When Mike Moses left us last Tuesday, he did so with his wife, Pat, at his side. He died in his bed, in his room, in the Hawaiian-plantation-style house he had designed and built himself at the top of Rincon Mountain, with a window that gave him a view of the lineup at Rincon every morning. His home was surrounded by the organically certified avocados that he and Pat nurtured. As he had told Pat, “All I want to do is plant things and watch them grow.” In the far too brief 59 years Mike was here, he did a few other things, as well.
Mike had a lifelong love of the water. He started competitive swimming at the age of 10. He attended Venice High School and was a star swimmer there and at Santa Monica College, where he was an All-American under legendary Coach John Joseph. He also swam at the NCAA level at Cal State Northridge.
Mike began lifeguarding for Los Angeles County in 1977. He passed the rigorous United States Lifeguarding Association (USLA) test for an astonishing 38 years in a row. In 1978, Mike was one of three guards honored for Rescue of the Year for performing a record-breaking 48 rescues at Malibu during a single shift! In 1984, he was named Lifeguard of the Year. He loved working the northern beaches of Malibu, Point Dume, Nicholas Canyon, and especially Zuma. On his last trip to the Big Island, Mike and his daughter Shauna were swimming when he came to the aid of a woman who was six months pregnant and drowning offshore. He was in Hawai’i convalescing from chemotherapy.
Mike began work at the Santa Barbara City Fire Department (SBFD) in 1984. While continuing to work enough shifts as a lifeguard to keep certified, Mike carved out an extraordinary career as a firefighter, working his way to captain in 1997. He worked as the ladder truck captain, a highly coveted position, for most of that time. During his illness, Mike formed and trained a USLA-certified Ocean Rescue Team for the SBFD. He was a mentor and leader to a generation of firefighters. Between his lifeguarding and firefighting, Mike had over 60 years of public service.
One of Mike’s fellow lifeguards, Greg Pfeifer, described him like this:
“When we think about our friend Mike Moses, the first thing that comes to a lot of our minds is ‘He was just a great guy.’ It is cliché but true. What was it about Mike that made him such a great guy? Well, he was friendly, kind, generous, compassionate, intelligent, and funny. He also had the gift of equanimity. He had the uncanny ability to remain cool, calm, and graceful, even in the most stressful, challenging situations.
“You can say Mike was cool, but ‘cool’ often has the connotation of false ego and cockiness, and Mike was as devoid of that as anybody I have ever known. In an age dominated by insecure, egotistical narcissists, Mike was an anomaly; he was so secure in who he was that he was able to be sincerely humble. He was who he was, and that was that. This attitude allowed him to take his work seriously when he had to, but not to take himself too seriously. Even when he knew he was not long for this world, Mike was able to maintain his sense of humor and was a joy to be around.”
Mike loved the ocean. He was a great surfer and paddler. He loved the break at Mahai’ula on the Big Island, and during his illness, his trips to surf in Baja would result in cancer cell counts that would drop by 200 to 300 points. He was a fearless waterman who would jump in the Blowhole near South Point and let the ocean drag him well offshore. He was a believer that if you lived a good life, the karma gods would take care of you, and this was a test to prove it.
A few weeks ago, Mike was able to walk Shauna down the aisle at her wedding. He then took to his bed, where Pat took loving care of him until he passed. In addition to Pat, he is survived by his daughters Katie and Shauna, and granddaughters Isabella, Madeline, and Samantha.
Love and aloha, Mike. May the four winds blow you safely home.