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Museum honors surfing


LOS ANGELES -- Catch a wave that really cranks, one that is powerful and fast, and you're shredding. Challenge one that breaks precariously close to shore, and it's hairball. And fall in dramatic fashion, and you've had a flaming wipeout.

This is the vocabulary of surfers, who embrace the sea air, brave the chilly waters and dive into their favorite activity along the Southern California coast and other surfing hot spots across the globe.

It is also the type of talk that can be overheard at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum.

During a time when surfing museums are becoming more popular -- with museums in Mission Beach, Santa Cruz, Ventura, and Sydney, Australia -- the 2,200-square-foot facility stands apart. Opened in July 1988, the museum is billed as the world's largest tribute to surfing. "It offers a unique, international collection of surfboards and surfing-related artifacts," said Ann Beasley, the non-profit museum's executive officer.

It also provides an education in surfing, according to museum visitors and professional surfers.

"I'm happy that young kids can go to a place where they can take an interest in surfing and [find out] where it all came from. It adds a little depth and perspective to the sport," said David Nuuhiwa of Oceanside, a five-time national surfing champion during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Now 42, Nuuhiwa surfs professionally on the masters circuit.

Tom Andrusky of Huntington Beach, a non-surfer visiting the museum for the fourth time, said he was impressed with the museum's presentation of surfing history.

"You can learn a lot in a very short time in a very small space," Mr. Andrusky said.

For example, he discovered that Capt. James Cook of the British navy first documented surfing in 1778, after he witnessed natives using large boards to slide along waves off the Sandwich Islands, later to be called Hawaii. The origins of surfing are unknown, however.

Closer to home, Hawaiian surfer George Freeth is credited with introducing the sport to Southern California in 1907, and the rest is gnarly history, dude.

As visitors walk in the museum, they are greeted by volunteer docents. The first exhibit is the International Surfing Hall of Fame, which describes surfing legends and their contributions to the sport. Included is Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku, who tamed the waves of Oahu's northern shores and formed the island's first hui nalu, or surf club, in 1907. He helped popularize the sport in the 1920s and was dubbed the father of surfing. A bust of Kahanamoku was moved to the museum last year from its longtime perch at the base of the Huntington Beach pier.

A few steps away is the museum's main attraction -- the surfboard exhibit. The boards are lined up chronologically, by decades, spanning from 1900 to 1960.

The surfboard exhibit includes a 1930 wooden model that weighs 135 pounds and measures more than 12 1/2 feet. There also are several of the original polyurethane boards, which were introduced in 1957 as a lighter alternative to the bulky, wooden standards. Many of today's polyurethane boards weigh less than 30 pounds and measure less than 5 feet.

Surfing posters, artwork and historic photos -- including a shot of Faye Baird, credited as the first female surfer -- decorate the walls. Ms. Baird is pictured getting ready to catch a wave off Mission Beach on New Year's Eve 1927.

Now in her 80s and living in San Diego, Ms. Baird challenged the waves in a woolen, one-piece bathing suit.

Surfing music blares from speakers near the museum's record collection, which features the album covers of such greats as the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean and the Surfaris.

Memorabilia from Huntington Beach's Surf Theater, which operated from the 1960s to 1987 and featured only surfing movies, is housed in a corner of the museum called "Anyway to the Beach."

There is a 1940s Hawaiian shirt, adorned with silk-screened prints of ukuleles, leis and breaking waves. According to surfing legend, the person who wore the wildest Hawaiian shirt on a surfing outing was dubbed king or queen for the day.

Nearby are examples of other clothing popularized by surfers, including the long shorts known as jams and huarache sandals -- made in Mexico using leather straps and portions of rubber tires for soles.

Jewelry from the 1950s includes necklaces made of small, carved dolphins, shark's teeth and tikis -- ornamental Polynesian gods.

Other highlights include a small library of surfing books, a gift shop, a photographic tribute to woodies -- the old wood-paneled station wagons favored by surfers -- and an exhibit dedicated to the heroes of lifesaving.

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