Category Archives: Aliso Beach Website Founder Rob Brack

Monarch Butterfly With A Message


Have you ever lost a loved one , friend or family member that was really close to you and somehow feel as though they visit and leave signs so that you know they are there?  Until today, I might have been in the camp that said that I could not recall anything that suggested I had experienced that. That changed with the monarch butterfly with a message.

Months ago in 2014, I called a client several times over a period of 3-5 days.  It concerned me because it was so unlike this client to go silent on me even when our business relationship was tested. Trust me when I tell you that marketing is a service with variable results and not all results are happy.  This particular client was all the way across country in Utah.  I had worked with him for about 4 years.  He was always respectful and enthusiastic when I called and he was fair.  He told me when things were not good and it always motivated me to try harder to deliver him better results.  I always looked forward to talking with him and he would joke when things were good and he would playfully poke me verbally when things needed to get better.  I loved that about him and I miss talking with him. I felt very close to him despite never meeting the man in person and shaking his hand.  Truth be told he felt like a friend that I had not seen in some time and someone worthy of a big old bear hug.  I loved this dude as far fetched as it seems, but we built a great business relationship built on mutual respect and it felt as though he was among my best of friends.

As I walked into a market this morning, Kyle somehow crossed my mind and I have no idea why.  Kyle and I worked with another guy Rick and I was having trouble with an accounting issue with Rick and his company.  Since Kyle knew him, I made a phone call to him and inquired about Rick and whether or not Rick was someone that would take care of us because he stopped returning calls on invoices past due. As the tragic story goes, Kyle was on the phone with Rick on my behalf.  I didn’t ask him to but he wanted to help. As I was told  his girlfriend had an affinity for alcohol and while talking to Rick, he indicated that he had to stop her from getting into another bottle of whatever.  He left the conversation with Rick to intervene and as the story goes he fell and hit his head severely and bled out.  I wondered if I had not talked to Kyle about Rick if this whole thing would have happened.  Suffice it to say, I even carried a tremendous amount of guilt over his death.  I felt horrible but it is not up to me to decide why that had to go that way.  My honest answer is that I don’t know and can tell you that it hurt me deeply.

Today I walked out of the market with coffee in hand and Kyle on my mind.  I missed my favorite client and friend. I noticed a monarch butterfly cruising by the doors and as I walked out the door I noticed it was stalling to land on a bush lining the front of the store.  I stopped on a dime to give this creature its space. It thought better of landing and flew away but circled back and again I stood there out of its way and respectful.  Once again, it thought better of landing there flew over my head and to the left and circle back nearly landing on my head.  It stayed in the area for a few minutes before flying away for good. As the butterfly tried to land on me and with Kyle on my mind, tears gushed from my right eye only.  I have never experienced anything like that but I felt like Kyle knew that I was thinking of him and that he knew of the guilt I carried related to his passing.  Kyle had a great sense of humor and he loved people.  He treated me like a friend he had known and loved for years and we had never even met.  I have no idea why the thought of Kyle entered my mind this morning but I do know a message was sent through that Monarch Butterfly.  He knew of the burden and guilt that I carried and through that butterfly he carried it away.  In that experience I am reminded of his love of me and I am grateful for his sending a message that it was okay and to let it go in a confirmation from beyond. Thank you Kyle for lifting that burden.  I love ya man.  Losing you the way things went down was really tough on me and somehow your spirit rode the wings of a butterfly to make things right.  What an amazing day and I thank you for keeping your spirit alive and in my presence to let me know things were okay. You probably momentarily traded in your angel wings for butterfly wings to offer a confirmation from beyond that it was all good and I needed to get that message! I am eternally grateful man, and I will see you on the other side.

