Longtime surfer’s 80th birthday marks end of an era

Skip Stratton, with his wife Tracey, blew out the candles at his 80th birthday party.
(Luke Harold)

Every Tuesday, a group of Southern California’s original surfers meet at the Cardiff Seaside Market to reminisce about their days catching waves on beaches from L.A. to San Diego. They call themselves the Tuesday Morning Gang.

The gang welcomed a few extra friends and family members at their first meeting in February to celebrate the 80th birthday of onetime surfing legend Skip Stratton. Skip united groups of surfers from La Jolla and Los Angeles decades ago, when surfboards were made of wood and wetsuits weren’t commonly worn.

Everyone gathered in the market’s mezzanine section to take turns telling stories from their heyday and sing happy birthday. Then Skip blew out the candles on his cake.

A Los Angeles native who moved to San Diego with his wife Tracey, Skip has been battling Alzheimer’s disease. His younger brother Jim said Skip was diagnosed about six years ago, and the progression of the disease has been especially noticeable over the last year and a half.

“If you haven’t been touched by this disease, you don’t know what it takes,” Jim said, speaking in front of the group and crediting Tracey for her 24-hour per day attention to Skip’s needs.

“He casts a big shadow,” Jim added, reflecting on the memories he has of his brother.

Some of the notable members of the group include Leucadia resident Woody Ekstrom, 92, whose involvement in Southern California’s early surfing scene inspired the creation of the California Surf Museum in Oceanside. Others went on to achieve success in other areas, including Bobby Beathard, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his career as an executive with multiple NFL teams.

Even though their surfing days are behind them, the Tuesday Morning Gang’s meet-ups help them relive the glory days. Another one of their members, Charley Marvin, who lives on the Leucadia ocean bluff, wrote and self-published a book profiling the gang. He said Skip’s birthday party is part of “the end of the surfing era involving our guys.”

Skip and Tracey, who live in South Mission Beach, got married almost 56 years ago, six months after they first met. They had two boys and a girl. Tracey said Skip got her into sports, including golf and volleyball. She added that the overarching theme of their marriage, and a source of strength since Skip’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, has been “friends, family and faith.”

“I’ve had the best memories and the most fun I could image a person could have,” Tracey said.