International Surfing Museum founder dies

Natalie Kotsch, who founded the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum but never rode a wave, has died.

Kotsch succumbed Thursday to a decade-long battle with cancer. She was 76.

Though she never surfed herself, she deeply loved the sport and its culture.

"I told the guys that are planning to do a paddle-out for her that her second time in the Pacific Ocean, she put her foot in it once and didn't like it," said Julie Holson, Kotsch's youngest daughter. "But she just liked the surf culture. She thought it was an amazing culture and didn't want to see it lost."

Kotsch moved with her family in 1976 from Simcoe, Canada, to Huntington Beach, where she worked as a real estate agent.

Longtime friend and museum director Cindy Cross said it took an outsider to make Surf City realize that its hometown sport should be celebrated.

"She just worked tirelessly on this museum for over 20 years," Cross said. "When she was diagnosed with cancer, her involvement was a little less, but she was still very much a part of the museum and major decisions."

Holson said her mother had a vision for a museum on the beach and a surfing simulator.

"I hope that at some point the new leadership gets the museum closer to that," she said. "That was really her hope."

Kotsch last visited the museum when it reopened in November following major renovations.

Because of her work to preserve Huntington Beach's surfing history, Kotsch was given a spot in the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 1998 and a key to the city in August.

"As her daughter, I couldn't be more proud," Holson said. "Mom was truly humbled and taken aback. She had no idea that that was coming or planning that. It was quite the top of her accomplishments."

Kotsch's passion and caring went beyond the surf culture. Her heart went out to kids in need. She served as president of the Foster Parents Assn. of Ontario, Canada, and mothered numerous foster children.

"She wouldn't turn her back on anybody who was down and out," Holson said. "She would give of herself until she bled, literally. She just wanted everybody to have a chance. She saw the good in everybody and was a very optimistic person."

Plans for Kotsch's funeral have not been finalized, though Holson said a paddle-out is being organized and a celebration of life is planned for the first week of March at First Christian Church in Huntington Beach.

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