Al wanted to keep things simple . . . always. Just a couple of days before he passed, he and I sat on a bench overlooking Capitola Beach, and I asked how the memorial should go. He said, “very, very small.” Although Al had a fan base that spanned the gymnastic world, the surfer community, and all kinds of beautiful people everywhere, he was a humble guy that never wanted to be the center of attention; so, it was decided– a very small family dinner in LA to drink and laugh and tell our best Al Reilly stories . . . and a site where the many people in his world could connect with pictures, videos, and their very best Al Reilly stories.
March 25, 2015 was a very sad day for a whole lot of people. It was the day that Al Reilly, age 66, passed away. He was a simple and humble guy, who had an impact beyond words on all those lucky enough to know him. He was an inspirational coach, a soul surfer, a phenomenal father, a sincere friend, and simply - the kindest, gentlest spirit you could ever know.
Al was born in New Jersey on October 31, 1948 to Eugene and Helen Reilly. He was one of six kids, which included: Ed and Russell (“the boys”); Al and Arlene (“the twins”); and Patty and Peggy (“the babies”). The family moved to Tucson, Arizona where Al discovered the pool and competitive diving, and then to Torrance, California in his teens, where Al discovered the ocean and the magic of surfing. Even out of the water, Al was a strong and competitive athlete, and led his gymnastic team at South High, and again, as team captain in college. His inspirational leadership extended to his position as Head Coach at Sunnyvale Gymnastics Club, where he taught and mentored girls for 34 years, shaping their lives in immeasurably positive ways. “Coach” doesn’t begin to describe Al’s role in their lives . . . he has spoken at their weddings, attended their graduations, guided and supported them in and outside of the gym, helping them become, as one gymnast said, “a better version of herself.” One after another, girls have loving claimed him as a “second dad,” as well as their undisputed perennial idol.
And to his daughter, Amber, he has, and always will be, the absolute best person she knows - the very first, and everlasting, love of her life. He helped deliver her at home on the kitchen table, with Bob Dylan playing in the background and the dirty faces of the neighborhood kids pressed against the window screens. And since that moment, every experience she has shared with him has been pure bliss. Amber is the first to say how ridiculously lucky she was to have Al as her father . . . and she is grateful for every single second of it.
Although Al was a quiet and gentle soul, he was resolute about the things he believed in and took a strong stand when it was important to do so. He was a Conscientious Objector during the Vietnam War, when he served as an Army medic. He also defended himself at his own Court Marshall, when he, alone, took a stand on the injustices that were occurring in his unit. Even in the end, when diagnosed with vocal chord cancer, Al was clear about his definition of quality of life and chose a path that was absolutely the right one for him. He lived life positively and fully right up to the very end – going for his coffee and cookie, scoping out the surf spots, exercising, reading, telling stories . . . checkin’ things off his To Do List left and right.
Al did some big things in his life that he was proud of, but he strongly believed that it is the little things you do - every single day - that determines the person you are. And every single day, what an amazing, beautiful person he was. He will be loved and remembered forever.