Boards put the 'surf' in Surf City

When George Freeth arrived in Huntington Beach a century ago, it wasn't Surf City yet.

Not even close.

On June 20, 1914, Freeth attended the dedication of the Huntington Beach Pier and gave a demonstration of a sport that few, if any, of those present had likely seen. Henry Huntington, the businessman whose name graced the city, had invited Freeth to "walk on water," as the promotions put it back then.

This year, Huntington will commemorate 100 years since the Hawaiian surfer first brought his board to town. And boards — of a kind much lighter than the heavy wood planks of Freeth's day — will play a key role in the centennial, as the Rotary Club of Huntington Beach displays 25 specially made creations around town.

The Surfboards on Parade event pairs 25 artists with 25 shapers to create one-of-a-kind works that will be auctioned at a fundraising gala in September. The first board will go on view by the Huntington Beach Pier on Jan. 14, with three more to be unveiled in March at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa and Shorebreak Hotel.

On May 1, the entire collection will go on display at the Huntington Beach Art Center.

"We originally were starting out realizing that every board, every surfboard, tells a story, and everybody has a story about their surfboard," said Jodi McKay, the event's co-manager. "And because we're Surf City, we were very intuitive in wanting to stay true to the roots of Surf City, and our surf culture, and tell a story."

Surfboards on Parade will kick off with the unveiling at the pier of a board by artist Wyland and shaper Tim Stamps. The latter, who lives in Long Beach, modeled his 9-foot board on the style popular in the 1960s, when Huntington's surfing reputation grew internationally.

As for Wyland's contributions, Stamps is as curious about them as anyone — he hasn't seen the muralist's finished board, or, for that matter, met him in person.

"From what I heard, what he did was a pretty cool drawing," Stamps said.

Among the later offerings are a collaboration by shaper Robert August and artist John Van Hamersveld, who worked together on the 1964 documentary "The Endless Summer," and a board by shaper Tim Bessell based on a work by longtime friend Andy Warhol, the Pop Art icon who died in 1987.

The Rotary festivities will continue with an exhibit at the art center in August and September before the boards are auctioned off Sept. 27 at the Hilton. Proceeds from Surfboards on Parade will go to the Hoag Family Cancer Institute, Rotary, the International Surfing Museum and the art center.

The surfing museum also plans to host an exhibit about the pier's history, with the 1914 cornerstone and a wooden board similar to the kind used by Freeth among the items displayed. The exhibit will open June 20 and continue through the end of the year.

If You Go

What: Surfboards on Parade opening

Where: Duke's, Huntington Beach Pier, Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway

When: 10:30 a.m. Jan. 14

Cost: Free


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