For Surfer, Ocean Doesn't Care What Your Tax Bracket Is

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Mike Shine is not a churchgoing type of guy. But his experiences riding the Pacific's waves have brought him as close to religion as he's likely to get.

"You can have a bad week in advertising and it doesn't matter if you have some good waves. Or you can have a good week, and a wave can slap you. You realize that for the ocean it doesn't matter," said the executive creative director at Butler Shine Stern & Partners in Sausalito, Calif. "There's something spiritual about that."

For Mr. Shine, 42, the path from his Grand Haven, Mich., birthplace to the Pacific started when the high-school swimmer and water polo player sneaked off to Santa Cruz, Calif., to learn how to surf when he was working at Chiat/Day's office in New York on a Nynex radio spot being produced in San Francisco. Back East, he surfed off Virginia.

But a wife, three boys, a move across country, the founding of an ad agency and the building of a second floor to a house kept him on dry land for 10 years.

On the day his home project was completed in 2002, Mr. Shine said he put his hammer away, grabbed his son and headed for, well, the great white shark-infested waters off Marin County, Calif. "It was like being off heroin for 10 years and mainlining again," he said. "I've surfed every week since."

Mr. Shine fell in love with the quirky California town of Bolinas where residents are renowned for their determination to ward off outsiders by doing things like taking down road signs.

He bought a yellow house, now dubbed the Shine Shack, a short walk to the beach, and refurbished it with `70s trappings, an orange fireplace, Lava Lamp and quaint electronics such as a record player. The day before swells are expected, "an offshore shipment of goods coming in," as he calls it, Mr. Shine puts his children to bed, drives his Toyota Land Cruiser to the shack, and hits the beach at dawn. Energized by that endorphin rush, he's in the office at 9 a.m.

Mr. Shine said that in addition to surfing's addicting qualities, the sport is the only one with its own music and art culture. Mr. Shine, in fact, creates a line of surf art and T-shirts, which ring up, on a really good year, enough for the air fare to Mexico, "but not the beer," he said.

A coterie of ad execs-Alex Bogusky, Chuck McBride, Steve Luker, Jon Soto and Mike Harris (from, respectively, Crispin Porter Bogusky, TBWA/Chiat/Day, Wieden & Kennedy, Publicis & Hal Riney and McCann Erickson)-is part of Mr. Shine's surf tribe with its own mores. "When you leave the shore, you leave the laws of the land behind" and a "new strict code applies," he said.

There's a hierarchy, tension and aggression among the surfers. Only one person can ride a wave, and often the person in the best position, and usually the best surfer, gets to ride. "Sometimes tempers flare," he said. "But out there, it doesn't matter who you are. The ocean doesn't care what tax bracket you're in."

Between waves, there's chatter about life, love and whether to take a new job or pitch a piece of business. "What happens on the water stays on the water," he said.

Even the surfing spots are kept secret, especially one accessed via a rope. Another is what the locals call the "gum ball machine," a channel where seals pop out into the ocean into the mouths of waiting sharks.

Earlier this year, Mr. Shine, his son and another surfer were hot tubbing at the shack when they noticed a bright full moon outside. They headed out for a midnight surf at shark-feeding time. "You just cross your fingers," he said. "You are part of the food chain. It's a pretty weird feeling. On the other hand, statistically speaking, it's pretty safe, probably safer than driving your car."

Ad Age is looking for interesting Off Hours stories from marketer world executives. If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an e-mail to Mike Ryan at

Mike Shine

Exec creative director, Butler Shine Stern & Partners

Surf garb: wet suit, no helmet, boots or leash (to keep the board from floating away)

Surf move: noseriding, walking to the front of the board to trim it into the pocket of a wave

Surf scars: sunburned scalp, left-foot bone spurs.

Scent: ocean; rarely showers after leaving the surf and going to work.
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