Some might say Hermosa Beach's newest public arts project is totally gnarly.
The exhibit, appropriately called "Surfin' Hermosa 2004," opens today, with 20 surfboards displayed throughout the city. Each of the 6-foot-tall foam and fiberglass boards features a different design.
Among the variety of artists, there's Brian Boylan, an Irish native with a thick brogue who gave up a successful career in animation to paint. There's also Margaret McAlpin, an 82-year-old grandmother who was a surfer in her youth. Then there's the artisan husband-and-wife team, Neal and Dawn Von Flue, who say they can design items as varied as a Web page or a mural.
The surfboard project is the brainchild of Shawn Smith, a teacher at Hermosa Valley School who said he was inspired by a visit five summers ago to Chicago, where a herd of whimsically painted cows decorated the streets.
"I thought it would be something that could really be done in Hermosa Beach," he said. "I think it's a way of telling the human story in ways that words cannot."
Smith said choosing the surfboard was easy. Surfing is something of a religion in Hermosa. The city, which claims to be the official birthplace of the wave-riding sport in California, even has a Surfers Walk of Fame at the end of its pier.
"As I began talking about it, the surfboard came right to the forefront," Smith said. "The surfboard is such a silent symbol in Hermosa Beach. To many people it means different things."
Smith organized a committee, got approval from the City Council and, with seed money from a local gallery, gathered artists willing to display their work.
City businesses paid $500 to display the boards at their establishments. The boards, on exhibit until Sept. 9, will be auctioned off at the end of the summer, with proceeds going to the Hermosa Beach Education Foundation and the Hermosa Arts Foundation.
Beyond the money raised, artists say the exhibit is a good way to get art into the community.
"It makes people stop and look at art in a spontaneous way, and it can be fun as well," said Boylan, who took six weeks to paint flamingos on his surfboard.
The idea for the design came to him in a dream, he said, and when he drew the images on a yellow Post-it note, the melange of colors inspired the rest.
"Everyone else seemed to be doing waves," he said.
For McAlpin, a native of Hermosa Beach, her board, "Morning Surf," is a historical -- and personal -- accomplishment. Her father was the architect for the building that now houses the Bank of America in town, and that is where her surfboard will be displayed. The grandmother, who teaches art classes in her home, took about four days to paint her board.
The Von Flues, also native Californians, decided to adorn their board with a collage of Hermosa Beach's history; their project took two weeks to complete.
The pair said they hoped that the board, named after one of the city's forefathers, Col. Blanton Duncan, brought out some of the lesser known Hermosa Beach history.
"I think there should be more art like that," said Neal Von Flue. "I think the public reacts to art. This shows you that art can be anywhere and for anybody."
Cities nationwide have had similar public art projects. Los Angeles adorned angels, Miami Beach had flamingos, Washington, D.C., now has pandas and San Francisco has hearts.
But there's a price to pay for displaying art in public.
Some of the cows in Chicago were tipped over, some of the moose in Toronto had their antlers cut off and works in Washington's former arts project -- donkeys and elephants -- were vandalized with ketchup and graffiti.
Organizers in Hermosa Beach know the exhibit may attract some unwelcome critics.
"It's a concern of ours," Smith said. "We're aware that it's a public arts project and there's some risk to that, but I think it's well worth the risk. We have faith in fellow community members."