Huntington Beach celebrates icons' 100 years

More than 100 people gathered at Huntington Beach Pier Plaza on Sunday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city's iconic pier, while the day before, on the south side of the structure, enthusiasts had celebrated 100 years of surfing in the city.

Local and state dignitaries, a family member of the first mayor of Surf City and a barbershop quartet helped commemorate the 1,856-foot-long tourist attraction.

"We know her for her charm, her strength and beauty," Matt Liffreing, a long-time Surf City resident and the event's master of ceremonies, said about the pier. "We know that she brings smiles, romance, memories and power. She is part of the walkway that transcends nationalities and contributes to the everlasting sunrises and sunsets."

The Rev. Christian Mondor of Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic Church in Huntington Beach, who is known by locals as the "surfing priest," blessed the pier for its "century of stoke."

"Keep blessing us, oh Lord, with an abundance of gnarly waves," he said.

After a photo opportunity in front of the newly unveiled plaque commemorating Sunday's rededication, City Council members released 100 doves to cap off the celebration.

The pier was originally opened to the public in June 1914, the first concrete pier in the nation, according to Dave Wentworth Sr., a member of the city's Historic Resources Board. The structure, however, had to be rebuilt twice after being damaged in two storms.

Now in its third iteration after being reconstructed in 1992, Huntington Beach's pier stands as the longest in the county, edging out the one in Seal Beach, which measures 1,835 feet.

"The pier has always been the focal point of the entire city," said Wentworth, who is the great grandson of the city's first mayor, Ed Manning.

Saturday was also a big day for surfing history in Huntington Beach. It marked the 100-year anniversary of the sport coming to the city.

Anyone who caught a glimpse of Bart Genovese's surfboard laying in the sand couldn't help but walk toward it and gawk.

The monstrous 13-feet-9-inches-long board made of spruce was one of about a dozen wooden decks, vintage and new, used in Huntington Beach's surfing exhibition.

Surfers had the south side of the pier all to themselves to try to catch a wave on the more difficult wooden boards.

The event paid homage to George Freeth, known as the first surfer to ride Huntington Beach's waves, in 1914.

Organizers gave participants two rules: no full-body wetsuits and only wooden surfboards allowed.

Genovese, 56, of Costa Mesa, had been paddleboarding since he was a teen but only picked up surfing about seven years ago. He bought his board, which was built in 1934 in Santa Monica, with intentions to use it as a paddleboard, but instead it became his go-to surfboard.

"I never thought I would surf something like this," he said. "I thought I was going to get it for lake riding, but I just took it out in the ocean and I was amazed at how fun it was to paddle, and it grew to a point when I built a [fin] for it so I can get a more controllable ride."

It took about a half hour's worth of tries before he could ride his first wave of the morning. Genovese explained that unlike modern surfboards, which are constructed from foam and fiberglass and are easier to maneuver, his canoe-like deck — at 52 pounds — requires lots of leg strength to ride.

When he did catch a wave, people on the beach stopped what they were doing to watch. Genovese glided toward the pier for about 10 seconds before falling into the water.

"You just have to flow with the ocean," he said, out of breath after surfing for about an hour.

Another surfer who managed to get several mesmerizing rides on a vintage board was Ryan Hurley, 31, whose father started the Costa Mesa-based surf clothing company of the same name.

The Newport Beach resident had challenges with his board, a replica of the deck that Freeth used 100 years ago. It was about as long as a modern surfboard and lighter than Genovese's, but nearly flat, almost like an ironing board.

"This is going to be a whole new challenge," Hurley said before paddling out. "There's two-by-fours on the deck. There's a very pulled-in tail and a very wide nose, which I think is going to send me spinning and pearling."

After giving the board a healthy coat of wax, Hurley set out into the surf.

Much to Hurley's surprise, it only took him two tries to get used to the board and ride several waves that hurled him toward the pier, just as Freeth did a century ago.

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