ESA Honors Co-Founder Cecil Lear at the Eastern Surfing Championships

Words by Kathy Phillips, former ESA Executive Director
All photos Mez / ESM / @mezapixels unless noted

Mary Lou Lear pondering a wonderful and long life with her husband. Photo: Michael Weiss, Cecil and Mary Lou’s great-grandson.

The many dried and browning leis draped across Mary Lou Lear’s dresser mirror attest to the incredible outpouring of East Coast love and respect given to her husband, Cecil Lear, co-founder of the ESA and ECSHOF, who recently passed away at a fulfilling age of 91 years.

The Eastern Surfing Association paid its respects to Cecil on September 19th during the 2022 EASTERNS held at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head NC, hosting a beautiful sunset paddle out ceremony and a celebration of his incredibly fulfilling life.

ESA Honors Cecil Lear

Site of the 2022 Easterns and the paddle out honoring ESA co-founder, Cecil Lear.

Gary Germain and South Jersey’s Joe Grottola led the paddle out ceremony as over 60 paddlers formed a circle just outside the lineup and said farewell in traditional Hawaiian style while four generations of the Lear family (bedecked in authentic orchid leis direct from Hawaii) and hundreds more watched emotionally from the beach and the pier.

ESA Honors Cecil Lear

Family and friends In a traditional Hawai’ian circle for a dear friend who has passed.

ESA Honors Cecil Lear

Mary Lou Lear surrounded by her daughters and family members at the post paddle-out celebration.

The reception was held upstairs in the spacious second story Jennette’s Pier Oceanview Hall with panoramic windows where everyone was watching for traces of the anxiously awaited Hurricane Fiona swell.

The hall was crowded with members of the East Coast community from far and wide, young and old, famous, not famous, and even a few infamous, who came to pay their respects to Mary Lou and the family.  Everyone sat in the darkened room to watch the short but significant video of Cecil’s life curated by Luda Ronky Captures letting out cheers, laughs, tears and hoots as appropriate.

Off on the side of the room stood an oversized brushed metal plaque complete with a classic surf photo of a young, handsome Cecil surrounded by a wide blank space, and a stack of Sharpies nearby.

ESA Honors Cecil Lear

Mary Lou Lear and family.

That so many signed it was not in itself remarkable, but rather the messages were less about acknowledging a Legend and instead simply referring to Cecil as a greatly missed friend.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening was legendary surf photographer Dick Meseroll’s recorded tribute in the video that had the room cheering. He said “If you met Cecil Lear, you had a friend for life.”

ESA Honors Cecil Lear

Mary Lou Lear and daughters along with Ricky Carroll, a long-time friend, ESA competitor and surfboard shaper.

ESA Honors Cecil Lear

The beautiful North Carolina surf from Hurricane Fiona came just in time to honor the ESA co-founder.

ESA Honors Cecil Lear

ESA Executive Director Michelle Sommers, who organized the paddle out and the video of Cecil’s life, along with Mary Lou and East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame president Gary Germain.