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When Dr. Surfer Met Dr. Beauty Queen | The Unabridged Story of Rita and Carson


I met Rita at a memorable time and place: I was covering the Chinese New Year Parade in 2012, and she was on the Coke float! We didn’t have a lot of time to talk but we both laughed when we realized we lived five minutes away from each other!

Even if I didn’t meet Rita while chasing floats down Market Street, she would still be a memorable person. It’s not just that she’s a Stanford-educated former beauty queen, but she’s also a practicing medical doctor and an accomplished pianist. Some guys might be unnerved to approach a woman with her credentials, but not Carson. Carson may try to fool you with his “I’m just a surfer boy from a small town” shtick, but as a neurologist and an officer for the US Navy, he can probably patch you up after he kicks your ass.

As their photographer, I really loved learning about Rita and Carson’s gradual friendship and love. This is a relationship that has survived emergency room shenanigans, shared patients, and Carson’s active duty in Afghanistan.

Carson and Rita were first classmates at the University of California San Francisco Medical School (UCSF). Carson knew he had a lot of competition so he decided to wait them all out. It just took him, oh, eight years in the background and a casual friendship before Carson finally asked Rita out on a proper date. Wow. Ignoring each other for years really worked out!

When they finally tied the knot last July 6 at the Stanford Memorial Church, a crowd of 450 guests were at hand to witness the joining of these two amazing individuals. The reception was held at Mayflower Restaurant, where they had a traditional Chinese banquet and tea ceremony.

Among the many moments I loved included the classic saber arch, in which Carson’s  fellow officers held aloft their sabers. Carson and Rita were stopped by each guard and had to kiss before being allowed to pass through!

I also absolutely adored the unscripted moment when Rita’s mom and dad were put on the spot by their kids. They were asked to renew their wedding vows in front of one of the guests, who happens to be an ordained minister!

Like most weddings, the ceremony and reception schedule was very hectic for the bride and the groom, so at one point Rita and Carson stopped over at In-N-Out Burger for much needed energy. Skipping lunch is never a good idea on such a big day! The result of this impromptu moment is these memorable photos:

I swear on my children’s souls, In-N-Out Burger is not my secret corporate sponsor.

Carson is  such a multitalented person—he designed the menu and the invitations. He had to design the fondant cake too, when there were last-minute problems with the baker. Incidentally, cutting the wedding cake with a saber is also a military tradition. I know it surprised some guests when they saw Carson drawing out his sword!

Rita and Carson’s friends labored to arrange the beautiful flowers as a token of their love for the couple. You know, I never get tired of marveling at the little touches everyone contributes to make the day special.

When Rita and Carson’s wedding came to a close, I was glad to finally rest my feet. But I was also supremely satisfied to be part of such a memorable, joyous occasion. Some times my friends ask me, “Auey, how come you never get tired of shooting weddings?” And I always say, “How can I get tired of shooting weddings, when every couple is unique?” Weddings are just one facet of love’s infinite variety. Really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Carolyn - Rita is one of a kind, and we all loved meeting Carson recently too! Her Coca-Cola Scholars family is mighty proud of her!!

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