SONNY MILLER MEMORIAL – 7.18.14
Sonny’s passing has left a huge hole in the surfing universe… and in my heart.
My name is Ira Opper. I’m a sports television Producer. I first met Sonny in 1986
while surfing out at Pillbox…. he lived a few houses down from me in Solana Beach.
At the time, I was producing the Surfer Magazine TV series for ESPN. I’d seen
Sonny’s photos published in Surfer Magazine and was impressed with his
innovative use of flash fill lighting in water photography.
Here was this quirky 26-year old kid oozing with talent and personality living down the
street and I knew an interview with him would make an entertaining segment for the
show. I asked – he agreed and we shot the interview him on the beach at Pillbox. I was
immediately drawn to his wacky style, big voice, exuberant personality, and passion for
We became fast friends. We surfed, hung out, and of course laughed. ESPN had
just gone global and they wanted another season of Surfer TV for their “Hot
Summer Nights” prime time programming block. When I started casting for a host,
my funny talented friend Sonny was on the short list. He had the quintessential
California surfer look, the attitude, and that rock star voice. Everyone at Surfer
Magazine loved the guy and thought he was the perfect choice. Not certain he
wanted to be a “talking head ” Sonny reluctantly took the job as host. I was stoked
and knew he would rise to the occasion.
With Sonny on board we now had a great photographer and a host for the series.
He loved to wear hats…. and in this case he wore 2… still photographer and host.
But the voice coaches, acting lessons, memorizing lines, repeated takes, were all
torture for Sonny. I quickly realized Sonny was more interested in shooting photos
than hosting the show.
After our first trip to the North Shore, as an incentive to continue to wear his “host
hat” I gave him my 16mm Beaulieu camera. He designed a water-housing for the
camera and started burning film. It was a win-win. Sonny was in his element
happily shooting water footage and I still had a host. Later I bought him a Milliken
Hi Speed 16mm set-up and so began Sonny’s professional filmmaking career2
On productions Sonny was invaluable: he knew everyone on the beach and they
were ready and willing to be involved with anything he was working on. He was
great on the fly, he could shoot film and what I loved best was his wicked sense of
humor. He could make me laugh till I was wheezing.
Sonny had his own lexicon —- if you grew facial hair you were a “hair farmer”,
knee boarders were “rug snippers”, boogie boarders were “speed bumps”, and of
course, there were the ever important crew “safety meeting”.
Sonny and I traveled a million miles together and shot and surfed all over the
world… California, Hawaii, Mexico, Caribbean, Costa Rica, Indo—the list goes on.
One of the most challenging trips we went on was an expedition to the Java
Straights to document the where-abouts of surf in Sumatra. The boat we were on
broke down 50 miles off the coast of east Java.
We were ship-wreaked for 4 days without a working radio, and anchored off of an
uninhabited jungle island known for white rhino poachers. It was steaming hot—
sea lice in the water, nothing to eat but rice and rotten veggies. BUT Sonny kept the
crew laughing. He had a captured audience and he never stopped with his crazy
He ripped up a bed sheet, made a big flag, painted the words Lost Boys on it, and
hung it from the mast. My face hurt more from laughing than the blistering sun.
Only Sonny could entertain everyone for 4 days on a broken down smelly trash
heap of a river trading boat.
For over twenty-five years we worked on hundreds of shows and projects, all on a
handshake. But no matter the circumstances, no matter the obstacles, no matter
how late at night he would be out raging in a club in a third world country… he
would always deliver 110%, once he had his coffee.
After the Surfer series, Sonny went on to film his own surf movie “The Search”,
which became a series of “Search” movies for Rip Curl and they were great! In
1997 Sonny and I were up against each other for the Surfer Poll Video Of The Year
Award. He rightly won for “Searching for Curren”. I was stoked for him and very
proud. I remember joking with him, “hey bro, no good deed goes unpunished”… he
laughed and said he would make it up to me by buying lunch next time. 3
Our friend, Sunny boy is with the great executive producer in the sky now. G-d
must of needed a REALLY-REALLY good filmer to shoot his surfing heaven videos.
And I can see Sonny in the impact zone, with his bull dog attitude, holding his
ground, and laughing as the thunderous mass of white clouds engulf him. I find
comfort in having him as my totally awesome narley dude angel looking over me.
I would like to share the final text I received from Sonny. His words speak to how
much he loved his mother. I am grateful that he shared his deepest thoughts with
On July 2, 2014 I texted him “Sundog any update on Susie mom?”
Sonny replies– “We are still here but its all taking course and it’s up to god and her
when it’s time to go. I’ve said my peace and she knows I’ll always appreciate the
life she provided for me to achieve nothing but love.”
I relied, “My thoughts are with both of you. Be strong for her as I know too that you
were her everything.”
Sonny – “It’s been an all good life”.
My reply : “I’m around if you want to chat thinking good thoughts for both of you.”
Sonny – “We are doing good, hospice is here with nurses, she’s surrounded by love
and the furry ones, Hawaiian music is playing, we are burning incense, spirits of
Suzanne are ready for liftoff, not much more I can do, I’ve told her multiple times
she can go and be proud of the job of raising a boy to become a man with only the
best values in life, Love you brother, she’s goin to a better place, Sonny & Suz”.
I replied “ You are amazing, I admire both your strength and compassion”.
And lastly from Sonny:
“Yo soy Sonny Miller but u know that already ! Bueno Vida!