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The Surf Board of Directors Seeks Lore of the Shore

October 29, 1987|STEVE CHAWKINS | Times Staff Writer

In a few years, the cry of "surf's up!" on Ventura County beaches will stir the customary pack of trim blond teen-agers, the usual knot of middle-aged men still searching for the perfect wave and perhaps at least one curator, presumably wiping zinc-oxide ointment off a pair of horn-rims.

The last would direct a million-dollar surfing museum, the biggest in the world, situated somewhere in coastal Ventura County.

That, at any rate, is the dream of 25 old surfing buddies, including a Ventura police lieutenant, a Hawaiian judge, oil executives, insurance agents, attorneys and an educator, who constitute the board of directors of the United States Surfing Hall of Fame and Museum.

To be sure, the year-old board's 1987 operating budget is something less than $2,000, but fund-raising has not yet begun in earnest, board Chairman Ronald Benner said.

The nonprofit group will solicit funds from surfboard and sportswear manufacturers, oil companies and public agencies, said Benner, a printing-company executive who lives in Westlake Village.

It will hold special events, such as the second annual C Street Longboard Invitational Surf Contest and Reunion Barbecue in Ventura next month. Last year, 850 predominantly middle-aged surfers hauled their cumbersome, old, long surfboards to Ventura for the event.

Lost Memorabilia

This year, the museum organizers won't miss the opportunity to pass the word about their project, and pass the hat, and endlessly praise the lazy, hazy, crazy days of endless summers past.

"The memorabilia is being lost," laments Benner, a Ventura native who has been surfing most of his 40 years. "Guys have old boards hanging in their garage. Old photos are lost, stuffed in boxes somewhere. We need to preserve these items."

Relics that the museum would enshrine include:

The redwood surfboards of the 1950s, 12-foot behemoths that weighed more than 80 pounds and are as similar to today's sleek, short fiberglass boards as an Indian dugout canoe is to a jet ski.

Boards as exotic as the step-deck, which allowed the surfer to mount a platform, and as idiosyncratic as the three-piece detachable board, which folded up into a suitcase and allowed surfers to avoid annoying baggage-handling delays at airports.

Vintage wet suits, glossy black sweat machines made of quarter-inch thick rubber and equipped with cumbersome crotch-to-cranium zippers.

Old "woody" automobiles, the paneled forerunners of the modern station wagon which became standard transportation for the migratory surfer.

"We never fixed 'em up," recalled board member Jim Beatty with a touch of longing in his voice. "They didn't need doors, they didn't need windows. You could pack in 15 guys and 15 boards and go anywhere."

Displays of offshore oil rigs. Benner and Beatty, who both can remember washing oil tar out of their hair with gasoline, think the companies that run offshore rigs in surfing areas should have a chance to show how they have cleaned up their act. Oil companies also might be major contributors to the museum, they said.

Also featured would be surfing photographs and displays on wave physics--to say nothing of the Hall of Fame, where surfers of national and global renown would be honored in appropriate ceremonies each year.

It might sound like just another pipeline dream, but figures as revered in the sport as Hoppy Swarts, a 71-year-old who was a California state champion and a member of Surfing magazine's International Hall of Fame, like the idea.

"A museum somewhere would be very worthwhile," said Swarts, whose nickname derives from Hopalong Cassidy. "I'm absolutely convinced that surfing is one of the most healthful and emotionally rewarding activities there is for an individual. We've got to save and preserve all of it we can."

Ideas for museums have surfaced in Redondo Beach, Huntington Beach and Hawaii but have not been realized, Swarts said. However, several small surfing shrines do exist in California and have managed to avoid total wipeout.

Other Museums

Underwritten by local surfing clubs and by the city, the 18-month-old Santa Cruz Surf Museum draws 500 to 700 visitors on an average Sunday, operator Kathleen Kruse said. Crammed into the ground floor of a lighthouse, the exhibits focus on the history of the sport in Santa Cruz, where two Hawaiian princes reputedly introduced it to North America in 1885.

The International Surfing Hall of Fame in San Diego has mounted a temporary display at a sports museum called the San Diego Hall of Champions, but has no home of its own, Director Lois Ronaldson said. Three years of "research and contact work" have gone into it so far, she said.

Meanwhile in Encinitas, the California Surf Museum consists largely of rare surfboards hung from the ceiling of a popular surfers' restaurant named George's. "It's a temporary home," explained museum founder Stuart Resor, an architect in Cardiff. "We're bursting at the seams."

Resor didn't see the Ventura County group offering him undesireable competition. In fact, he said, several regional surfing museums would offer more people better access to surfing lore than one central institution.

But, for many, such cultural logistics pale in importance beside the emotional lure of a surfing museum.

"It would be a real, real fond memory of the times, of the people I knew, of the time we spent together," said board member Tom Hale, an Encinitas cattle rancher who quit manufacturing surfboards only after becoming ill from repeated exposure to the chemicals used in production. "As time goes by, you lose things so easily."

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