CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA, Calif. -- The idea was to have a public sculpture to celebrate the surfing zeitgeist of this San Diego suburb, home to some of the region’s best surf breaks.
Local boosters, who collected donations to hire an artist, dreamed of a surf sculpture like those in Santa Cruz and Huntington Beach -- or even like the most famous statue of all, of the legendary Duke Kahanamoku in Waikiki.
Alas, it hasn’t worked out that way. Boosters hoped for cowabunga but got a wipeout instead.
Since its unveiling amid civic hoopla three weeks ago, the sculpture, titled “Magic Carpet Ride,” has been a target of anger and ridicule from local surfers. Pranksters adorned the surfing figure with a bikini top, pink skirt and Mexican wrestling mask.
“It’s just dorky,” said Steve Pezman, publisher of San Clemente-based Surfer’s Journal.
Critics say the figure is too spindly, his feet are positioned wrong and his hands are absolutely goofy. Rather than an embodiment of the athletic artistry that is integral to the sport’s mystique, the figure looks like a beginner about to fall off his board.
“Surfing is a dance,” said Pezman. “This figure just offends the surf culture. If you did a statue of a ballet dancer, you wouldn’t have the dancer in a position that is all wrong.”
The sculptor, Matthew Antichevich, who lives in Hemet and teaches at Mt. San Jacinto College, said he doesn’t mind some aesthetic criticism but has been taken aback by the vitriol. A blogger launched a campaign against the statue, and pranksters last week dressed it up to look like the infamous Abu Ghraib photo of a hooded prisoner standing on a box.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Antichevich said. “It was my first monument. Hopefully, it [the controversy] will simmer down.”
The simmering may be prolonged. The bronze statue, mounted on a granite pedestal and rising more than 12 feet, faces motorists on the west side of Pacific Coast Highway at Chesterfield Drive. Behind the statue is the popular San Elijo State Beach campground.
On a recent morning, the statue was a popular topic among surfers heading to the beach. Also joggers, bicyclists, in-line skaters, power walkers and dog walkers. Opinions were as plentiful as the local sea gulls.
“I think it’s a bit cheesy,” said Jodi Komitor, a recent transplant from New York. Her dog, 6-year-old Chants, a white boxer, expressed his opinion by urinating on the pedestal.
Tyler Mettee, a surf team member at La Costa Canyon High School in nearby Carlsbad, said he wished the statue had been of Rob Machado, a Cardiff resident and international surf star.
“That would have been better, something we could all be proud of,” said Mettee, who, like the statue figure, uses a shortboard. “It’s embarrassing.”
Not so, said Bernie Visser, a surfer and computer programmer from Long Beach who was staying at the campground with his family.
“I think it’s beautiful,” he said. “It shows the dynamics of surfing. Everybody’s form is unique. His form is not perfect, but nobody’s form is perfect all the time.”
Krissy Sachar, an art teacher and longtime local resident, sees both sides of the dispute.
“I think it’s a nice piece of workmanship, but it’s confusing what the artist is trying to portray,” she said. “The hands look too effeminate. Surfers are embarrassed.”
Antichevich said he hoped to express the joy of the neophyte challenging a wave. He said he thought of using a female figure but considered that too avant-garde for the community.
To get the $92,000 commission from the Cardiff Botanical Society, Antichevich beat out several sculptors. The city of Encinitas put up $30,000 to install the piece in a prominent spot.
Boosters’ names are on small plaques at the statue’s base. One of them, from actress Marion Ross, reads: “For All Our Happy Days Here.”
Josh Hansen, manager of nearby Hansen’s Surf, which bills itself as the oldest surf shop in San Diego County, said he was happy to donate to the sculpture fund but now admits he is disappointed.
“We wanted something cool and beautiful that would unify the community,” he said. “I guess art isn’t always what people think it should be.”
Art controversies aren’t new to the county.
In Carlsbad, a modern sculpture that looked like prison bars caused such a political furor it was removed at a cost of $500,000. In La Jolla, a 2-ton abstract piece outside the Scripps Green Hospital was derided as resembling a large animal dropping. The hospital moved the sculpture to a less-public spot.
“It’s easy,” said Antichevich, “to criticize art.”