The original Santa Cruz Surfing Club
The original Santa Cruz Surfing Club, circa 1941, with Fred Hunt (fourth from right) with the board to be inducted Saturday into the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.
The Here & Now

Historic surfboards to be inducted into Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

Three surfboards from three different eras in local surfing’s rich history — including one that once belonged to Fred Hunt, one of the founders of the Santa Cruz Surfing Club in 1936 — have their moment in a ceremony to be held Saturday.

To state the obvious, the most fundamental tool of the art of surfing is the surfboard, more fundamental than even the guitar is to rock music. (You can name any number of great rockers who never played guitar; try naming a surfer who never used a board.)

That means it’s perfectly appropriate for a place that calls itself the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum to be fixated on that particular oblong shape of polyurethane foam.

On Saturday, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum at the lighthouse adjacent to Steamer Lane will ceremonially induct three classic surfboards into its collection. They are different artifacts from different eras, but taken together they tell a story of surfing’s rapid evolution over the past century.

The first is a board that once belonged to Fred Hunt, one of the founders of the Santa Cruz Surfing Club in 1936, back in the day when surfboards were often made, at least partially, from redwood. The second will be one of two boards made from the much lighter balsa wood made by Santa Cruzan Don McPherson that date back to the 1950s. And the third is a board built by Santa Cruz’s Pearson Arrow Surfboards, one of its Jay Moriarity models used in the 2012 film “Chasing Mavericks,” about the legendary young Eastside surfer who died in 2001.

That makes one from local surfing’s Mesozoic era, when the boards were gigantic and heavy, one from the transitional period just before the surfing boom of the ’60s, and one reflecting the big-wave foam board era that kicked off in the 1990s.

Also to be inducted is an old Farmer John-style O’Neill wetsuit from long before O’Neill was the dominant manufacturer of wetsuits for surfers, also donated by McPherson.

Don McPherson, with the balsa surfboards he shaped himself in the 1950s.

Santa Cruz’s Kim Stoner, one of the founders of the Surfing Museum, 35 years ago, said that the three boards trace surfing’s history from the time when surfing first hit the U.S. mainland in Santa Cruz, thanks to three visiting Hawaiian princes who demonstrated the sport to locals in the 1880s on 240-pound redwood surfboards they carved themselves.

“The evolution goes back to the Polynesians using wiliwili and koa,” Stoner said, speaking of the kinds of wood. “Then it morphed into redwood with the three Hawaiian princes. From there, it went into the hollow boards that the Santa Cruz Surfing Club guys were making (in the 1930s and ’40s) in local woodshops. Then, they went to balsa because they were still solid but much lighter and more maneuverable.”

Synthetic foam boards began to appear in the ’50s as an alternative to balsa, about a decade before the “shortboard revolution” transformed surfing.

The Hunt board was purchased by the museum last year, but the McPherson balsa boards came to the museum by chance during the pandemic. Stoner was tipped off by a real estate agent friend that a local selling his house in Aptos had two old surfboards that he should see.

“The boards, he had them stored in his garage and they had been there for 40 years,” said Stoner, “and that he had hand-shaped them himself. And the guy’s talking and I’m like, ‘I know this guy’s voice. Who is he?’ He’s looking at me and I’m looking at him and with the (facemask) you can’t tell who anyone is. And suddenly, I go, ‘Don?’ and I pull my mask down and he goes ‘Kim!’”

It turns out Stoner had known the man with the balsa boards for decades. It was Don McPherson, longtime co-owner of Sentinel Printers, part of the McPherson family who owned the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and the cousin of current county supervisor Bruce McPherson. Don McPherson is, in fact, an artist, and his old balsa boards are decorated with designs of his own making.

The Pearson Arrow board is one of its Jay Moriarity models named for the young man who was one of the early masters of the Mavericks surf break in the ’90s. The film “Chasing Mavericks” was a Hollywood spin on the story of Moriarity and his mentor, Frosty Hesson. When the production team first came into the Pleasure Point area in 2011 to shoot the film, they contracted with the well-known local shaper Bob Pearson, the man behind Pearson Arrow Surfboards, to produce 37 surfboards from the Jay Moriarity model.

“Next thing you know, they were breaking boards,” remembered Pearson, “and then all the people who worked on the movie, the producers and such, they wanted boards as memorabilia, and one thing led to another.”

In the end, Pearson produced about 240 boards for the film production.

Both Pearson and Stoner will be on hand for Saturday’s ceremony at the Surfing Museum, which is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. The free event will feature live music, and the last surviving members of that original Santa Cruz Surfing Club, Harry Mayo and Bob Rittenhouse, have also been invited to the event.

“It’s the 35th anniversary of the Surfing Museum,” said Stoner, “and that’s our theme now. We’ve got these boards we want to add to the wealth of our Santa Cruz surfing history. And it’s all connected.”