Surfin’ Safari at Langson
A new surfing culture exhibit is on display in Special Collections opening on Feb. 23. The collection features books, movie posters and photographs on surfing culture in its beginnings and in Orange County, curated by Stephen MacLeod, curator and public services coordinator in Special Collections and Archives in Langson Library.
The new exhibit area is outside Special Collections and Archives in Langson Library, which has been newly renovated. The Reading Room has been renovated with a new exhibit area and improved space for researchers to read and study materials from the collections.
The exhibit begins with a journal from British sea explorer Captain James Cook in 1776, the first known published description of surfing at Kealakekua Bay on Kona Coast of the Big Island. The exhibit proceeds chronologically, following the rise of international attention to surfing and then its rise in Southern California. Attention is drawn to Hawaii surfing and the associated tourism, along with an essay on surfing written by Jack London in 1907 titled “A Royal Sport.”
The collection also pays tribute to 1930s surf culture unique to Southern California, with photos and references to the Gidget beach party films, the Beach Boys and the Surfari’s “Wipeout.”
Included is the book “Gidget,” about a fictitious surfer girl, from 1959, written by Frederick Kohner-Zuckerman, father of the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman. The book was the basis for the series of beach-party films in the 1950s and 1960s, and is signed “Keep surfing all your dreams! Love and kisses, Kathy Kohner Zukerman, Gidget.”
MacLeod also features an item from his own experiences in OC surf culture, with a program/keepsake from a memorial honoring surf icon Dale Velzy in 1994 at Doheny Beach in Dana Point.
“I attended this event, along with several thousand others, including a who’s who of surfing superstars,” reflected MacLeod. “It was a very moving experience, the huge paddle-out ceremony, probably 400 participants, the luau and just the whole spirit of the day reminded me of how the tradition of honoring one’s elders is yet another example of the strong influence of Hawaii on surf culture.”
The exhibit comments on the construction of jetties in Orange County beaches that largely had a negative impact on the beach atmosphere, with the exception of the legendary Wedge in Newport Beach, which can produce waves up to 30 feet high.
In regards to more recent surf culture, the exhibit includes a movie poster of Bruce Brown’s “The Endless Summer II” and “The Mountain and the Wave,” a book on the story of the Quiksilver brand, founded in Australia, but whose headquarters are in Huntington Beach, CA.
“Orange County is as well known today for being the center of the surfing industry as for surfing itself,” MacLeod said. “It has a central role in the manufacturing of surfboards and surfing accessories, the making of surfing films, the surf clothing industry, surfing magazines, surfing organizations are located here … surf music, surf photographers, surf art and surfing museums.”
Special Collections and Archives also house a 1935 issue of “Popular Science Monthly” that could not be used in the exhibit. The issue includes an article on how to make your own surfboard, which features photographs with students at Newport Harbor High School constructing surfboards.
Another item that could not be exhibited due to its large size is the book “Surf Story,” a compilation of surf art from UCI alumnus Rob Havassy, a leading figure in the surf art movement. The limited edition book features images from artists, photographers and craftspeople in the surf art movement from around the world.
“I hope [the exhibit] provides viewers with a greater appreciation for Orange County’s importance in the history of surfing, in the development of surf culture and in the wide range of developments related to the surfing industry,” MacLeod said.
Special Collections welcomes donations, and any students or community members who would like to donate items pertaining to surf culture can contact Special Collections and Archives directly.