Joe Surf: Surfing Museum marks 25 years

The International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach has it all: a Hall of Fame, a Walk of Fame, all kinds of memorabilia and exhibits, and of course, a link to surfing history that is invaluable.

But there is that one thing that the museum's founder, Natalie Kotsch, has not yet been able to achieve. It's been a goal of Kotsch's for years, and one she has made clear to the museum's current chairman of the board, Brett Barnes.

This is the 25th year anniversary since Kotsch presided over the museum's first board meeting back in 1987. And while there is little to complain about regarding the museum's current location at 411 Olive Ave. in downtown, there's always been that desire for a premium location.

"That was part of Natalie's dream, to have the museum on Pier Plaza," Barnes said. "She's had that out there for a very long time, and gone to city council numerous times to try to see if that's possible. As of this time, we're not sure that it's possible, but we're always hoping they could have a spot, even if it's a traveling museum that's down there on weekends."

The museum is a downtown fixture, but is slightly off the beaten path. It's not on Main Street, so it's easy to miss if you're not looking for it. It is a jewel of the city that often is missed by visitors who walk in a straight line from Main Street to the pier.

"To be able to have an area down there (at Pier Plaza), to have all the beachgoers cruise through there — that would be nice," Barnes said. "If it's feasible or not, that's the $64 million question. We just don't know. We'd love to upgrade the facility at some point but we need to get the proper funding in line and long-range plans before we do that."

Moving to a spot like Pier Plaza would take more than a lot of money from corporate sponsors, but would also include clearing all the political hurdles, like dealing with the state of California and the California Coastal Commission, according to Barnes.

So for now, the museum will celebrate its 25th birthday at its old home, but Barnes can't help but imagine a facility on the water's edge.

"The existing building is not in the perfect spot but it's situated downtown, which really helps us," Barnes said. "(Having the museum at Pier Plaza), they'd be buying museum T-shirts, we might get some memberships out of it and we'd create a little bit more revenue for the museum if that was the case. So it's a great dream."

Barnes knows a little about Pier Plaza himself, considering all the time he spends there. He's the managing partner of Duke's, having come out here from Hawaii to run the restaurant.

"Our company, TS Restaurants, has many restaurants in Maui, Kauai and Oahu, and I was working over there," Barnes said. "They asked me to open Duke's Huntington and go for a year, and I've been here 14."

Barnes met his wife at Dukes and they have three children together. Barnes has no plans to leave Huntington Beach, though he joked that he'd go to Australia if they wanted to open up a Duke's Down Under.

Though Barnes, 52, has been here awhile now, he didn't get involved with the museum until recently, and has been its chairman for two years now.

"When I came to town 14 years ago from Hawaii, I had a lot of background in the surf industry," he said. "After visiting the museum a few times and meeting Natalie through various community events and her sharing her vision for what she wanted the museum to become, we became friends. But a few years ago she came to me and said 'I would like you to come on as a board member,' so I did that first.

"After many meetings with Natalie and other volunteers from the museum, we wanted to try to grow the museum and be relevant, to continue Natalie's vision of being a part of the surf culture, not only in Huntington Beach but for the whole world."

The museum won't get too extravagant with its 25-year anniversary plans. It is helping to put on the Surf's Up For Down Syndrome event on Feb. 3 at Sandy's Beach Grill. It will do something during the U.S. Open of Surfing, and it's planning a big party at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort on Oct. 20.

Otherwise, it's content to keep its museum doors open at 411 Olive Ave.

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World