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Lifelong Imperial Beach Residents Juanita Smith and Husband David haven't let her Multiple Sclerosis keep them Down

Apr 24, 2016 10:40PM ● By Paul Spear

Lifelong Imperial Beach Residents Juanita Smith and Husband David haven't let her Multiple Sclerosis keep them Down! Don't miss the Tuesday's Meeting of the Imperial Beach History Group in the Community Room at City Hall at 4pm! 

David and Juanita share some great IB History with us and tell how they haven't let Juanita's MS keep her away from still surfing! Thanks to David and Juanita and other former and currant IB residents, Imperial Beach history is getting preserved for future generations. All are welcome to join us!!! RSVP IB History Group at

Juanita, a champion surfboarder, standing with her long board in the 600 block of Ocean Lane
 about 1975. Behind her on the right side of the photo are the old Summerville cottages that were moved from Tent City to Imperial Beach in 1939. David and Juanita lived in these cottages for a number of years before there were demolished in 1991. Behind her on the left side of the photo is the 3-story apartment building constructed in 1970 on the site of the well-known landmark on the beach known as the "White House." This old house was built in 1936 by James O. Smith as a summer house for the San Diego Children's Home located in Balboa Park. Every summer groups of 60 kids at a time would stay at the home for month and enjoy the beach and the ocean. In 1942 the house was taken over by the USO and became the "Canteen," a recreation center for servicemen during the war. After the war the Imperial Beach Civic Group met in this building and developed the first plans for incorporating the city (that finally took place July 18, 1956). The building was abandoned in the early 1950s and became the home of Allen "Dempsey" Holder when he manned the first lifeguard tower on the beach at the end of Palm Avenue. 

Lifelong Imperial Beach Residents, Juanita Smith and Husband David, haven't let her MS
  keep them Down. Now in their 60's they still Surf together. One of David's problems is Keeping Juanita out of Large Surf that could be to Dangerous!

David and Juanita met in 1967 and almost immediately David taught Juanita to surf on a 9'6" board made by South Coast. But it wasn't until 1971 when Juanita got a 9'2" "Personal" SouthCoast Surfboard that her surfing really started to take off, pardon the pun,it was a perfect board she paid $5 for and it remains her favorite board in her heart despite the fact  that Juanita and David surfed over 140 surfboards. 


During the 70's David and Juanita spent much of their time traveling north to spots like: Malibu, Sunset Cliffs, and Huntington Beach and many other well known spots! Then it was off to Oahu, Hawaii, Haleiwa, Sunset and more well in 1980 and lesser know spots. During that time David was almost always surfing with her or taking his board out to try and get photographs of Juanita Surfing!

She decided it was time to get a job and although she knew Dempsey Holder and he had 
 much admiration for her, He wasn't ready to hire her on as the first woman lifeguard in Imperial Beach. With no hard feelings she went out and got jobs as a lifeguard for Mar Vista High School and National City,

During this time, Juanita had her own 21ft Victory Sloop that she loved to sail as well and in 1975 won the IB Surfing Contest at the Imperial Beach Pier. Winning of course, the Women's Division. Water and being athletic was what she lived for at the time and David was never far behind.


 Eventually, they got married and in 1983 Juanita had their first (and only) son, Shawn. Juanita was ready to become a responsible parent but David couldn't break away from his surf life style and they drifted apart and got divorced in 1985, Through the next few years they hardly saw each other or even spoke, During this time Juanita gave up her surfing, was unhappy and gained considerable weight,


David was lost without the love of his life but he couldn't give up his surfing lifestyle and 

Then very late one night in December of 1988 David 

 received a Emergency call from Juanita. When he got over 

 to the house, the front door was wide open and he could see she was having sort of health crisis. Juanita was laying on the floor. She was paralyzed on her left side, had double vision and felt numb and tingly all over. bounced around from job to job and lived at many different locations. He was very down as well. 

After months of Doctors visit and frustration, they found out that Juanita had MS or Multiple 

 Sclerosis. the prognosis for Juanita's future was not good, David said he was basically told to get her a wheelchair and prepare for the worse,

Near this time, Juanita's weight got up to 265 pounds.But David and Juanita refused to believe nothing could be done and kept on searching for alternatives to the prognosis Juanita received.

Finally, they turned to alternative medicine. They found a doctor who had done well with his MS patients by changing their diets to all natural foods and getting away from all the chemicals in processed foods and adding vitamins and minerals. During this time David and Juanita became very close as he continued to work with her on finding a way to beat the doctors prognosis. David worked with her on exercises and diet and slowly 2 things 

 happened. After a year, Juanita, with her exercise and diet lost 100 pounds in a year and got her weight down to 135. , With all the time they spent together getting Juanita well, they also fell in love all over again and got remarried in 1991 in a beautiful ceremony on the beach of love and healing.

David also during this time made changes to his lifestyle and although he still loved to surf, he was now dedicated to helping Juanita and himself and he gradually got more reliable and stable jobs. Recently, he just retired from the San Diego School District after working for them many years as a maintenance worker.

However, Juanita wasn't satisfied at just feeling much better, she really wanted to live life again. David experiment with different types of kayaks and today Juanita surfs with a Waveski and David's biggest problem is keeping Juanita from trying to go out in to large of surf. 

They live in an apartment right on the beach and david helps get Juanita and her Waveski out to the water and then it's time to surf. David now prefers to sit back and watch and take photos but will go out surfing as well.

 Juanita recently wrote a book "My MS challenge" that was self published and is working on another book now as well.

David and Juanita are great examples for all of us. They didn't give up and have been given a rich life back. Not rich in the form of money but rich in living life to it's fullest.

I am very honored to have gotten time to know David and Juanita Smith. They are truly two amazing and wonderful people full of life!


Paul Spear, Editor, Dig Imperial Beach


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Photographs and Article contributed by David Smith, 


Dig Imperial Beach Senior Reporter

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