The Cooperstown of surfing

Imagine if, around the same time as the Oscars, another theater across the street hosted a similarly named ceremony — the Oswalds, say — that honored most of the same movies and people.

Such has been the case for years in Huntington Beach, where a pair of complementary displays honor the legends of the surfing world. On the south side of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, the Surfers' Hall of Fame features Grauman's Chinese-style concrete panels with names and handprints etched into them; a few yards north, the Surfing Walk of Fame sports honorees' names on Hollywood Boulevard-style squares.

Now, 36 of those heralded athletes are getting recognized for a third time. The International Surfing Museum, which recently reopened after an extensive renovation, is hosting "Famers," an exhibit spotlighting the inductees whose names appear on both sides of the street.

"The city of Huntington Beach has all these assets, you know, these surf assets that all operate independently like the Surfing Walk of Fame and the Surfers' Hall of Fame and the museum, and I thought it was time to do a collaboration with all the assets and turn them into one," said surfer Peter "PT" Townend, who co-curated the exhibit.

"So with the renovation of the museum, I said, 'Let's do the common inductees of both sites. In other words, let's act like Cooperstown.'"

Like the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in New York, the Huntington exhibit celebrates its honorees with a slew of memorabilia: surfboards, gear, posters, paintings and more. A browse through the museum's compact main room includes bronze shoes from Mark Occhilupo, a board signed by Kelly Slater and trophies won by Rick "Rockin' Fig" Fignetti, among other items.

The wall display stretches around the museum's main room, which appears larger and more spacious than its previous version — even if, for the most part, it isn't. Starting in May, crews took out ceiling panels, put in new floors and repainted the interior and exterior. Perhaps most noticeably, they removed the black panels that once ran through the middle of the main room and, in the words of director Cindy Cross, "cut the museum right in half."

One part of the museum really did grow bigger: The "Surf Culture" corridor, which features a signed Dick Dale guitar, Beach Boys memorabilia and more, occupies a space that was previously walled off. After an open period during the summer, the museum closed again in September and reopened a month ago — getting some amusing comments from visitors, according to Cross.

"Sometimes they come in and say, 'Where's the rest of the stuff?'" she said. "'When are you putting the rest of the stuff in?' And I'm like, 'We have three times as much in here as we ever had. But it just doesn't look like that because it's so open.'"

For the overseers of the Walk of Fame and Hall of Fame, the new museum's inaugural exhibit amounts to a tribute to surfing culture — and to the work of the two groups, which dismiss any notion of rivalry.

The Walk of Fame, sponsored by Jack's Surfboards, hit the pavement first in 1994. The committee in charge sends out ballots to around 200 people in the surfing industry worldwide, with inductees in six categories — Surf Pioneer, Surf Champion, Woman of the Year, Surf Culture, Local Hero and Honor Roll — making the cut each year.

In 1997, Huntington Surf & Sport owner Aaron Pai, along with a group of surfers, introduced the Hall of Fame. For the first few years, the organizers kept the cement slabs inside the store; in 2002, with the city's blessing, they began laying them out front around a statue of surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku. Unlike the Walk of Fame, the Hall of Fame chooses members by committee.

The two groups, which host induction ceremonies on back-to-back days during the U.S. Open of Surfing, have gotten used to overlapping — which Don MacAllister, the Walk of Fame's director, said came in handy sometimes.

"We have inducted some people on the same weekend, which has always worked out well for all of us," he said. "If someone's coming from far away, we get them airfare and a room, and this way, it helps split costs."

So which side of Main and PCH is the greater honor? Townend, who appears in the "Famers" exhibit, couldn't pick.

"I think any time you have that kind of recognition, you're excited," he said.

If You Go

What: "Famers"

Where: International Surfing Museum, 411 Olive Ave., Huntington Beach

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sundays and Mondays, noon to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, noon to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays through May 31

Cost: $2

Information: (714) 960-3483 or http://www.surfingmuseum.org

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