Little John Syvada – Conrad, Sea Lane and Tequila Sunrise

L-R - Hawk (RIP) Little John and  - sorry this is the best picture I could find

L-R - Hawk (RIP) Little John Sylvada (RIP) and Judy ? his girlfriend at the time - sorry this is the best picture I could find

If there was ever a man that could defied the massive consumption of alcohol and chemicals it was Little John Sylvada. He would have been a medical sensation on any autopsy table. His morning consisted of pouring his first wine cooler at 4am, taking a 1-2 hour nap at 12, and after, getting into the beers and hard booze until he passed out between 7pm and 8pm. This was his 24/7 MO for almost all his adult years.

He was a good carpenter by trade, and after a few beers would climb to the roof, bend over the rafters and cut tails to hang Fascia Board. He never fell. He liked working high (pun intended).

Little John was one of the coolest people, loved by all and had that sparkled humor. When his mom moved out on the Sea Lane St house, Little John stayed.  For a while Beachball and he were roommates, but Beachball  lived in the garage. When he moved out, Little John’s  motor-mouth brother Fred (RIP) moved in. The Sylvada brothers came from different ends of the spectrum. Fred was unique with many ex’s. (husband, cop, hippy, dealer, carpenter, writer, fishermen, boat owner etc) and could talk more BS than any politician.   Little John would give you the shirt off his back and his general behavior, he did not give a shit! He was the perfect example of living life to the fullest.

When very buzzed, Little John would cock his head, his bloodshot eyes (he had the best set) would roll back and  sloppily raise his drink, and scream between his teeth,  Eeeeeee!, maybe it was his own version of Meda, meaning, “Neeeeed another cocktail!

His common dress was collar shirt, with either jeans or shorts, with either tennis shoes or penny loafers. And no, he did not put a penny wedged in the top. He had this tad of feminine; he always  sway his drink in one hand, cigarette in another and juggle the two in one hand if he was in tow with his huge Great Dane, Conrad. Conrad’s, best friend was a blind dog dubbed Fog Dog” that has a mix of Wolf and Shetland, all three were a sight to see when he would take them to Sea Lane. Conrad ruled Sea Lane and dogs would run seeing this 200lb dog flying down the beach chasing seagulls or anything that threatened his territory.

Those little shitty lap dogs, Conrad always targeted and ran them off the beach.

The house on Sea Lane became infamous when Little John put together the annual  Tequila Sunrise Services, a Meda drinking ceremonial that started with blenders echoing the neighborhood at 6am on Easter Day. It was not unusual to have cars parked out front an hour before sunrise from all-nighters who needed that last place to party.  The front lawn becomes packed by 7am and by 8am the neighbors were begging for an end and  afraid to call the cops.

One time Eber walked up late wearing a set of funky bunny ears. Dean Burristion, cried, “Look, it’s the Eber Bunny!” and the crowd went into a drunken hysterical laughter!

After escaping substance abuse a few times where he ended up in the hospital, his body just had enough, Little John finally died in late 2008.

All I can say, he is one of many we will miss …


  1. KEVIN MURPHY says:

    I too lived on sea lane in the 70’s. One day l was re roofing the house by going up a flight of concrete stairs where I had a non osha approved ladder to the roof. As was loading the last bundle the left leg snapped off. I was just able to grab the gutter and scramble onto the roof. There I was stuck on the roof with the sun going down and no one in site for over an hour. Then I spotted a car coming down cuvier, the driver in the classic low rider position, cocktail in hand. I knew it had to be LJ and I jumped up and down like the SD chicken. Little John pulled in and even as drunk as he was he quickly assessed the situation, went around back, grabbed some scrap lumber, stacked them on the landing and leveled out the ladder. He held the ladder till I got down and literally saved me.I happened to have a fresh bottle of Stolies in the freezer and we went in and polished it off. When Sheila got home she was more than surprised to find the two of us at the kitchen table completely smashed. Sheila had never met LJ but his warmth and kindness, even in the state we were in quickly won her over. She opened a bottle of wine and we all shared a couple of more drinks. … Thanks Little John. .RIP

  2. Susan Eason says:

    I was married to Fred (Sylvada) and Little Jon was my brother-in-Law. I am absolutely in favor of Chris’s comment. The Sylvadas were and are a remarkable family. I remember Little Jon to be tender and dear and one of kindest people I have ever known. And Fred, I adored Fred. (in your reference, I don’t think any of us wanted to be an ‘ex’)

    As far as the booze, the b.s. and dealing, that’s what we did. What one brother didn’t think of the other brother did. Life had no end in those days… until one day it did.

    “an era that we or any other generation will never again live, breath and/or see …” boy, ain’t that the truth!

    xoxo to Peter and Chris.