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Tom Sawyer Summer Camp Saved My Life


I grew up with parents who worked extremely hard to make sure that my sister and I had plenty of constructive things to do even when things were financially tight.  They always stretched dollars to make sure we went to private school and were able to go to summer camp when school let out at the end of the year.  If you live in Pasadena, Altadena, La Crescenta, La Canada and much of the San Gabriel Valley, you have probably heard of Tom Sawyer Camps once or twice or may even have or know a kid or two that attends the summer session.  There are a lot of things that my sister and I were exposed to that we may have not done otherwise.  We went rock climbing, sailing and horseback riding which are all things she and I are grateful to have had the chance to do, but that isn’t how Tom Sawyer Camp saved my life.  No, it wasn’t the silly songs at the logs to begin and close the day at camp and it wasn’t trying to find another group’s fort to capture their flag with the finder’s prize a watermelon for the group.  It was the swim lesson’s through Tom Sawyer Camp given at La Canada High School that saved my life.

I would not say I grew up to be an exceptional swimmer from a technical stand point.  The breast stroke was particularly challenging to me and when it came to the testing phase for swimming levels, this one always seemed to trip me up. I also didn’t particularly like the butterfly stoke with the rotations of the arms and shoulders not feeling to comfortable.  In defense of my lack of interest in these two swimming strokes I will remind everyone that some of our Olympic swimmers focus on one discipline and not everyone can be Michael Phelps, an elite swimmer in every discipline.  Sure I sucked at two different strokes, but I had nothing to hang my head about.  What I did learn was the gift of swimming.  In previous posts, I told you that I was blessed to have the ability to pull a couple of swimmers out of the water that were in real trouble.  One of them was drowning when I got to him and the other got in a rip tide, panicked, out of breath and calling out for help.  I don’t offer this to you to brag in any way and believe that God wanted me there to help. All I did was answer those calls for help drawing on what I know, much of which was taught to me at Tom Sawyer Camp.  One of the markets I visit for lunch during the work week has this cool girl who asks me how the beach was.  I show up in trunks, flip flops and sand everywhere a lot.  In that conversation I asked her if she liked the beach and she told me she didn’t swim.  As far as I am concerned she is still a baby and can be taught to swim as long as she can overcome her fears.  I have encouraged her to do it knowing how big a gift learning to swim has been.  In fact, beyond all of the body boarding I have done over 30 plus years, it saved my life Thanksgiving 2013.

Salt Creek, Dana Point, 11th Hole, Winter Waves

Salt Creek Dana Point Mid Winter

Just the other day, I was at Salt Creek and getting out of the water when I ran into a friend JR.  He told me that our mutual friend Jack was on his way and so I hung out in the parking lot waiting for him to show.  Somehow a conversation with Jack, JR and I spun into Jack cracking on me for not leaving the epic waves in the previous weeks sessions to check to make sure he was okay.  I had to remind Jack that I did notice he was leaving the water funny and that after keeping an eye on him it seemed as though he was okay.  Jack’s snide comment drew laughter from JR who I forcefully reminded that he nearly watched my drown at Salt Creek on Thanksgiving 2013.  The waves slapped me around so good that I couldn’t tell you where JR was or wasn’t but after I took what JR says was 14 large waves on the head, I found him on the shore asking if I was okay.  We didn’t really speak about it much after that day.  I knew that he counted I 14 double overhead waves (12 foot) that took a beating from.  What I didn’t realize is he took the first several waves on the head and was closer to shore when my near drowning event occurred.

So it was me all alone in the water and having to fend for myself.  I chose to let my board go to shore and swim under waves.  The problem was on a deep breath I swallowed what felt like half the ocean.  My chest and upper body filled up with water and I felt so heavy I couldn’t maneuver to dive under the waves.  The result was a violent thrashing about to the point of nearly blacking out.  I remember, with eyes wide open and under the salt water, thinking that this was my time.  For a split second I was okay with that and I had accepted it.  All I could think about was my mom.  Not that other family and friends wouldn’t be deeply affected by my passing like this, but the woman who gave birth to me and ruining her Thanksgiving was a powerful thought.  My will to fight had just kicked into overdrive with what in many ways has turned out to be the fight of my life.  My chest was still full of water and I couldn’t move very well.  I started to a free style swim towards the shore and realized swallowing all of the salt water had made me significantly less than buoyant.  Thinking I was toast, the Tom Sawyer Camps swim lessons kicked in.  I rolled to my back kicking and rotating my arms back past my head in a fight to remain in the living.  I made it to shore Thank God.

