Wills Pelan

I heard terrible news that my good friend Wills “Wiley” Pelan has died. I have very few details, and none of them are concrete. All I can say at this point is that Wills was one of the the most soulful and caring souls cruising this earth. He was always one of the smartest dudes in our crew, shredded the guitar, and surfed with gracious style.

Wills and I saw eye-to-eye on just about everything from spirituality to surfing and women. We did some radical things together, like surf big Puerto Escondido (watched him catch one of the best waves of his life down there five years ago), rock guitars at all hours of the night in Santa Cruz, had a “surf gang” called GTL (goat trail locals at Blacks), we were on all the same school surf teams growing up, and we laughed our asses off all the time.

He moved to Peru to teach English and was held hostage in his house by the mafia because some Brazilians moved in with fancy camera equipment and the gangsters wanted it. Wills lived on a shoestring and there was nothing for them to steel from him, so they let him go after killing his dogs.

He ended up teaching in Indonesia for the past few years, where he seemed happy until recently. Wills and I used to talk about the destructiveness of alcohol all the time. He reached out to me about drinking and life in general on a regular basis through emails overseas.

I hate alcohol with a passion. No doubt that it was a part of killing Wills. That poison has assisted in taking too many of my friends young lives. If you think you have a problem with substances, please reach out to someone and realize life is manageable, and often times even enjoyable, without it.

I’m just so fucking bummed right now, and felt like writing this might help my other friends and I grieve.

Wills, I know your epic soul is living on right now, and I hope that you have reached another level of peace. Save a place in the lineup for us, it won’t be too long before we’re all shredding again soon.

I love you dude.

-If you look through the comments on my site, you’ll see that Wills was one of the only two people who ever write any. His last comments were three days ago, one is on the previous post, which is the same day they say he passed away. I wish I reached out to him more after a couple drunken posts he put up on facebook just before that, but didn’t know what else to say.. So sad.

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26 Responses to Wills Pelan

  1. Austin says:

    I miss Wills.

  2. Elizabeth Howton says:

    John, thank you for the kind words about my stepbrother. You probably know this already, but there will be a paddle-out in Wills’ memory today, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, at 3:45 p.m. at Northside Scripps. All are welcome — please spread the word.

    • John Maher says:

      Hi Elizabeth, so sad, and I”m so sorry about your brother.. we all love Wiley. What a beautiful tribute to him at the paddleout, the moral crew who was able to be there was a testament to the awesome company he kept. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Louise and Fred Pelan says:

    John — We are Wills’s parents (father and stepmother). We wanted you to know how much comfort we received from reading your post. Wills was so far away, and had largely closed himself off from us, so we did not even know that he was still drinking. That knowledge provided valuable answers to our nagging question of “why, why, why?” We had provided rehab for him some years ago, but he was never really receptive to it. The fact that he was so talented in so many many ways makes it all the more tragic that he couldn’t tame this demon.

    Thank you for being his friend, and thank you for your message to all his other friends.

    Love, Fred and Louise Pelan

    • John Maher says:

      Hi Fred and Louise,
      I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you. Thank you so much for sharing your message, so glad the tribute was able to help you if even the slightest bit. Why is the question I continue to ask as well.
      Please let me know if I can do anything to help your family in any way.
      I miss and love him painfully, as all of his many awesome friends do. Love, John

  4. Paul Potash says:

    What you wrote is so meaningful and I hope that it will help others reach out like you said.
    It was a very special event today and I felt privileged to a part of it. I too will always miss him.

  5. Chris says:

    Well said Johnny. Man, Wills would of been so stoked to see how many people came together to honor him. We have all grown up and moved on to our own things but I hope everyone there yesterday realizes that there is still a bond between all of us that grew up together, and often times it only takes a phone call to surround yourself with people that care.

    Let’s go catch some lefts.

  6. Andrew Bayer says:


    As we pulled down the road to North side yesterday, I was expecting to see that black Jeep Wrangler come ripping around a corner or out of the bushes (Wiley often preferred the road less traveled…or no roads at all) with Wills’ infamous grin greeting me. But no suck luck. Although we didn’t see him, he was there and we could feel him smiling down on all the boys. It was a breathtaking experience, so much so that a guy paddled over from South Side and asked me showed were honoring as he was convinced by the crowd and vibe that it must have been a celebrity. I confirmed, it was indeed a celebrity, a legend, an absolute amazing man: Wills “Wiley” Pelan.

    Thinking of that Wills smile right now and missing my buddy.

