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Where Surfing’s Past and Present Collide

Steeped in Surfing History

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History of Surfing in Dana Point

For decades, western pop culture has been obsessed with surfing. From lighthearted TV shows such as “Gidget” to adrenaline-inducing movies like “Point Break,” to pretty much every Beach Boys song ever, surfing terms have become part of the American lingo. Even those who’ve never set foot on a longboard surely know the terms “hang loose” or “shoot the curl.” And nowhere in America is this truer than in Southern California, especially Dana Point.

Sponsored by Surfing Heritage and Culture Center

To talk about the history of surfing is to go back further than most people might expect. As long as there have been waves, people living near them have sought to hop on and ride them, whether to aid in fishing or just to take part in the ancient version of “hanging ten.” Eventually, locals discovered that Dana Point had that special sauce that could turn it into an epic surfing town. And that’s exactly what it became, long before the town even had a name.

Now, two attractions honor this heritage and history of surfing in Southern California. Learn more about them and the history of surfing in Dana Point here.

Surfing Heritage and Culture Center

Located at 110 Calle Iglesia in nearby San Clemente, the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center (aka ‘SHACC’) is ground zero for surfing history, celebrating the men – and women – who pioneered the sport in the region and around the world. With a mission to help preserve surfing’s heritage and culture, SHACC’s exhibits tell the story of surfing’s early days through so many archives, photos and memorabilia that it has earned the nickname “The Smithsonian of Surfing.”

Exhibits include countless early surfboards (including one with a prominent shark bite!), historic photos, surf art and even a few Hobie skateboards. The center is also home to book signings and lectures on the early days of surfing. Surfing legend Dick Metz founded the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and remains a board member to this day. The museum is open daily (except Mondays) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Learn more here or by calling (949) 388-0313.

The Surf Heritage and Culture Center will be relocating to Dana Point Harbor as part of the ongoing Dana Point Harbor renovation project. While formal plans are still being drawn up, this important shrine to local surf culture will soon be oceanfront and center.

A Park Celebrating Surf History

In 2017, Dana Point officials broke ground on a new park, known as Watermen’s Plaza, dedicated to the history of surfing. The park’s creators envision a place where future generations can come to pay homage to the greatest men and women of the sport. Located across from Doheny State Beach, Watermen’s Plaza will feature life-sized sculptures of surfing legends, including a memorial for Hobie Alter.

The memorial, called “Hobie Riding the Wave of Success,” represents Hobie sailing the Hobie Cat 14, the iconic design that turned him into an international name. In his lifetime, Hobie Alter was a creative pioneer in the evolution of the sport and lifestyle of surfing, skateboarding and sailing in Southern California. In the 1950s and 1960s, he helped transform the coastal town of Dana Point into the epicenter of the budding surf industry. After Hobie passed away in 2014, the City and citizens of Dana Point sought to pay homage to Hobie. Special thanks to Zephyr, the developer of South Cove, and the Hobie Memorial Foundation.

Watermen’s Plaza and the sculptures that will adorn the area are under construction and will be open to the public in early 2019.

history of surfing

Dana Point Surf History Facts

As the birthplace of U.S. surf culture, Dana Point’s surf history is extensive from the days when kids drove write onto Doheny State Beach to today where surf culture isn’t just a story from the “good old days.” It plays out in the way we live our lives.

Here are some of the most interesting facts about Dana Point surfing history:

  • Early surf pioneer and Olympian Duke Kahanamoku exported surfing from Hawaii to California in the early 1900s.
  • Dana Point’s surfing history begins in earnest in the 1930s, with “Watermen” (an early term for surfers) converging on the area that would become Dana Point to ride the waves, fish, swim and canoe in the Pacific.
  • President Richard Nixon, perhaps the world’s least likely surf fan, kept his “Western White House” in Cypress Shore near Dana Point.
  • Nixon was neighbors with Surfer Magazine founder John Severson, who used the proximity to the president to lobby for more protections for the area’s beaches.
  • The 1966 surf documentary, “Endless Summer,” was filmed by Dana Point resident Bruce Brown.
  • Killer Dana” was a legendary Dana Point surf break that existed until 1966 when Dana Point Harbor (internal link) was built. It’s still spoken of in hushed, reverent tones by surfers young and old alike.
  • In 1954, with only a $12,000 investment, Hobart “Hobie” Alter and Grubby Clark opened the first Hobie surf shop in a storefront along the Pacific Coast Highway. Though some locals balked at the idea that there would be a market for such a product, Hobie remains one of the top names in surfboards today. The original location is now a restaurant called Taco Surf.
  • Phil Edwards, considered by many to be the greatest surfer of all time, still calls Dana Point home.