A traditional paddle out will be held Saturday, October 23 at Coronado’s North Beach to honor the late John Elwell. The paddle out is scheduled for 9 a.m. The public is invited to attend.
Elwell was a short man but he walked tall through life. His stories of others captivated friends and family, and drove our appetites for years. And yet, it’s his own adventures that deserve telling around the fire. He was a prolific writer, dedicated historian and fearless adventurer -- the last of a dying breed.
The veteran swimmer, diver, surfer, sailor and spearfisherman had not let a few years dim his perspective on life. Well into his 80s he continued to migrate south to Mexico when the urge hit, and continued to rack up adventures every year most people don’t experience in a lifetime.
Elwell had been a resident of Coronado since 1941, graduating from Coronado High School in 1951. He graduated from BYU in 1968 and studied at Stanford, UCLA and UCSD. Along the way he became a champion wrestler, snow skier, surfer, writer and educator. He and a handful of Coronado friends were among the first to tame the big waves of Hawaii’s North Shore.
His personal memories included seeing Errol Flynn sailing his yacht Sirocco into Glorietta Bay and Marilyn Monroe’s arrival at the Hotel Del. He remembered riding horses with best friend Pike Meade up the Strand and along Coronado’s beach as kids.
John Elwell taught elementary school in Coronado and served as an early lifeguard here. During this time, he founded the Surf Explorers, which went on to inspire yet another generation, and then another.
More than anyone, he turned the reputation of young surfers from rowdy and carefree, into respected players in the community. He put them on the road to productive lives and families of their own. He was pure inspiration.
“Johnny guided us towards a life of purpose that was more than just riding waves,” said former Coronadan Craig Culpepper. “This actually kept many of us from a life of petty crime or worse. At the time, surfers were viewed as being one step above the Hell’s Angels. His re-vamping of the Coronado Surf Club was just what we needed.”
Elwell also had the boys doing long-distance paddles, and thinking about the importance of the environment by organizing beach clean-ups. Not just Coronado’s beaches, but other local surf spots as well. “He was way ahead of his time,” said Culpepper, who now resides in New Zealand.
Elwell founded Coronado Surfing Explorer Post 803 in the 1960s. It became the largest Explorer Post in the world, with more than 100 members. They were featured in Time Magazine showing Coronado surfers picking up trash at the Tijuana Sloughs – a novel concept for its time.
John Elwell died in Florida last May just before his 90th birthday. The family will be honoring him here in Coronado, where Johnny lived and played for most of his life.