Plan for Surfing Museum Seen as Totally Rad

Times Staff Writer

The idea first hit Stuart Resor a few summers ago like a gnarly southern swell.

Down at the beach, the Cardiff architect would watch in awe as some old surfer tromped onto the sand with an ancient long board and headed into the waves.

A surfer himself for more than two decades, Resor says the sight of such old-timers and their oceangoing artifacts got him and his buddies talking about the sport's history.

"We realized there must be hundreds of interesting old surfboards, photographs and other surf memorabilia rotting away in people's garages or attics," Resor, 45, said. "Every time we'd see a gray-haired surfer like ourselves out there, we'd go over and say hello and discover another thread of history. Finally, it seemed like we had talked long enough. It was time to do something."

Right Place in History Sought

Eager to see surfing take its rightful place in history, Resor and his friends decided a year ago to establish a museum.

Dubbing their venture the California Surf Museum, the squad of surfing enthusiasts formed a nonprofit corporation and began collecting scores of old surfboards dating back to the '50s and '60s as well as hundreds of other artifacts.

So far, the group hasn't found a permanent home for the museum. But some of the old boards have been put on display at George's Restaurant, a downtown Encinitas eatery frequented by the surfing set that has become the effort's focal point.

As beach lovers and other patrons at George's chow down on the $2 breakfasts or sandwiches named after local surfing spots, such as Swami's and Stone Steps, they can peer up at half a dozen vintage surfboards of various shapes and sizes hanging from the rafters. Photographs of surfing greats--along with shots of some local unknowns--line the walls.

"We feel a surfing museum is an idea whose time has come," said Jane Schmauss, owner of George's and a staunch backer of the effort. "Other sports have halls of fame or museums. We feel it's time for this sport to be recognized. And in this area, in particular, because of the way surfing has shaped this community."

In Northern California, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum opened last year on Memorial Day weekend. It sits at the base of a lighthouse, on a cliff overlooking Steamer Lane, one of the area's hottest surfing spots. Like the North County effort, the Santa Cruz museum was founded by the Santa Cruz Longboarders Union, "a group of older guys who were coming back to the sport, like a surfing Jaycees or Kiwanis," museum coordinator Dan Young said.

The museum concentrates on the history of surfing in Santa Cruz. Sponsored by the city, it draws more visitors than either the fine arts or the natural history museum.

'Surfing Has Grown Up

Young, in an interview with The Times last fall, said his group felt that the timing was right for their museum because "surfing has grown up."

The North County group agrees on the timing, but their reasoning is a bit grimmer. They contend that their museum must be established soon or much of the old equipment--and many of the old surfers--will be gone forever.

"It won't be too many years down the line that people will look back and have a tremendous curiosity about surfing's past," Resor said. "They'll wonder who the heroes of the sport were and what were some of the great events of surfing history--some of them contests, some of them just really, really big days."

Though surfers have come forward with donations of old wet suits, boards and other items, a home for all of the memorabilia has been harder to come by.

When first organized, the museum's board of directors set its sights on an old water tank in Encinitas that they felt would, with the proper refurbishing, make a comfortable headquarters.

Finding a Site Is Sticky

But bureaucratic problems--and the fact that the water tank is more than a mile from the ocean--convinced the organizers to begin looking at several other sites from Del Mar to Oceanside.

Among them are an old schoolhouse that might be moved to Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, the abandoned powerhouse building in Del Mar and an expansive, currently unused structure at the foot of the Oceanside pier.

"We'd like to be right on the beach somewhere if we could pull it off," Resor said, adding that he expects it will be about a year before the museum is firmly established in a home.

Lacking a site, museum backers have been struggling to establish credibility with the corporate giants of the surfing industry, whom locals hope to tap for seed money.

"We can't survive on a few handouts from surfers coming up the steps at Swami's," Resor said. "We're going to need donations from major corporations that have profited from surfing or simply have an interest in helping out."

Museum organizers are hoping that any hesitancy on the part of big donors--who might view the project as a nice but ill-fated dream--will evaporate soon. The group expects to be granted tax-exempt status by the federal government within a few weeks, meaning corporations could write off donations. That, combined with a final decision on a site, should push the project over the brink, its backers predict.

Ideas Abound, Cash Doesn't

Though short on cash, Resor and his colleagues have a surplus of ideas. Indeed, the group plans a first-class museum.

"You can't just go in and hang a bunch of surfboards," said board member June Chocheles, a former employee at the Smithsonian Institution. "We want to have legitimate, well-enacted exhibits."

The entrance to the museum is planned to include a ceramic wave, complete with water running across the top. Visitors would walk through the center of the wave as video screens demonstrate how swells form.

Once inside, visitors would be treated to the serious and the whimsical side of the sport.

Surfing will be traced from its birth, when the explorer James Cook and his crew described men on crude boards frolicking amid the waves off Hawaii.

One display planned would show how the surfboard progressed from a lumbering, solid-wood monolith to today's sleek, tri-finned marvels. Continuously running videos would depict both the best--and worst--moments in surfing.

Among the boards would be the early forerunners from Caster, Velzey, Hickey and other pioneer manufacturers. The unusual also is included. A friend of Resor's has donated a motorized surfboard, a heavy contraption made of riveted aluminum with an internal motor that pushes the board forward at a quick clip.

Photo exhibits are planned to give visitors a look back at the way it was along the North County coast almost four decades ago, when surfing was in its infancy. Resor said the group has some black-and-white stills of Moonlight Beach from 1949.

"It's a real dramatic collection," he said. "Back then, the boards were basically made right on the beach, whittled out of wood."

The group also plans to undertake an effort to collect the oral history of surfing from its early pioneers. Already, they have taped sessions with some of the first people to develop production techniques for fiberglass boards, a staple of the industry today.

Chocheles said the organizers also want to have exhibitions that demonstrate how surfing has influenced all aspects of life--from clothing to music.

Beach Boys Contacted

The group has contacted the manager of the Beach Boys, the quintessential surf band that helped put the sport on the cultural map in the mid-1960s, about providing some material.

"We'd like to get Dennis Wilson's drum set," Resor said, referring to the Beach Boys' drummer who drowned. "We're not sure we'd get it, but something like that would be spectacular."

The group has a plethora of donated items, but it is always looking for more, Resor said, adding that when the museum board is granted tax-exempt status, donors will be able to get write-offs for equipment they might have thought was virtually worthless.

"Some old surfboards appraise at $500 to $1,000," he said. "So don't throw it out. Give us a call."

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