The vibrant and lovely Holly Delaney is a familiar face in the Santa Ynez Valley. She owns and manages two popular businesses in Solvang: Bellagio, a chic women’s apparel store, and Back Door, the only real surf shop for miles. But Holly is more than just a savvy entrepreneur. She is a caring neighbor who has mentored dozens of young people, organized surf contests and snowboard excursions for local kids, and worked tirelessly for seven years to help turn the dream of a community skate park into a reality.
I was born in San Diego on December 10, 1961. I lived on Balboa Island in Newport Beach for five years and then we moved to Back Bay in Newport Beach until I was twenty-one. I got married, lived in Orange Park Acres for seven years, and moved to the Santa Ynez Valley in 1990.
One of my earliest memories is living on Balboa Island and figuring out that if you started in one place and kept going, you ended up where you started. I was just a little kid, but when I figured it out, I took off. I walked the entire circumference of the island, on the sand and underneath the piers, and it gave me such a sense of independence. I loved that time period. There was a sense of safety back then that we’ve lost today. We used to play hide and seek all night long. Now there’s more fear, and the sadness of it is that it’s shut down some freedom.
I was lucky enough to be raised with horses. If I needed to go and think, I’d go riding. There were a bunch of trails, and I’d ride around Back Bay and whatever was bothering me that would pretty much cure it.
But as the saying goes, happiness is a state of mind, not a point of destiny. I’ve always looked at life as: “I am a happy person and I’ll make this day great regardless of what is happening…or at least I’ll do my best.”
My dad inspired me. He was always a “can do” kind of guy. From the time I was five until I turned twenty-one we lived on half an acre near the Back Bay. There were wild ducks, six horses, dogs, chickens, a green house, and tree forts… Dad was an early riser, and I loved waking up in the morning because there was always so much going on. I was out there with him catching chickens before eight o’clock. I had stalls to clean before I went to school And he grew orchids: he taught me how to take the orchids and split them, and put them into new pots. It was all fun for me. No problem. I was always the head pilot.
I was very athletic. I rode horses, played volleyball, and I high jumped in track and field. When I was in sixth grade, I jumped 4’11”. Someone told me that was a world record, which got me real inspired. I used to watch the Olympics and read profiles about successful athletes and how they did it, what they ate, and what their exercise regimen was. Going to the Olympics was always a dream for me.
From 1983 to 1990, I worked for a surf and ski shop in Corona del Mar called Hobie Sports. I was a buyer, so I got to know all those reps – they were friends. A rep is somebody who brings in their line of clothing, like Volcom, Quicksilver, Roxie; they bring in all their clothes and I choose what we want in the store, they write down the order and ship it. When I moved out to the Santa Ynez Valley we found the Bellagio store, and I asked the owner if I could buy her fixtures and her inventory. It was upper end ladies’ clothing, so we put that in one half and then in the other half we put in guys’ stuff. In 1997, we moved downstairs and across the street. Bellagio was in the front and we called the back part Bellagio Beach.
One of the great days in my life was when a bunch of my friends and a couple of kids who worked for me suggested that we put on a surf contest. I hadn’t been to many surf contests. I didn’t even know how to surf; I would play volleyball on the beach. But I always sold the clothes, and I always had a couple of wetsuits, and we carried a box of wax, so the kids encouraged me to put on a surf contest. Down in Orange County there are tons of them but this was unusual up here. All my reps went crazy and started to give me stuff to give away as prizes. Suddenly I had this room full of hats, t-shirts, bags, and all kinds things. So we put on a surf contest. I thought maybe twenty people would show up. A hundred and fifty people showed up! It was sunny, and there were perfect waves, and it was just the ideal day for a surf contest.
As a result of that contest, I said I would sponsor five guys on a surf team. Now we had a surf team. One of the guys on the surf team was Miles Wallace, and I hired him to work in the store as a manager. That was in May. Around September, he said, “Can’t we open up a real surf shop? All my friends think I work for a chick shop, cause it’s Bellagio.” Well, there was a 1200 square foot space available right across the way, so we moved in there and started the Back Door Board shop.
Getting the skateboard park? It was one of the most momentous things in my life. It was really hard, but it wasn’t hard going into it. There just wasn’t enough for kids to do around here or in downtown Solvang, and that is a necessary thing. There’s this great saying: How do you eat an elephant? You eat it one bite at a time. When we first tackled it, I just figured it might take time, but I also knew I had the longevity to continue it; I wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t know it was going to take as long as it did, but I was committed for the long haul. It took seven years. I went to seventeen city council meetings and we raised over $400,000. You just keep knocking on doors and get through it somehow.
The big thing in my life is God. I really believe in Jesus Christ. I really believe you should “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So I took that basic thing: how can I love my neighbor? What can I do? The “neighbors” that I was associating with happened to be the kids who came through my store. I would hire kids, work with kids, and talk to kids. I was also dealing with the parents of kids. The constant cry was that there was nothing for these kids to do.
