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'Definitive' Surfboard Collection Caught in Slide

The owner of 350 prized boards is able to retrieve only three, plus family photos, during a quick trip to his damaged Laguna Beach home.

June 04, 2005|Christine Hanley and David Reyes | Times Staff Writers

Friday, Laguna Beach went home and not just for the pets. Bobby Lockhart went after the surfboards.

Trapped in his ruined Bluebird Canyon home was surfer gold: 350 surfboards that one expert called "the definitive collection." Most were stuck in a downstairs storeroom of his house, so damaged by Wednesday's landslide that it was deemed unsafe and uninhabitable.

Quickly poking through his home with the help of a Laguna Beach police detective who also watched the clock, Lockhart was able to retrieve only three boards from a garage, because they were the easiest to get.

Still lodged downstairs are several Gerry Lopez Lightning Bolt surfboards, a board that Kelly Slater rode to victory in the Hawaiian Pipe Masters championships, and a 1930s balsa-wood surfboard valued at $30,000.

For years, Lockhart, 37, a salesman for surf-wear manufacturer Billabong and DVS shoes, has been a player among Southern California's surfboard collectors -- buying, selling and trading valuable boards that are regarded among surfers as cultural keepsakes.

"He's got boards from the '70s, '80s, and up, surfboards owned and ridden by some of the best-known surfers in the world, like Kelly Slater and [current world champion] Andy Irons," said Allan Seymour, a surf historian and owner of Pacific Coast Vintage Surf Auctions.

He also has boards from two of the most innovative stylists in the world: Dick Brewer Hawaiian guns and twin fin surfboards shaped by Mark Richards, a former world champion from Australia. Collectively, Lockhart says, the boards are valued at about $500,000.

For the record, Lockhart on Friday also rescued wedding photographs and family photos.

"The whole place was full of stress fractures, buckled and leaning to the right," Lockhart said of his house.

As with other residents of homes that were red-tagged because they remained in peril, he was allowed in the house for about 15 minutes, and only after a building inspector gave the go-ahead. He grabbed pictures from the upstairs living room before heading for the surfboards.

"I only got three out of 350," he said -- a vintage 1976 Lightning Bolt by Lopez, a Hawaiian big-wave board of a friend who died and another Lightning Bolt. "But it's a start, it's a beautiful start."

About 30 to 50 surfboards might be ruined, but the rest "looked salvageable," he said. "One day [they may be saved] ... which is a lot better than two days ago."

Lockhart's wife, Jill, 39, had hoped to find her wallet and the family cat, Tiger, missing since Wednesday morning.

When they arrived, she took one look at their home of nine years and broke down. "I couldn't go inside."

On the morning of the landslide, Bobby Lockhart had already gone to work and Jill, who was getting out of bed, ran out with their children Tyson, 2, and Trey, 4, as the home started to pop and crackle.

They fled in a neighbor's pickup, and then had to abandon it when a telephone pole toppled in front of them and the street buckled behind them and rose 30 feet.

They ran downhill as homes creaked around them.

The return home was emotional. While she remained outside, Det. Joe Torres and her husband also retrieved her laptop computer and a suitcase filled with tennis shoes, a pair of jeans and a couple of sweatshirts. The family cat is still missing. "That's the missing link," Bobby Lockhart said. "We get the cat, we're looking pretty good."

The surfboards still beckon, and people in the surfing community, from clothing manufacturers to the environmental group Surfrider Foundation, are asking the city to help with their rescue.

"We understand the city doesn't want something to happen to people in the slide area," said friend Jeff Booth, an executive with Quicksilver, a competing surf-wear company. "But my backyard faces the damage area and for two days I've been seeing firefighters and officials walking around."

"It would be great if the city lets Bobby get his boards. In fact, all it would take is one word and we could have as many people as it takes to get it done quickly," Booth said.

Losing those boards, he said, "would be a mistake, a real loss."

Jennifer Harris, a spokeswoman for the Surfing Industry Manufacturer's Assn., agreed: "The legacy here is of vintage surfboards and their value to the surfing culture. It's like having a Cooperstown collection in baseball going down the hill."

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