TR Robertson — Another Hidden Gem in North San Diego County, which has gone through several location and appearance changes over the years but has now been established as an iconic fixture in Downtown Oceanside, is the California Surf Museum. The Museum is located at 312 Pier View Way, just a block or two from the Oceanside Pier. Whether you or a surfer or not, this is a museum that has something for everyone. The Surf Museum is a beautifully designed facility with amazing displays inside that chronicle the history of surf boards and wave riding as well as the growth of this sport from its earliest history to the latest in development.
An exceptional set of Special Exhibits are scattered throughout the Museum. For those interested in photography, Abstractions in Symmetry will draw interest, and anyone interested in art will find the Artistry in Wood a beautiful display. Rare sets of archives and collections have been gathered over 30 years since the Surf Museum began. Since the beginning of the Museum over 700,000 people have visited from over forty nations around the world.
The California Surf Museum was started by a group of ten founding members in 1986, a small collection of boards and surf collectables and a desire to show why their sport was so popular. The first “museum” was a small corner alcove in George’s Restaurant in Encinitas. They would move to a new space in Moonlight Plaza, at the corner of Encinitas Blvd. and Coast Highway with their first exhibit “Surfing Trestles to Tourmaline” opening on September 28, 1988. From here the museum would move to the former Prides Inn at 308 North Pacific Street in Oceanside and a trademark feature of the museum would surface, the hard work and dedication of many volunteers helping set-up, build and furnish the museum with every move.
Photos by R Rpbertson
In 1995, seeing the number of visitors, both local and tourists, the City of Oceanside offered the museum founders a new space at the corner of North Pacific Highway and Pier View Way, formerly a Rexall Drug Store. As the museum became increasingly popular and grew with the number of exhibits and various displays, the museum would move for one last time when the City of Oceanside offered the founders and officers of the museum a newer and larger space at 312 Pier View Way. Once again, volunteers would finish the inside space and architect Louise Ravera Balma designed the façade. TransWorld Media donated office furniture, Oceanside Glasstile donated mosaic on the serpentine Wow Wall and Trio Display designed the Museum Store. They would move into the new building in 2009, tripling the size of their previous building. In 2011 they were awarded the Museum Assessment Program grant by the American Association of Museums.
Currently in the Museum are exhibits honoring Tom Morey and the Evolution of the Boogie Board, a Courageous Inspiration display telling the story of Bethany Hamilton’s survival from a Tiger Shark attack at Tunnels Beach in Kauai, as well as a photo display called Abstractions in Symmetry of Rusty Spencer’s abstract photography using surfboard fins. The Museum has an amazing collection of older surfboards in the Expanded Timeline of Surfboard display. The Hawaiian Alaira Redwood board dates to the 1800’s as well as boards used in 1907 when surfing came to Southern California. The Artistry in Wood display shows the beauty that many of the surfboards show when crafted by many of the “surf artists.” For science buffs, the first exhibit is of a buoy from Scripps Institute that help in the study of waves as well as several displays detailing how a wave forms and a diagram of the canyon just off the coastline. Wandering around the museum will take you to Kelly Slaters World Championship surfboard, a 155 lb., 11-foot-long board, Jr. Seau’s long board, and many, many more surf boards along with their story. A Paddle Out Wall Memorial gives tribute to members and surfing pioneers and legends who have passed away. Nearby is a door that opens to an outside patio area with several large wall murals painted by local artist John Lamb.
A Board of Directors, led by President Jim Kempton plan a variety of fund raisers and activities for the Museum, such as the annual gala that honors Silver Surfer recipients as well as book signings and films about the sport. A Museum Gift Shop offers a variety of unique gifts, just inside the entrance, run by Store Manager Camille Cacas. The California Surf Museum prints a full color newsletter, the latest with a story about surfing as an Olympic Board Sport and tributes to surf pioneers and legends who passed away in 2021.
For those that need a little more information about the sport, well informed docents will guide you through the museum and give you a detailed description of what you are looking at. Tom Dahnke, in his third year as a docent, was on hand to guide me around the museum with an amazing amount of information. The California Surf Museum is open 7 days a week from 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for Seniors 65+, military and students and free for 12 years old and under. The Museum is located at 312 Pier View Way in Downtown Oceanside.
Go to www.surfmuseum.org or call 760-6876.
The California Surf Museum is another North County Hidden Gem and a wonderful place to experience another thing that makes Southern California a great place to live.