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A Wave of Lore at Surf Museum

July 19, 1999|BEVERLY BEYETTE

If your knowledge of surfing is stalled somewhere between Duke Kahanamoku and Gidget, you might want to hop in your woodie and drive to the California Surf Museum in Oceanside.

There, you'll learn that the Southland's first documented surfer was one George Freeth, who was sighted riding a wave off Redondo Beach in 1907. A Freeth exhibit is among current attractions at the museum, together with a salute to the Duke, the Hawaiian-born father of surfing who died in 1968.

The featured exhibit, "It Takes Two to Tandem!," chronicles in 100 action photos the history of tandem surfing, described as surfing's pair skating, which started in Hawaii. According to museum director Rich Watkins, tandem surfing is enjoying a resurgence "now that the longboard contests have come back" after years of shortboards dominating competitions.

The nonprofit museum, which opened in 1986, exists to preserve the art, culture and heritage of surfing as both a sport and a lifestyle.

"You don't have to be a surfer to enjoy our exhibits," says Watkins, who hosts 20,000 visitors annually. "You still walk away with a good feeling and a smile on your face."

There is, for example, the 1930s wooden-cased camera used by Californian Dr. John "Doc" Ball to shoot in the waves. Now 92, Ball has given up surfing in favor of skateboarding.

Watkins is currently putting together the first surfing research library, to include videos, films, books, magazines and posters--"but no Gidget movies. We try to stay with documentaries. People really are interested in the past."

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California Surf Museum, 223 N. Coast Highway, Oceanside. (760) 721-6876.

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