Paddle out memorial held for Malibu surf icon, original MSA member

Loved ones and fans gather to honor local legend Johnny Fain

By Emmanuel Luissi

Special to The Malibu Times

A paddle out memorial for Malibu legend Johnny Fain was held at Surfrider Beach on Saturday, May 7. Friends, family and fans gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of the golden-age surfer. 

Dozens of surfers paddled out together and joined hands in a circle in honor of Fain. The paddle out event was organized by the Malibu Surfing Association with help from Fred Roberts. 

Fain had been an original member of the Malibu Surfing Association, having joined in 1964. Fain died on March 6 at the age of 78.  

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“He’s the icon — the legend of Malibu — he’s true Malibu,” Roberts, lifelong friend, said. “He lived here his entire life and he made a legend of himself here, at one of the most iconic surf breaks in the world.”

The paddle out event began with a ceremony of prayer and song led by Tharon Weighill, the Paxa of the Swordfish Clan Chumash and his nephew, Huggy.

After the ceremony, close friends spoke about their experiences with Fain and what he meant to the community. 

Longtime friend and lifelong Malibu resident Andy Lyon said Fain would surf in front of his home in the Colony and once they became friends, Fain became a mentor to him.

“He really ruled the place. He transcended multiple generations of surfing and he was always so special,” Lyon said. “His legacy as a surfer in Malibu and around the world makes him one of the guys that reached legendary status.”

A paddle out memorial for Johnny Fain, who was known as a Malibu legend, was held at Surfrider Beach on Saturday, May 7. Friends, family and fans gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of the golden-age surfer. Photo by Emmanuel Luissi/TMT.

Allen Sarlo, a longtime friend and fellow surfer, recalled his childhood and seeing Fain in person for the first time. Sarlo said he and his brother watched Fain run into the ocean just before dark, where he rode four waves and just as quickly ran back past them. 

“Wow, that was Johnny Fain! Holy smokes. That was awesome,” Sarlo recalls saying to his brother.

Sarlo said Fain was a hero, and everybody wanted to be like him.

“I was a young kid here at the beach and he gave me inspiration. He said I was a good surfer,” Sarlo said. “He was a good teacher, a good role model and he lived a dream.”

Jericho Poppler, a world champion surfer, grew up surfing in Malibu with Fain and said he was always a supportive and kind friend. 

“He was a star here in Malibu; he treated Malibu like Carnegie Hall,” Poppler said. “He was always on stage.”

She described Fain as “Malibu-centric” and said he was an influence on the culture of Malibu. She said surfers, herself included, would be influenced by his style and character. 

Surfers who attended the event were treated to nice weather and great surf conditions.

“I knew whatever day we were going to have it [paddle out], we were going to have a swell,” Roberts said. “Incredible day to send our best wishes to [Fain].” 

Poppler described the day as magical.

“The sun has come out and burnt off the coastal fog and the waves are perfect — you couldn’t ask for anything better than a perfect swell day here in Malibu,” Poppler said. “The man upstairs is really looking out for Johnny Fain.” 

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