Swimming is something you simply have to know how to do even if it is just so if you are the only one in life saving distance from someone drowning you can keep them safe.  Even beyond that swimming is a gift that may be used to keep your self safe and perhaps even save your own life.  I can 100% attest to this.  I have lived to tell this story.  While many readers are not in the service area for Tom Sawyer Camps, I will encourage anyone that does not how to swim to take lessons.  The decision to learn to swim or give your children swimming lessons could one day save a life.  For those of you that live in areas that Tom Sawyer Camps service, your kids will enjoy their summers and learn the life saving skills of swimming and CPR.  While there were and are plenty of other activities at Tom Sawyer Camp to keep children busy with, it is swimming lessons at Tom Sawyer Camp that saved my life.

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Aliso Beach Website Founder Nearly Drowned

There is no doubt that I am getting older.  There is no doubt that I am not as young, spry and athletic as I once was and while that could speak to traditional sports like baseball and basketball that I was heavily involved with, it mostly refers to my time in the ocean as a bodyboarder.  I am not an olympic swimmer and nor am I a pro bodyboarder.  On my side, I do have years of experience in the ocean from Los Angles County to Isla Natividad and  Cabo San Lucas to Hawaii.  I am by no means the caliber of some of these water men that I have been so blessed to meet or call my friends.  That being said, I have taken experiences in the water with them as well as experiences independent of them and combined them with years of swimming lessons to become competent in the water and prepared for just about whatever I could imagine.  As life always seems to do, it humbled me on Thanksgiving Day 2013 in a way that I will never forget

Salt Creek Thangsgiving Day 2013

I left home around 8:30 in the morning.  I was aware of rapidly increasing surf over Thanksgiving 2013 into Friday.  While I knew the storm producing the surf had a close proximity to the Southern California Coastline, I was not overwhelmed by the surf report.  It was supposed to be 4-7 foot and yet I had heard others in the surf community citing the NOOA Website and saying something huge and powerful was coming.  As a surf community, we had been starved of waves for about two weeks and for two weeks prior to that there really wasn’t any significantly sized waves but just enough to continue to be rideable.  It is funny how it works.  It goes from flat to heavy overnight and you find yourself unprepared to deal with what’s in front of you.  Ironic, wouldn’t you say?

I got to Salt Creek and saw a parking lot full of people.  Watching the surf from the bridge next to the Ritz Carlton Dana Point, I noticed there was long lulls between set waves and when they came no one was out far enough to get them.  It didn’t look all that great and even though I saw several familiar cars in the parking lot, I was not motivated to just paddle out.  I switched my mode to looking at some of the less accessible and less traveled surf spots in Laguna Beach.  I didn’t have much luck.  In my search, I stopped off at Aliso Beach where the energy really hadn’t shown to the degree that was reported and the waves were a fraction of the size at Salt Creek.  There were two guys from the community digging the river at Aliso Beach and not only were the waves lackluster, but also there was a little texture on the water.  My back up plan of Aliso Beach quickly went out the window and I realized for Thanksgiving 2013 it was Salt Creek or bust, so back to Dana Point I went.

While I was getting out of the car, I got a text from a friend that asked me if I had gotten any of the West Swell sneaker sets.  I read the text the way I wanted to and since I am well read on the ocean and familiar with Pacific Coastal areas that have beach signs warning about sneaker sets, I understood the danger that was implied.  The text read literally to ask me if I had caught any of the sneaky west swell but somehow I fixated on sneaker sets.  I was half way through putting my wet suit on when I answered that text.  I told him I was paddling out at Salt Creek and apparently he was right around the corner.

