Peter “PJ” Johnson

Over his lifetime, Pete Johnson had created thousands of surfboards and rode tens of thousands of waves, all over the world. He managed Rusty Surfboards for ten years, and specialized in the food industry, opening or managing ten Chart House restaurants.

He surfed for 50 years, eight of those as a professional surfer. He had three major tournament wins and surfed on the Chart House Professional Longboard Team. He was a living legend on the Coronado landscape.

And yet, Pete’s proudest moments were rising to the challenge of caring for his two young daughters when their mother succumbed to cancer. Pete died June 20 from an aggressive brain tumor, in his Coronado home, with his daughters by his side. He was 66 years old.

Peter Christopher Johnson was born April 12, 1956 as one of 13 children known on Coronado Island as, “The Sweeney-Johnson Clan.” He was a 1974 graduate of Coronado High School.

Growing up in Coronado in the 1960s and ‘70s, everyone knew “The Sweeneys and Johnsons.” Pete’s parents were Johnny Johnson and Margaret O’Bryan-Sweeney. When they married, his father had seven children from a prior marriage and his new mother had five of her own. Together they had another child, Tiger Johnson.

In Coronado, Pete was part of a generational pack of young surfers nicknamed affectionately “The Rats.” They were fearless in their surfing styles, dominating the large south swells of summer at a break known as “Outlet.”

He worked at Coronado’s first surf shop, Du-Ray’s, on Orange Avenue. Before long, Pete was surfing with and working in surfboard shops alongside surfboard makers Richard Jolie and Denny Bessell. Most of the surfboards Pete either sanded, or reshaped down from 10 feet to six feet. That was what the era demanded, and Pete had a distinct gift for that process.

He landed a job washing dishes and bussing tables, first at the old Chowder House, and then Chez Loma Restaurant. He saved money and headed to Hawaii. For young Coronado boys at that time, Hawaii was Mecca for surfing.

While there, Pete began to surf with a local surf legend and shaper, Billy Hamilton. Before long, Billy had hired Pete to work in his surf shop. Then, while working at the Rice Mill on Kauai, the cooks, all local Hawaiian boys, took a liking to him, and he was invited to surf with them at breaks. No “haole” boy would otherwise have been allowed to surf.

Pete continued to hone his musical skills. He loved to play and write songs. In the early 1960s (7th and 8th grades) he performed duets (guitars and vocals) with childhood friend Jeannie York.

Later he played in the Johnny Cook Band with Joey Harris, and played jazz with the Hanalei Band as songwriter, producer and arranger. In his own band, Southern Tide, he co-wrote a song, “Slow Burning Flame,” which became number one on the Billboard Chart, under “New Country.”

Pete attended San Diego’s Mesa College, even though, in the long run, Pete’s education proved to be the world. While there, Pete met his first wife Dodi. He took a job at the La Jolla Chart House to bring in extra money (1978). With his people skills and restaurant experience, Pete worked his way up to head waiter in no time.

Then the Chart House offered him a management position. “I had worked my way from dishwasher to manager,” said Pete. “Then I became general manager at the Oceanside Chart House (1986-87). I had a great time.” All in all, Pete estimates he worked at ten Chart Houses, opening a handful in exotic locations around the world.

One night, at the La Jolla Chart House, Rusty Preisendorfer asked him if he was interested in coming to work for him. Rusty was fast becoming a hot commodity in the surfing industry, known for his surfboard and clothing lines.

“We had breakfast the next morning and he made me an offer - to be general manager of his surfboard factory and two of his surf shops. I was able to use all my Chart House management experience and my people skills to turn that business around. I made sure customer service was a priority.” Pete was at Rusty for ten years.

In 2001, Pete started his own surfboard company, Kane Garden (KG Surfboards). Then, in 2006, he sold the KG rights and started Delray Surfboard Designs. He named the company after his daughters.

Pete had enormous success with the two companies, making and selling thousands of custom-made surfboards, wakeboards and stand up paddleboards. His daughters continue Pete’s legacy by maintaining and managing Delray Surfboards, following in the family tradition, which pleased their father enormously in his final days.

Pete met his second wife Cindy Sauers, in 1985. They were married in 1998 and their first daughter, Delaney was born in 1999. Daughter Audrey was born in 2002.

Cindy was the picture of health and was studying to be a nutritionist when cancer infected her. She died in 2009. The girls were ten and seven at the time. “It was a chaotic time,” remembered Pete.

When that interview took place, Pete was partially paralyzed, bed-ridden, and his now-grown daughters were caring for him in their home.

Peter Christopher Johnson is survived by his daughters Delaney and Audrey; siblings Georgia, Bruce, Patricia, Elizabeth, Virginia and Margaret. He is also survived by John Sweeney and Emma Sweeney.

A paddle out will be scheduled and posted in the local media. Pete has requested donations in his name be made to the Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation (https://www.thedrcf.org/).

“I want to thank all my friends and family who walked beside me down this final path,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll see each other again, with God’s will. Until then, please support my daughters, as they work to keep our legacy alive at Delray Surfboard Designs. I love you all so very, very much.” The website is https://delraysurfdesigns.com/.

VOL. 112, NO. 26 - June 26, 2022

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