There was open rollerblading in Solvang at one time. Anyone could rollerblade anywhere, and at night the streets got crazy. One girl went through a plate glass window downtown. The city officials went nuts and closed it all down. First it was no skating in Solvang proper. Then it turned out there was no skating in the whole valley. Can you imagine? There was no legal place to go skateboarding. It was ridiculous. Meanwhile skateboarding and BMXing and all these cool individual sports were starting to happen all over the place. The kids were crying for it here. They were being shown this stuff on the media — look what’s going on out here — and in our own valley there was no place to skate legally. So it was a worthy fight. Okay, there are other things, such as freedom for your country, that are REALLY worthy, so maybe the skateboard park for Solvang isn’t the most important thing of all, but I found something I could do. How can I love my neighbor? How can I love my community? I ask around and see what people want. And bring enthusiasm. Bring enthusiasm.
But you don’t do it alone. Wise men seek wisdom. Choose a “board of directors” for your life – some people who are older and smarter. Bring the best people you can find to come into your life. You are what you consume. If you consume knowledge from people who have no enthusiasm, who are depressing, who are sad, who are not taking care of their bodies, well, that’s what you’re gonna start becoming. Hang out with the people who are wiser and smarter and can help you get something done. That’s what YOU will become. Be a sponge for knowledge; that’s really smart. And remember that nothing that is hugely important is accomplished alone.
But you have to keep going and have faith that God will help you. You can learn from your mistakes and failures too. A knock down is not always a bad thing. You see that that isn’t necessarily the way to go and you find another way. One bite at a time…
It was that way with the skateboard park. The city wouldn’t do it, so we said, “Let’s find a nonprofit organization.” All of a sudden we met this whole group of people who were willing to help us with money. The Chumash gave us $50,000; the Elks gave us $100,000…and as long as we didn’t go through the city and it wasn’t a public works project, we were exempt from a lot of expensive requirements. At one point we ended up giving money back to Gail Marshall so we could stay private. So that was a whole year of my life, getting knocked down, hearing no, and just chipping away.
I love to go to the skatepark. That’s the best part, especially watching someone whose really good, like Glen Ditmar. He’s 38 now, and one of the most insane skaters. He’s been with me all along. We didn’t just want a rinky dink skate park. In fact, if we’d put it in seven years ago, it would have been a mediocre place. I think God made us wait. By having to wait, the building people got a little braver, and the design became deeper, steeper. Beginners can stay at the bottom and practice, and as you get good, you start going higher. I didn’t realize that because I wasn’t that much of a skater, but now I know that beginners and advanced skaters can be in the same park if it’s a good park. One of the biggest joys is to go there and watch people skating.
My hero? A hero can also be a mentor. My number one hero is Jesus Christ. I took it upon myself to figure out what God meant to me personally. I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and reading other religious books, and trying hard to figure out who is this Jesus Christ guy. I have to say that’s number one for me.
But then there are the people that God put in my life. People like Cynthia, teachers who do what she does — to me, that’s the coolest thing. I can’t even tell you. I was at another school recently and the kids seemed sad, and bored, and depressed, and just looking out the window…I felt so sad. You guys are looking at me. You have a great attitude. You don’t even know how many kids I work with! For the skateboard park alone, I signed up over a thousand kids. I see a lot of kids who come into the store with their parents, I work with kids, I do field trips and fashion shows. Watching how you guys interact, you don’t know how cool that is! It’s a beautiful thing.
Another person who was one of my heroes was Ray Kunze. He sat in front of my store pretty much every day and became family to me. He would come to our Thanksgiving, our Christmas; we would make sure he got to the doctor; he would take us surfing. My husband and his dad don’t see eye to eye; I really feel that God brought Ray into our life, and he was kind of a substitute dad for my husband. Ray had great wisdom. He was tough, he was funny, and he was sixty-eight years old and still surfing. He didn’t let age take him down. Ray was never like that. He was always out there surfing, going on trips, doing stuff. He would drive across country for five days to Nova Scotia, then surf out there for two months, camping out.
That’s a hero to me: someone who doesn’t let anything take him down. Don’t become a victim of things that are inevitable, such as aging. All of us are getting older. I can’t do some things that you guys can do. You can bend in half like pretzels; I sure can’t. You have to accept there will be some things you can’t do, but don’t become a victim of that. Don’t let the things that you can’t do keep you from doing the things you can do! That’s a huge principle in my life, and it’s something that Ray taught me.
Ray passed away last year. This is the picture celebrating the groundbreaking ceremony for the skateboard park. As you can see, it was a team effort, and it was really fun to be a part of it. There’s Ray, standing right there. Ray came to pretty much every city council meeting I had to attend. He was always there to back me up 100%
And Ray was a surfing legend. If you look him up on the computer, you’ll see articles about him. There’s one in Pacific Longboarding magazine where he said, “Drugs have always been a part of the surf culture, but it was never the best part; it was always the worst part.” Ray had the creativity to enjoy life; he knew what was important.
Who taught me how to surf? Ray, and Miles, friends, reps…whenever the door opens, I’m there. Half the thing in surfing is just making sure you’re there when the waves show up. It’s unlike any other sport. You may find you have the time to surf, but if there are no waves, you’re not surfing. It teaches you patience. And readiness. Let everyone around you know that if anyone is going, you’re going.
I have a book that’s important in my life called A Touch of Wonder by Arthur Gordon; he’s a great essayist. There’s this one essay that says: “If you are bold, bold forces will arise to help you.” And that has been absolutely true in my life.
Don’t get discouraged. Even when it’s the worst day ever, and you get yourself knocked down, stand up and learn the lessons from it. Keep your enthusiasm. Be bold. And bold forces will arise to help you.