Art and surf united Tuesday morning at Duke's Huntington Beach as the first surfboard of "Surfboards on Parade" was unveiled to eager eyes. A unique community collaboration between the Rotary Club of HB, Hoag Family Cancer Institute, HB Art Center and International Surfing Museum, the ongoing exhibition honors the centennial of George Freeth's historic ride at the HB Pier on June 20, 1914. The nearly yearlong parade marks the first time Surf City has ever fused these two cultures by pairing surfboard shapers with artists.
"'Surfboards on Parade' is a celebration," said Rotary Club of HB Board Member Jeff Snow, who kicked off Tuesday's event. "It's a celebration of the surf culture of this great community. It's a celebration of the great athletes that lead the world of surfing. 'Surfboards on Parade' is a celebration of art and enriching and enhancing the art culture within Southern California. 'Surfboards on Parade' is a celebration of Surf City, Huntington Beach, California."
Among those in the crowd stood several notable community members, politicians and surfing icons, including Peter "PT" Townend, Bob "The Greek" Bolen, Danny Nichols, David Newland, Courtney Conlogue, Bud Llamas, Rick "Rockin' Fig" Fignetti, Sam August, Mike Downing, Jericho Poppler and David Nuuhiwa.
Before passing the microphone to Scott Smith, the so-called parade "torchbearer," Snow reminded the crowd of the project's second mission. "Our goal is to eradicate skin cancer," he said, motioning to Hoag—one of the aforementioned beneficiaries.
While Smith, along with event managers Jodi McKay and Paulette Wilhelmy, spearheaded the series, the former Rotary Club of HB president does not take credit for the idea. But when a fellow Rotary member approached him with it, he thought, "Wow, what a no-brainer. I can't believe nobody's done it yet." Here we are two years later, with roughly two dozen boards set to adorn Huntington Beach over the next several months.
Shaped by HB's own Tim Stamps, the first board of the series features art by renowned marine artist Wyland, who got his start in HB. Smith said of the pro shaper: "Tim Stamps has been the backbone of Huntington Beach surfing and has brought his shapes to the global stage as a world-renowned shaper from Huntington Beach. When you really think about it, it's amazing what you've done through your contributions to surfing in Huntington Beach and all over the world. We have world-class surfers from Huntington Beach and Orange County competing on a world tour on Tim's boards."
Towering behind the morning's many honorable speakers, the surfboard remain cloaked through several speeches spotlighting project members. Paster Sumo Sato performed a traditional Hawaiian blessing and spoke passionately about surfing.
"The beautiful thing about surfing is that it's not an event; it's a lifestyle that we all live," said Sato. "There's something that binds us together—it's the ocean."
Townend, a 35-year HB resident, touched on the historic significance of the event: "It's been frustrating for me being in the city, and we really don't celebrate a trademark that we spent a lot of money fighting for. There are very few cities in the world that can claim Surf City, 100 years. Right out here the train stopped with George Freeth 100 years ago. He went out there and rode the first waves." This was all, of course, thanks to Henry Huntington's exclusive invitation to do so.
Applause erupted along with the ceremonial blows of conch shells as the cloak fell, revealing the gaping jaws of a shark. Topped by a sunset, the colorful scene provoked flashbacks of Jaws and surprised those familiar with Wyland's typically less threatening marine settings. Some attendees lauded the work, while others found it less than impressive. One attendee described it as "offensive." With a surfboard as a canvas, there's apparently no telling what an artist will do.
A total of 27 one-of-a-kind boards will be shaped and painted as part of the parade and will be popping up around town through September. Smith teased that the next board promises a charcoal pastel piece by Dave Hobrecht on an Al Merrick surfboard—one that has been ridden by "one of the most famous and accomplished surfers of all time." Numerous other events will honor Freeth's epic ride and the last century of Surf City this year, including the "When Men Were Men and Boards Were Made of Wood" ride on June 21 as well as tributes hosted by the International Surfing Museum.