I beat JR down to the beach and paddled out.  When I got out into the lineup the tide was a little higher and there were few bodyboarders out.  It was packed with surfers of a wide age range from late teens to their 50’s but there was only one other bodyboarder in the lineup  outside in the  middles to gravels zone.  It was hard to get waves in between all of the surfers that were trying to make up for nearly two weeks of flat to 2 foot surf.  The peaks weren’t all that cooperative either.  You either had to be way on the inside or way on the outside to catch waves.  The larger waves obviously were on the outside and predictably every wave riding soul had their noses pointed in the direction of the larger sets.  There really was no in between for anyone. I picked off a few outside waves between all of the heads in the lineup but it wasn’t easy.

After being out an hour and catching a couple, the tide began to drop.  Waves started to break on the outer reef towards the kelp beds which was cleaning up much of the line up.  After escaping a set’s assault on the lineup I sat on the outside for a spell thinking I was perfectly positioned on the next run as the furthest guy out.  When I saw the next set pop up, I realized that the wave was breaking much further out than I had anticipated and that applied to everyone in the lineup.  I was the furthest out and I was still caught inside a bit. I made the first wave.  It was bigger and further out than we had seen during this time period so I found myself out of position and unprepared for it despite my best effort to put myself in a good spot.  You know the waves are big when you scratch to get over them and you catch air and fall back down as the wave moves and breaks through your position.  When I got over this wave I realized the second wave of the set was even further out so I scratched as hard as I could to make the wave and narrowly escaped by ducking under it as it broke.  Thinking I escaped harm I realized a 3rd wave was headed for me and I was even more out of position to get over this one than I was the second and I resigned myself to the reality that I would be taking this one on the head.  I would never have gotten there fast enough to avoid punishment.  I ducked under the wave and got spun around pretty good and when I came up I was bummed to find a larger wave out the back.  Now I have seen bigger waves than what I saw this Thanksgiving and I am no stranger to beat downs having body boarded waves from San Diego to Santa Barbara and the North Shore of Hawaii to Baja California and Cabo.  The set waves were in the neighborhood of 10-12 feet and they were larger waves than we had seen all morning.  Sometimes when you get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, things happen.  This was one of those times and it was all wrong!

The fourth wave is where things started to go completely haywire.  I got destroyed by this wave and I was starting to lose the stamina that had me scratching to get over the set waves.  Ducking under the wave I got pushed back and of course there was a 5th wave.  The fifth wave stood up, crashed in front of me, and  after I ducked it and saw a wave after that, I decided to let it take the board and had resigned myself to taking my chances swimming.  I got under the 6th wave but took a big gulp of water as I attempted to take a breath before ducking under a big wall of white water that had come tumbling down  less than a couple of feet from me.  This is where it got scary.  With the surprise of the gulp of sea water, I really didn’t get far enough under the wave and the situation kind of sucked the air out of me.  As a result of not getting far enough under it the wave  had taken a fin off my foot with more waves coming. Then  it was really bad.  I let my board go which would help me stay above water and a fin had been taken off my foot which I needed to get back in.  Wow!  I thought!  It couldn’t get much worse!  That was until I realized the set wasn’t done.  I took another one on the head and by this time I was in real trouble.

The air had been sucked out of me.  My arms went limp.  I ate another wave and I momentarily blacked out and became disoriented under water.  This was the end I thought!  I was going to leave this life doing something I loved but under a duress that I would not have wished upon anyone.  I got to the surface and I waved my arms for help and yelled but realized that there was not a soul within at least a football field of me and they were trying to get over the waves themselves.  They had all they could handle themselves.  I was told after the fact that the sets had wiped the entire lineup of surfers and body boarders out.  With the lights out and underwater, my whole body went limp and I was ready to call it a day.  When I finally got to the surface, I had been winded, battered and deflated, down but not out.  I could not move my arms as more set waves approached.  I ate a couple more and again, I found myself suspended just below the surface and unable to physically respond to get to the top.  When I finally did get a gulp of air I realized that it was sink or swim, and me against the ocean.  I will tell you that I have never felt more alone in my life than I did during this ordeal and its fucking scary.  Please excuse my language.