  3. Aloha,
    At this moment I am brimming with excitement by coming across this piece on Little John. I am a graduate of La Jolla High School, 1963 and I lived about 6-doors down from Little John on Sea Lane from the time we both attended LJHS in our middle school years. I moved to Hawaii in 1963 to purse a career in surfing and surfboard-building. But it was Little John who collided with destiny, putting me on a path to the surfing Promised Land. One day he took me down to Boomer’s Beach just south of the LJ Cove and he introduced to the likes of Surf Gods, Del Cannon, Mike Diffenderfer, Pat Curren along with a long list of legends.
    I started hanging out with LJ in the 7th grade, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer out of his day working mom’s refrigerator. You could say a lot about Little John, but that guy had class! His brash personality often clashed with my dad’s hard-nosed work ethic, but he would stand toe to toe with pops, always confirming that he was nobody’s bitch and was prepared to take it as far as it took to make his point. As I write this I am flooded with golden 50-year old memories of what life was like with such a unique personality. This Mac Meda posting is the first I have heard his name in over 50-years!
    I must say LJ got me on the fast track with not only the Boomer’s but the Windansea gang as well. I think I was something like 10 or 11 at the time when the surf vets took the likes of LJ, another young noted surfer, Larry Strada and I as prodigies. We would show up with enough board wax and gas money for coast trips in exchange for surfing tips and acceptance into the elite Windansea/Boomers gang.
    But it was fate that separated me from LJ one day, when the Windansea bunch were oohing and ahhing over some Kodachrome slides that the gang had brought home from Hawaii after a winter on the North Shore of Oahu. I finally got Diff to hold one down for LJ and I and at that moment sealed my fate to leave Little John and California behind for the monsters of the sea of Waimea Bay. When I left in October, 1963, LJ borrowed his mom’s car and took me to the airport–I never saw him again.
    It was Little John Syvada who pushed me into my first wave and introduced me to the wonderful lifestyle of surfing. He was larger than life (and his life was pretty large), and I don’t think he ever regretted a day in his life. I want to thank everyone for their posts as you all have recalled LJ happiness into my heart-RIP LJ

  4. Bill Matthews says:

    John would often come into Alfonso’s to have “just one” and to see Judy his then wife. I was tending bar then with the Trenton brothers and John was unfailingly polite and interesting even when totally blitzed. He would leave and cross the street to the Bratskellar and say hi to “Willy Wonka” (William Walker) the bartender there. John was a good guy…

  5. Mark Lee says:

    I remember Judy Segal and she was always hottie and always nice.- Mark

  6. Steve Gallagher says:

    The girl pictured with Little John is Judy Segal.

  7. To Chris-
    Little John was my buddy since elementry school, where we used to sneak down to his house on Sea lane, and have a smoke and one beer each, stolen out of the fridge from Fred, Stymie and few others from Bummer Beach crowd, when you could surf there.
    Later in life, much later, after I sobered up, Little John called me, and asked if I could take him to a AA meeting, which I did, he went a few times, but could never stick it out with not drinking, but your right he did want to stop drinking, and your right he was a very smart dude, with many talents, art, surfing, and pure having fun in life, I’ll miss him may he R.I.P.

  8. Dan Dameron says:

    Splendid and Classy statement.Well Done

  9. Chris Sylvada says:

    John and my father Fred were both classics – one of a kind. I would note that by the time cancer snuck up on Fred, he only drank an occasional Pacifico and hadn’t smoked a cig in a few years. He enjoyed his morning power walks in RSF and was a voracious reader. Further, John always wanted to stop drinking. I know this to be true. Even though he was a pro at it, it wasn’t his wish and it ruined the life of an incredibly kind and highly intelligent man. I’m proud to be a Sylvada but I prefer to celebrate the qualities worth emulating, of which there were plenty!

    • Chris,
      Do you remember the Dotsons’ down the street at 525 Sea Lane? I am Ryan, the one your brother introduced to surfing and opened a whole new world. I must confess to the haze of the times that I can barely remember you. LJ and I became fast friends, partying, surfing and womanizing around every bend.
      I am currently writing a book, “Running with a Monster,” which chronicles our dayz down at the end of Sea Lane and Girard streets. It introduces LJ and I to the Surf Gods around Boomer Beach and Windansea. I attribute Little John to introducing me to surfing and to all of the people who influenced me in those early years–early golden years. He was larger than life, sometimes the canvas not large enough to contain him. I will never forget Little John Slyvada…nor will anyone who he touched–Surf on My Brother, ryand.

  10. Additional…

    1. Story was told that at age 7, Little John was hanging out at Jack’s house at 354 Vista de la Playa…reading comic books. Little John was thrown in the closet by the older guys. Mrs. Macpherson had decided to store the family skeleton (literally…the family had their own skeleton, affectionally named E. Hamilton Phipps) in Jack’s bedroom closet. Little John started drinking after the experience.

    2. He adored his Aunt Steph…who had lived up on El Camino del Teatro…Aunt Steph and her gray Mercedes lived with him and then they all went and lived with his sister Fay.

    3. In 1997, Jack and Little John decided to fire a potato gun off the end on Bird Rock…into the Mighty Vast…the neighbors called San Diego Police with the message that 2 lunatics in a red Porsche had launched something fishy…

    4. One year on my birthday, he and Fay drove down from Rancho Santa Fe and delivered a white rose bush…’Pristine’… a stunning white rose with a fragrance like a gardenia.

    5. I last talked to him in March 2007. He died a few months later…Memorial Day time 2007. Someone sprayed the Pumphouse with the words ‘Where’s My Cocktail?’…

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