HOPE FLIES

posted by / News / March 17, 2003

“Somehow I’m going to put back into this surfing community the best I can.”

These are hardly the words you’d expect from a man whose left ventricle was recently attacked by virus; who underwent surgery to receive a pacemaker and defibrillator at the age of 39. A man who, three weeks ago, was preparing for the possibility of a heart transplant. A man who — at best — won’t be able to work for the next year and won’t surf for at least six months. But, today, aerial pioneer and Florida surfing hero John Holeman isn’t thinking about what was. He’s thinking about what’s to be. And fresh from a doctor’s visit that’s already showing positive signs, John’s prepared to keeping the good vibes rolling.

“I’m not preaching, but I think this is God’s hand,” gushes the Satellite Beach native. “And I’m just so thankful — I don’t know if it will be a surfing ministry or a camp, but I will give something back.”

What’s funny is, most Florida surfers would say that by leading the early-eighties flight race and inspiring legions of would-be test pilots, John’s already given more than enough — even if his actions weren’t always appreciated.

“He’d strike fear into people,” {{{recalls}}} Matt Kechele of Holeman’s days an ESA competitor. “[Rich] Rudolph would get so frustrated because he’d surf as good as he could, and John would go out and bust a couple 360 airs and throw the scale right off.”

Keep in mind, twenty years ago just leaving the lip for a split second was cutting edge, so Holeman’s hair-raising heroics were beyond revolutionary as he put a new twist on an already new twist in surfing. And not only was “Hole-daddy” ahead of his time, he pulled them so quickly and consistently, it makes today’s lightning bugs look spastic and slow.

“Honestly, he did ‘em so fast, you would blink and it would be like ‘what did he do?’” Kechele continues. “And he’d pull like two per wave. I mean he basically took my little trip to a whole new level.”

Despite earning a Surfing cover in 1993, Holeman’s record heights brought mostly underground notoriety outside the East Coast. But back home his talent became tangible, influencing everyone from Slater to the Hobgoods to current ESA threat Rob Rohmann. And he continued to soar up to the moment he was hospitalized. In fact, he was surfing when he realized something was wrong. “I caught like two waves and had to come in,” he explains. “And I can normally surf six hours and not bat an eye. I took myself to the hospital, and that’s when they said, ‘it’s your heart.’”

Those three words devastated Holeman as the possible outcomes moved from transplant to the surgery that’s now left him on disability and facing serious medical bills. But once the terrible news circulated, the Central Florida surfing community immediately responded to give him a lift, financially and emotionally.

On March 7, cars lined up for blocks outside local burrito haven Da Kine Diego’s for the “Hearts for Holeman” benefit, paying five to ten bucks for movie screenings, video game duels plus a shot at a board donated by {{{CJ}}} Hobgood. All of Holeman’s old flying buddies made the scene, as did more recent faces like Todd Morcom, and more than 1000 others. (In fact, it seems the only person who didn’t attend was Holeman himself, as he was still in recovery.) And when the salsa cleared, a substantial amount of cash was on-hand to help John, his wife Patti and toddler Paul.

Says Kech, “It was pretty cool to see a bunch of surfers pulled together. I was proud.”

And Holeman? Well, proud doesn’t quite describe his reaction.

“I cried,” he replies, “plain and simple.”

Since then, Holeman’s been back to see the docs and they’re pleased with his progress, although still realistic about long the struggle ahead. Either way, John’s pumped to begin his youth ministry or surf camp as soon as he’s able. But the main question isn’t what Holeman’s going to do out of the water, but when he’ll be back in it. Or more specifically, above it.

“Well, I’m fighting this thing tooth and nail, but it’s important to remember this is still real early and anything can happen. “Holeman soberly replies. “But I have a personal goal to be on a longboard by October. And I’ll bust an air on a nine footer by December. And then the first thing I’m doing is getting the cardiologists out in the water an busting an air over them. I thank God for their talents, but I’m wanna embarrass ‘em so bad, just to prove ‘em wrong.” [laughs] Matt Walker

Surfers interested in helping out the Holeman family can send donations to: John and Patty Holeman; PO Box 372783, Satellite Beach, FL 32937.

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