I felt like I had taken in a bunch of salt water.  It was literally sinking me like a boat and my energy was so depleted that I could not move my arms.  So my freestyle stroke was out the window and I felt like my best chance to survive had been taken from me.  With another couple of waves to the head, I continued to wrestle with the idea of letting go or clinging to life and then something snapped in me.  Resigned to die, the thought of not going down like this brought me to a consciousness that would not have me succumbing to this life threatening situation and my biggest physical challenge in life.  Knowing it was me against nature, I rolled to my back and started kicking for shore.  Having sucked in all of the sea water, it wasn’t a pretty sight swimming on my back and kicking with my face fighting to remain above the water.  I felt like a sinking boat.  Battered, bruised and nearly drowned, I made it to shallow water.

When I stood up, my legs were like rubber and they nearly crumbled beneath me as I staggered to shore.  My friend JR came down to the water’s edge to see if I was okay as I stumbled up the beach, fell to the sand and curled into the fetal position.  My heart was racing uncontrollably and I was still feeling light-headed and like I might black out.  I couldn’t move!  I laid there for nearly 30 minutes with several beachgoers asking if they should call the paramedics.  In retrospect, it would have been smarter to let them make the call  but I survived.  Even if by a hair….I survived!  Come to find out, I took 14 of these waves on the head but who’s counting.  I guess after you get smashed so many times and you are ready to give up, you simply stop counting.

After awhile, my equilibrium and senses started to come back so I walked up the hill a defeated man…but I lived to tell the story.  Unfortunately, my day would get worse before it got better.  I went home and had a couple of Pacificos prior to Thanksgiving Dinner.  I ate modestly compared to the feasting I have done in years past.  Shortly after dinner my stomach became very upset and I ended up sick to my stomach on and off for 4 hours.  What a waste of a special meal.  Throwing up was so violent that I broke blood vessels in my eyes so severely that my eyes were predominantly solid red where there was supposed to be white.  Gnarly!  Here we are on December 6th and they still are not completely back to normal.  There is no way I had food poisoning and no way I got the stomach flu.  It had to be the combination of unintentionally swallowing half the sea water at Salt Creek and dinner piled on top of that.  I was not sick on the Friday after Thanksgiving at all.  Sounds like quite a holiday, doesn’t it?

The good news is that I am alive and I am better for the experience.  At 43 years old, I have decided that I have to paddle out with friends to mitigate my risk and lend another set of eyes in the favor of their safety as well as my own in an attempt to be responsible when paddling out into big waves.  It was ironic that I pulled two people out of the water to safety in 2013 and no one could have helped me on this day given my proximity to them when the set bared down on Salt Creek.  I have big plans for the Aliso Beach website and I wasn’t ready to go no matter how close I may have been.

Perhaps the gift this story brings this holiday season is that others will think about their own safety and put things in to place that limit their own risk in the water.  I am not invincible and this has humbled me, made me wiser and forced me to consider when and with whom I paddle out.  I nearly spoiled Thanksgiving 2013 for family and I thank my lucky stars and all of my passed beatings in the ocean as well as childhood swim lessons for giving me a fighting chance in  a very bad situation.  Life is wonderful and a gift, and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue this journey and exploring all of the possibilities that come with it.  There is much to be thankful for this year!

Happy Holidays to my Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity Brothers past and present at the Tau Rho Chapter of CSUSM, friends and family.  Be thankful for what you have as life proves to us daily that it may be taken from us at any time!


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