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In Defense of Hanging 10

August 13, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a terrible day for surfing. The ocean is flat as a board with sloppy 2-foot waves spitting up on shore. Still, Ventura defense attorney Rick Loy starts to loosen his necktie.

He'll have just enough time.

Working quickly in the beach parking lot, Loy peels off his striped dress shirt and pressed blue slacks and wriggles into a wetsuit. Carrying a 9-foot-4-inch longboard under one arm, he carefully steps over the rocky beach at Surfer's Point and wades into the chilly water.

The soft purr of the ocean drowns out the echoes of phones and faxes blaring back at his law office.

"Just doing this and paddling out takes your mind off anything," says Loy, 53, who often spends his lunchtime transforming from well-dressed lawyer to wet-haired surfer.

"Sometimes I'll tell my secretary I'm going to a board meeting," he says with a grin, letting the pun sink in. "She knows."

Loy is among an eclectic mix of Ventura County lawyers who regularly hit the waves when they're not pounding the podium at the Ventura Hall of Justice, conveniently located less than six miles from local breaks.

They're one of countless knots of colleagues up and down the coast who obsessively steal daily minutes from their jobs to surf. This Ventura bunch includes prosecutors, public defenders, civil litigators, criminal defense lawyers and family law attorneys. Its ranks include three former bar association presidents and once counted a bodysurfing Superior Court judge, Henry J. Walsh, who says he gave up the sport years ago.

"I used to get nervous about coming to court with my hair wet," Walsh says.

That's never been an issue for Walsh's former bodysurfing companion Alan Templeman, who knows that if he swims for shore at the south jetty near Ventura Harbor at 1:03 p.m., he can shower and make a 1:30 p.m. court appearance by dressing in his car.

"I have timed it exactly," says Templeman, an Oxnard civil attorney. "I like to be back by 1:25 p.m. It's a tight schedule. Ten minutes after 1 p.m. and I won't make it."

Templeman, 57, began bodysurfing more than 30 years ago while in the Navy. He continued the sport after joining a Ventura County firm where he found other attorneys who surfed. Several years ago they started a competitive team, the South Jetty Swells.

"It's fun," says Templeman, who has ridden waves in Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela and Mexico. "The cold water does something to you--it keeps you awake the rest of the day."

Ventura family law attorney Greg Herring agrees.

"If I have a trial I will work through some of the evidence in my head," said Herring, who splashed his longboard into some skimpy waves at Surfer's Point one recent morning a few hours before starting a trial in divorce court. "But if it's winter and the waves are bigger, I'm not thinking about anything except not getting hammered."

Herring began surfing 3 1/2 years ago as a way of coping with the strains of his own divorce. Now remarried, he recommends "surf therapy" to all his clients.

"I tell every client when they come in that one of the first things they need to do is take care of themselves, because divorce is such an upheaval and so stressful. Go out and hit the waves. It's a lot healthier than drinking a six-pack every night."

Adds Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Mitch Disney, who like many local attorneys grew up surfing in Orange and Los Angeles counties: "Being alone, being away from everything else and that sort of raw experience of man against nature--it is something that brings me back to a different level."

As a teen, Disney attended Dana Hills High School, located two miles from the beach, and took surfing classes for his physical education requirement.

"I actually lettered in surfing," says Disney, 37. "It was great."

After earning undergraduate and law degrees from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Disney took a job with an Oxnard civil firm, in part because of its proximity to the ocean. He later joined the district attorney's office and works in the consumer and environmental protection division.

Disney's 4-year-old daughter takes precedence over his surfing schedule these days. But he still swims several days a week during lunch to keep in shape and sneaks away on weekends before his wife and daughter rise to get his surfing fix.

His favorite break--located off the Point Mugu Naval Base--provides a challenge to a law-abiding officer of the court, because it is not open to the public.

"You can get in there lawfully by boat," says Disney, who once tried to maneuver a job as a military lawyer just to acquire access to Mugu's isolated surf break. "I would take a part-time job cleaning toilets if I could get access to the base."

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