Protectors of the Past: Surfing Heritage & Culture Center

Surfing Heritage & Culture Center

The word “archives” conjures images of dusty shelving holding yellowing papers. But what about an archive of Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboards? Or Disney memorabilia? Or an original rivet from the Golden Gate Bridge given to Huell Howser? Orange County is home to archives containing these and other treasures that aren’t just historically significant but entertaining, too. We explored six of these repositories and talked to the folks who oversee them. Here’s what we found.

Surfing Heritage & Culture Center
110 Calle Iglesia, San Clemente, 949-388-0313,

About the Site
A San Clemente industrial complex that’s a few miles inland

The Collection
Surfboards are a focus—about 600 of them. More than 100 are displayed on the permanent timeline tracing the evolution of the surfboard, at right; four belonged to legendary native Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, widely known for popularizing surfing on the mainland. There also are surfing books, magazines, films, and artwork—including pieces by Rick Griffin (who also created cover art and posters for the Grateful Dead)—plus oral histories, and a photo collection of more than 200,000 images, most of which are still being digitized.

What You Should Know
The gallery features changing exhibits; the current one is about famed physician-turned-surfer Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz and his family. Past subjects include surf legend Dewey Weber, surfboard shaper Renny Yater, and trailblazing female surfers. A nonprofit organization, SHACC offers memberships and charges an admission fee for nonmembers. Only members can use the research materials.

The Caretakers
Founder Dick Metz, who helped surf legend Hobie Alter launch Hobie Sports, has a crew of enthusiasts who also hit the waves. (The day we visited, curator-creative director Barry Haun already had spent the morning riding San Onofre.) We were especially blown away by photo editor Steve Wilkings, a landmark surf photographer. Mentored by “the godfather of surf photography” Leroy Grannis, Wilkings was a Hawaii-based photographer for Surfer magazine in the ’70s and ’80s. During this period he revolutionized surf photography when he mounted a camera on a board to capture the action from the beach via radio remote control.

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