  7. Clare Gomes says:

    What a beautiful tribute. I was so sad to hear this news from my family today. The Pelan family changed my life when they moved my family to the US. I remember when Wills was born and how happy his parents were. I only remember him as a small boy with beautiful eyes and smile – he was a wonderful combination of both his parents. Now he gets to be with his mother, Trudie. She was a true lady. It sounds like Wills had her soul.
    Clare (Gomes)

  8. Conor Flanagan says:

    John, thank you so much for putting your thoughts up. I too felt like I alined with Wills on spirituality and self expression. We had such a tight bond, both of us being Irish, and free thinking students of life. Wherever we were in the world we would call each other on St. Patty’s. Wiley was unapologetic in his attitude toward others; he wanted people to be themselves at all costs. This is such a loss. He was such a gentle soul with a good sense of humor. What hurts the most is knowing how much he loved life. Selfishly, I am having a tough time dealing with this and I want just one more chance to hang with him. I was so bummed I couldn’t make his paddle out, it looked rad. My deepest condolences to all of you especially, Fred, Louise, Chris and Elizabeth; I was blessed to share around 14 years with Wills. I will be celebrating his life, for the rest of mine. Wills was my brethren.

  9. Melanie Pelan Aalbers says:

    John and all of Wills’ friends,

    Thank you all so much for the lovely tribute and love you have for Wills. The Paddle Out was so beautiful as Wills’ nine-year old nieces played in the waves and threw flowers. I hold on to what they said to me when I told them of his passing. “Mommy, Uncle Wills is with Boomer and your Mommy now – he hasn’t seen her in 26 years and that’s a long time.” I love my little brother and I am so happy that my girls got the chance to spend some great times with their Uncle Wills, even if so limited. We’ll never forget him.

    Love to all,


    • John Maher says:

      Thanks so much for sharing Melanie, so sorry and so tragic. We love Wills and our connection to everyone who know him. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.

  10. Heather says:

    I am so glad I found you. Thank you for that piece on Wills.
    Wills was a good friend, but importantly he was a lasting friend. He would always brighten my day by emailing or messaging me from wherever his travels brought him. Sometimes many months would pass, but just like any time or distance btw friends, we would pick up where we left off.
    To say Wills passing saddens me is the understatement of the year. I don’t know …confusion, anger, guilt, a chasm of never ending whys and hows and this can’t be.
    But memories of his good humor, his LOVE of the world in all it’s flaws- well they help. He spoke of school, astronomy, surfing, not drinking, his family, Ireland, la jolla, his friend who had passed away, Mexico, music and life.

    I will remember him always.

  11. Amy RAGEN says:

    Hi John, Your words are so important for every young person to read. I lost a childhood friend to drugs and it has left an ever lasting imprint on me. Your words are so beautifully put and your insights should be heard. I’m so sorry for your loss and for his familys loss. I have 2 boys and the thought of them going down that path scares me to death. I will post this link to my facebook, if I can.

  12. John Maher says:

    Thanks so much for sharing Amy, it’s so heavy. Can’t wait to catch some waves with your boys.

  13. Sam says:

    This just brought tears to my eyes. Love you Johnny! :)

  14. Megan says:

    I worked with Wills last year, and although we were never close, we had some great conversations about traveling, science, and California. We were the same age and knew some of the same people from Chico and Humboldt State, where I studied. I had lunch with a former coworker Friday, and she told me about Wills’ passing. I wanted to find more information, and I found this site.

    As I’ve been saddened by this news, I want to express my deepest sympathies to his friends and family. Wills showed signs of alcoholism at work, and I now feel so sorry that I never reached out to him. He seemed to genuinely want to help kids, and he was passionate about the environment. It’s truly a loss for the teaching world and for his family. I remember his laptop wallpaper was a photo of him with 2 young girls, he said they were his nieces. He died too young and far from his loved ones. I will remember him for his love of nature and surfing.

    Rest in peace, Wills

  15. David Sluys says:

    I lived with Wills a few years ago. He was shaping, glassing and doing ding repairs for the locals down here at Windansea. Also shredding Blacks. He went to Hawaii after leaving the Windansea house, came back and grabbed his stuff and boards he had stored here and moved to PB. Then on to Bali to teach English. I want share that Wills has played an important role in my life. He inspired and taught me to shape and glass my first surfboard in a backyard shack .. by doing that he changed my life. I found a new passion in life. Been making surfboards ever since. Thanks to Wills a true artist and designer. His life was pure art, he surfed like nobody I had ever seen before. Always in the barrel, never fell and made the impossible look easy. Thank you Wills. Will always remember you and be thankful for the time we shared while living together. I am sorry for our trivial misunderstandings and I forgive you too! I Will always be thankful to you! Rest in peace Wills Pelan

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