Opinion: Norman Rest – An Appreciation


I have written previously about my fears of a tragic outcome between the burgeoning adolescent electric bike community and our aging population of motorists. Little did I know the first victim would be a septuagenarian with the spirit and verve of a teenager. That would be my friend, Norman Rest, who died tragically riding his e-bike on Nov. 29 while picking up dinner for himself and wife, Debra. Tells you something about the man who at 73 would rather run to town on his exhilarating e-bike than a boring old car. It was just a tragic, one-in-a-million mishap. And so heart-breaking because this guy was truly still in his prime.

One of the joys and privileges of hosting a radio talk show here is meeting the extraordinarily talented and gifted polymaths who comprise our town, especially the old timers who helped shape our culture back in the sixties, like architect / musician Lamont Langworthy, artist / author Dion Wright, abalone diver / bullfighter Bud Headrick, and adventure traveler / entrepreneur Dick Metz. They embody the adventurous, self-taught, can-do attitude that makes California so uniquely iconic.

While quite a bit younger, I put Norman Rest in that category. He was more than a polymath, he was one of those rare multi-hyphenates who could do anything they set their considerable minds to. He was a tinkerer, restorer, tree house and homebuilder, surfer, skier, biker, paddleboarder, musician, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. And most of all a loving, doting husband to his equally gifted wife, Debra Kottke (an entrepreneur in her own right with a luminescence to match his own).

Norm was the definition of fun loving, and cool. Years ago he showed up at my old kayak / paddleboard shop in North Laguna in one of his loud, belching, vintage Austin Healeys that he restored, wanting to know more about what we did. We had a casual kismet, and he kind of never left after that, popping in unannounced (though we could hear that carburetor a mile away), and making himself at home, feet up on my desk. And you would never mind because he was so irresistibly interesting, and interested in what you were doing. And in this world of chronic narcissism, that’s refreshing.

Norm would reveal his considerable gifts over time. He mostly wanted to talk about the nascent sport of paddleboarding, and how he wanted to expand his small Lido Sailing Club into a paddleboard club as well. He was looking for guidance, advice, and possible partnership. And while we were ultimately not the right fit for each other, a friendship was birthed that would never have happened if it was transactional. He ended up attracting the right people anyway, because Norm had that knack.

Norm was an unpretentious character who liked to talk about where we were going instead of where we’ve been. But when you peeled the onion you discovered he’d been a lot of places, hobnobbing in the LA music scene as a young man, teaching, fixing and collecting guitars, building custom homes in Laguna and a housing community in Costa Rica (where he could surf), skiing in Utah, building the Lido Sailing Club, and later with Debra starting the nonprofit Lido Paddle Project to serve veterans and first responders. Norm was also a huge early adaptor of electric bikes in Laguna because it’s the most beautiful, easy, and fun way to get around. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want his death to diminish the sport’s growth and adaption in our town, but would certainly endorse safer biking infrastructure.

But what I will most remember about Norm was his generosity. He loved to mentor young people. An avid guitarist, he had a unique talent for rebuilding them. I had an old 1959 Martin 018 that had been thoroughly thrashed from years of abuse, including hauling it cross-country without a case on a hitchhiking adventure. The neck had warped and become completely unglued. I sent it to the Martin factory, and they returned it saying it was un-repairable. I relayed that to Norm, and of course he said, “Let me take a look.”

He spent weeks on it. I could feel his passion as he provided a daily, blow-by-blow account of what he was doing, which was way over my pay scale. Not only did he make it playable, he made it beautiful again, every inch of it, enormously better then when I acquired it. I shuddered to think what this might cost me, knowing that this kind of craftsmanship in the marketplace would command thousands. But Norm refused to take a penny. He just had that love for stringed instruments and the challenge of figuring out what the professionals at Martin couldn’t.

So now the best part for me is the little “Norman Rest” repair sticker he put on the inside that signifies the pride he took in his craft. It’s a little piece of Norm I will always hold onto, literally. And every chord I strum will resonate brighter with Norm’s enormous heart, talent, and generosity.

So long, sweet pal. Wherever you are, I’m paddling close behind and we’ll catch up soon.

The family requests that all donations be made to the Surfrider Foundation.

Billy hosts “Laguna Talks” Thursdays at 8 p.m. on KXFM radio. He can be reached at [email protected].

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