June 24th, 1931 May 14th, 2009
Many people came to know Rea (pronounced Ray) by his habit of swimming from the ramp at Miramar Beach to the jetty at Fernald Point. He swam this distance every evening, every day of the year and never wore a wetsuit. His arms would swing like windmills as he made his way down the coast. Often, as he jogged back, he would let a homeowner or two know that a strong swell would be approaching, coupled by a southeasterly or a particularly high tide, and it would be a good idea to board the place up. Enduring friendships typically followed.
Rea was born in San Francisco and was a fourth generation Californian. After graduating from UC Berkeley, he became an officer in the U.S. Navy and lead meteorologist at Alameda Naval Air Station. While attending the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, he met Juliana whom he married in 1956. Their marriage of 53 years was an inspiration to anyone who knew them; they truly loved and respected one another.
After leaving the Navy and working for several oceanographic and meteorological firms, he started his own firm in 1976, Pacific Weather Analysis, which specialized in marine meteorology. Relying upon his hand drawn maps derived from ship and buoy reports, he would provide forecasts all over the world for diverse applications such as offshore construction projects, flood control agencies and harbor installations. He was often sought to provide forecasts for surfing competitions and the Americas Cup. The Hollywood film industry would call daily.
Rea was one of the true pioneers in ocean wave forecasting and was instrumental in developing methods that are used today to predict long period and southern hemisphere swells. Long before computer simulated synopses, he was known for not only predicting the swell but pinpointing the exact time of its arrival. Surfer friends of his would get a jump on everyone else, assuring them of beating the crowds. He was often referred to by longtime surfers as the Wave Guru.
During the latter part of our dad’s illness, well-meaning friends would advise us to be sure to tell him that we love him and say the things that we felt were important for him to hear. That was never an issue dad spoke daily with each of us. Not because he called us, in fact, it was we who would call him at least once a day. He had a remarkable ability to be a best friend to each of us. Genuinely interested in hearing just how and why we chose our particular paths, he never once insisted that we follow his.
As kids, Dad would delight in teaching us how to bodysurf as we held onto his back, or throwing the football just out of reach so we had to dive onto the sand to catch it; He spent one summer clearing part of the property, running up to the house every hour to wash off the poison oak, so that he could build a horse corral. We had two horses: Dad got the Quarter/Morgan (despite the fact that his feet would nearly drag along the ground) while we took turns on the thoroughbred. We covered every trail of our mountains, often returning late at night with enormous smiles on our faces.
As little children, we would try to keep up with him during his evening swims before returning to shore and running the length of the beach to meet him. We would jog back, sometimes freezing, guessing the score of the Dodger game, which we would turn on as soon as we reached the car. But when we got home, he would put on a coat and tie and join mom for a cocktail before dinner. They would reminisce about California in the 1940s and 50s, about attending debutante balls in San Francisco and dining with Henry Miller in Carmel. Dad was as comfortable in a bathing suit as he was in a dinner jacket.
But it was always the ocean that gave him so much of his strength. He loved the challenges that it presented, and its capacity for peace. When one of us needed a little more strength, he would show up, unannounced, and just say “get your bathing suit”. We would swim straight out to the buoys, float on our backs and watch the mountains change colors. And before returning, he would always tell us to dive down as far as we could. It’s amazing what a difference a swim with dad could make.
Rea was a remarkable man who was able to live his dream; he had a wonderful marriage and three children with whom he shared a sincere love and friendship. His relaxed sense of self, welcoming smile, grace, quiet exuberance and insistence that every petal of the rose deserves our attention will always be remembered.
Rea is survived by his wife Juliana, children Marianne, Andrea (Kenney) and Paul (with wife Heidi) and grandchildren, Kristin Kenney, Rachel, Erich (Congo) and Sarah Strange.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Rea’s name to:
Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care
222 East Canon Perdido St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund
PO Box 803
Elmhurst, IL 60126