DRIVE ALONG the sandy beaches in New Smyrna, Florida, near the inlet when the surf is up, and you’re likely to see a 12-foot, wooden cross planted in the sand in front of a white Nissan Xterra. If you hang around awhile, you’re bound to run into the guy who planted it there.
His name is George Alford, and although this 67-year-old just won the Eastern Surfing Association’s Grand Legends Championship for the second year running, most folks in these parts know him simply as “the guy with the cross.”
Some people think he’s a minister or a priest, but he’s not—at least not in the classic sense of those words. George counts his mission to surfers and other beachgoers as one of his most important ministries, right behind his vocation as a husband, father of nine children/stepchildren, and grandfather of 12.
Here’s what happens: after morning Mass, George drives to the beach. First thing he does when he gets there is pull out his shovel and dig a hole about a foot deep. Then he lifts the big cross down from the same roof racks that hold his surfboards, stands the cross in the hole, and hard-packs sand around the base to hold it in place.
After a few warm-up exercises and a prayer, George waxes up his surfboard and heads for the waves, where opportunities for faith-sharing with other surfers often crop up while waiting in the lineup. While George finds it doesn’t take much to get people talking about their faith experiences and their unanswered questions, he has also discovered that the conversations often go much deeper, with beachgoers asking probing questions about God, Church, and the pains and problems of life.
One of the first questions that people ask George is: Why do you plant a cross in front of your SUV at the beach? Another is: What gave you this idea? The answers to these questions lie in a story that begins back in 2004 with George’s entry into the world of surfing.