Mike Fisher would surf every day, as long as his body let him, even on the windiest and smallest days when most people would turn around and stay on shore.
“Everything in the ocean makes sense. I can look at a wave and determine what will happen,” Fisher said in a 2009 interview on the north side of the Huntington Beach Pier. At the time, the 17-year-old was facing an uncertain future after his first brain tumor diagnosis.
Fisher, who had the Huntington Beach surf community rally around him to “Save Mike’s Head” a decade ago, died Saturday, Nov. 16, after a third bout with the cancer. He was 28.
Fisher was a popular, charismatic member of the Huntington Beach High School surf team, a stylish surfer who maintained strength and optimism despite doctors telling him he had only a few years, if that, to live.
When the Huntington Beach community heard about his diagnosis, a big fundraiser was held in his honor in 2008, with nearly $60,000 raised to cover the cocktail of 42 expensive pills he had to swallow daily and other medical expenses.
The following year, four of Fisher’s friends completed a 50-mile fundraising paddle relay from Duke’s Restaurant in Malibu to Huntington Beach to show their support for Fisher, who did several legs of the long trek down the coast.
That same year, a surf contest in Ventura was dedicated to him, an event in which Fisher also competed.
“There’s never been one of those moments where all hope is lost,” Fisher said in 2009. “It gets tough. No one ever said life was easy. So you have to deal. There’s moments you draw back and go ‘wow.’ It was really tough realizing the fact. Once I realized it, I also realized it doesn’t mean anything – it’s only what you make it.”
When Fisher was contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the nonprofit that grants wishes for children with a critical illness, he kicked around the idea of a surf trip to Australia. But he declined the offer.
“This isn’t for me,” he told them. “Look at me. I’m not a kid in bed who can’t sit up in the morning … I can get a job and buy my own ticket.”
The tumor on the left side of Fisher’s brain was removed after the original diagnosis. But at age 19, it returned. Doctors again removed the tumor.
Then, four years ago, at age 24, it came back again — this time inoperable, doctors said.
The tumor’s affects were so severe it kept Fisher out of the water the past few years.
“He missed surfing so much,” his mom, Nancy, said Monday, Nov. 18. She said he would religiously watch waves on the live Surfline.com cameras.
Fisher periodically would be struck with seizures, but in June, a seizure that lasted nearly an hour left his body and brain with stroke-like symptoms. He was unable to walk or talk and was in the care of a nursing facility since last summer.
“He fought a really hard battle,” said Nancy, who said her son was on track to start a new clinical trial before the seizure hit. “He just fought, fought, fought. The tumor grew back and it took over.”
Nancy Fisher said she wants people to remember her son — her best friend and the best person she’s ever known — for his thoughtfulness and how he was always thinking about others.
Andy Verdone, his surf coach for four years, choked up as he learned of Fisher’s declining health in his final days.
“I really loved his spirit,” said Verdone. “We are all connected to the ocean. At the end of the day, we are in it together, we all share waves and experiences and we meet really good people along the way in this community.”
Fisher was one of the special ones, he said.
“The one we turned to when we needed a smile or needed words of encouragement,” Verdone said. “I think Mike touched so many and made so many people happy. I know he inspired me.
“Nothing got this guy down.”
Plans for a paddle-out celebration are pending.
Beloved California surfer whose friends rallied to ‘Save Mike’s Head’ dies at 28