Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Haole Boy’s Memorial Rock Garden’s

Matsumoto, Murphy and Loy at Haole’s Memorial Garden remembering Haole Boy’s one year anniversary. 

by Amy Brown

If you walk along the iconic Ventura promenade near Surfer’s Point, you’ll encounter a beautiful tribute to another major Ventura icon: Haole Boy, the city’s late surfing Ambassadog. Haole had been surfing C Street and traveling the country for seven years as a surf therapist with the non-profit A Walk On Water for children and adults with special needs. He helped hundreds of aspiring surfers feel comfortable catching waves, riding right on the board with them—and he always made it look easy.

Photo of Haole Boy by Sebastian De Schepper

Haole passed away after a long battle with cancer in May of 2020, and was mourned by folks from across the country in person at his memorial and through ongoing worldwide outpourings of love and support. His mom, Kim Murphy and her friends Cris Loy and Dorianne Matsumoto decided to create a rock garden memorial to honor his beautiful surfing stoke and spirit on the one-year anniversary of Haole’s passing. It started with just a few brightly painted rocks, and now, at the one-year anniversary of the garden itself, it’s a beautiful kaleidoscopic tribute that grows every week.

It started with someone painting a single special memorial rock for Haole, and the idea for the garden germinated from there, according to Loy. “We said ‘we should start a rock garden with this rock, and it should really be overlooking Haole’s surf break,’” said Loy. “We all went home and started painting rocks like crazy.” The garden started from that group of friends with about 40 memorial rocks, with a kindness rock section soon added. “I kind of wanted both memorial and kindness rocks, since Haole was all about kindness, and we wanted this to be about kindness too,” said Loy.

The Kindness Rock Project started a few years ago, and is now a viral trend—people paint inspirational messages or images on rocks and leave them out for strangers to find and be inspired by. The distinction between memorial rocks and kindness rocks is that memorial rocks are to be left in place, honoring a lost loved one, human or pet, while kindness rocks are to be shared, in a ‘take a rock, leave a rock’ philosophy. Haole’s garden has a section for both. “Nothing fills my heart quite like the love and support we still receive. I feel as if the spirit of Haole is still so present in Ventura by the community continuing to support us, and cherish the memories that Haole made for all of them,” said Murphy. “We still often hear stories of Haole, and how he continues to touch people’s hearts.”

You don’t have to be an artist to participate, but you might just become one. “I first thought, I am not artistic. Art is not my thing!” said Matsumoto. Then, “I could paint a few rocks.” However, she is now one of the most prolific contributors, having since created nearly 100 rocks, beautifully painted with many time-consuming coats of resin, to the garden. She shared that she is always moved by the sentiments expressed in rocks created by others. “You see the rocks made by little kids for their pets, or others made for lost loved ones, and it’s clear they’ve all been made with love,” said Matsumoto.

One particularly talented artist who regularly contributes to the memorial garden creates photorealistic paintings on rocks of people’s pets, while others are more simple, but all are powerful. Murphy and her husband John share that anyone is invited to visit the memorial, and leave a rock for a loved one, but ask that if visitors would like a memento to take a kindness rock, while leaving the memorial rocks in place, as they are meaningful and meant to be permanent. “This garden has brought much healing and happiness to us, and we absolutely love that Haole is still bringing people together,” said Murphy.

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