer’s dream. It’s been so long now since I last went there, I used to talk about it so well, but the karma is so good over there. I gave everything I had in 2002 and that year I ended up having that cover shot! We used to always go to the same island and we would stay there for months at a time. I travelled many different places, but that’s where I fell in love. 

Indonesia. That’s what blessed my whole surfing career. I loved owning those barrels. You never pull out. Who cares about the reef, you know!? But then in 1999, we found… was it 99? Yes, I think it was. We rented a boat trip to this place and then in 2000, we went back for another boat trip. And in 2001, we found it expensive, so we started camping there.

We went to Indonesia for the first time before high school ended. My friends and I all planned a trip there together. We went there for a month and on the first day, the waves were going off. We didn’t know. We thought it was like that every day! But that year, I hit my toe and when I came home, a month later, I learned about staph real quick. So gnarly! When you cut yourself and you don’t clean it, it makes an infection; especially when you don’t clean it for an entire month! So, when I came home, I went straight to the doctor and they gave me some pills. Hours later, ooze would just come out of my cut. So much poison was in my body. Since that trip, I started bringing my video camera everywhere. Wherever the waves were, my camera would come with me. We were so stoked with the results and we were always showing all our friends.

When I graduated, we went to Indonesia again. We ended up staying for five months. We had no money, so we got some photographers to send us money. We owned our hotels, we owned our car rentals and we even owned restaurants. But in these kinds of country, it’s different, it’s so small that they trust you. It’s karma. So much good karma. People back home ended up sending us the money and we got to pay off everything. When we went to Indo that year, we went to THE wave. All you had to do is drop in and get barrelled. We were thinking of doing a movie out of it, so we did Burning the Maps.

The island? It’s an island with no one on it. You bring your own food and your own water. There are panthers around and crocodiles that come out of the river… I haven’t seen them, but other people did while they were surfing, it’s gnarly. One of our guides said he saw a panther at six in the morning. It was scary but awesome. It’s also so dangerous because of the waves. I know some friends that tried to get a helicopter because they got hurt, but they couldn’t. After that movie came out, I got problems with the captain of the boat over there. Everyone started coming in on fishing boats. I never named it, but people just knew – they knew the spot when they saw it on camera.

Back to the restaurant – every pro surfers and all the industry guys will come and eat at The Sugar Shack. So, I was just being there, talking to these people and when they heard that I was going to an island in Indo, they said ‘’well we will meet you there’’! This TV Show showed up in Indo and I got a cover shot as well as a TV Show out of it!

My best friend at the time was Dustin Humphrey; he moved to Indonesia since then but he is originally from Texas. You need to go to Bali and look up Dustin Humphrey. He is a character! This is because of him that I am with my wife now. I met her in San Diego. She ate at a restaurant and left me her number. I never called her. I told Dustin about her, so when I turned 21, Dustin invited her to my surprise birthday party and then, we fell in love. 

I had 6 brain surgeries, and it was all from breaking my ankle. I tried to rehab my ankle by swimming around the pier in dirty water, and I got sick. That’s why you don’t surf after it rains, it’s really bad for you. The doctor said it would be good to stick close to home just in case I get sick again and that I should only surf in cold water. I was pretty heartbroken. My cousin lived in Alaska, so I had a backup plan, at least. I went straight there, no time to think. The idea of Cold Thought was from being sick – my backup plan was Canada. That’s where we got the waves. Sep and I would go camping while I was spending months there. I also had my birthday up there, it was awesome! Today, it’s different. Now, all I want to do is go to the places I love and get barrelled. Whenever a big swell comes, I need to go. Then I come home, and I appreciate the time here with my family.  

You know what my son told me yesterday! ‘’Dad, do you think I will become a famous surfer?’’. There are so many talented kids these days that it makes me realize how lucky we were when we grew up. Now kids are ten years old and do airs and all they do is surf, surf, surf. I don’t know what my son is going to do. We will see.

The Sugar Shack is only open one night a week and it’s the Wednesday, because it’s Turkey dinner. You know what is Thanksgiving, right? It’s been like that for 30 years. You should come have dinner tonight! 

Let’s just say that the turkey was awesome & that Timmy Turner is probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. If you read this whole article and you don’t know anything about Timmy Turner, maybe you should Google him; he’s amazing.

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