The exhibition “Surf Craft: Design and the Culture of Board Riding” will open at Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park Saturday, June 21 and will be on view until Jan. 11, 2015.
Curated by local surf historian Richard Kenvin, the show will occupy the museum’s first-floor gallery, presenting 60-80 surfboards built from the late 1940s to the present day, in their historical context of craft and design.
Standing alone, surfboards are often striking examples of functional design. Together, over time, they tell a compelling story about the evolution of an important art form in America and around the world — from the alaia boards of ancient Hawaii, to obscure surf-bathing boards of England, Japan and Africa, to post-war hydrodynamic planning hulls from Southern California.
Historically a handcrafted object, the surfboard ultimately gave rise to foam and fiberglass board construction produced on a mass scale. However, many contemporary shapers are tapping into the design principles found in the traditional boards.
Cutting-edge engineering and minimalist art will converge in this exhibition. Innovative board-shapers and surfers from San Diego’s past and present will be highlighted, including Bob Simmons and Carl Ekstrom.
Curator Richard Kenvin has authored a 176-page hardcover book of the same title, “Surf Craft” (Marquand Books, Aug. 2014), which includes 150 historic and contemporary photographs. Kenvin grew up in Southern California in the 1960s. He learned to ride a skateboard in 1967 and learned to surf in 1970. In 1979, he won the Stubbies Pro, a professional surfing competition held at Blacks Beach in La Jolla.
By age 19, he’d been to Hawaii several times and traveled extensively in Australia. He worked for various independent apparel designers in California in the 1980s and ’90s.
Since 2002, he’s worked with surfing historian John Elwell and designer Ekstrom on the Hydrodynamica Project. In 2011, he participated in the Getty Research Institute’s Pacific Standard Time initiative as curator of “Remember the Future,” an exhibition of Simmons’s surfboards shown in the context of mid-century California modern design.
His writing has been published in the Surfers Journal and Surfer Magazine.
Just as the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park celebrated the connection of the country’s east and west coasts through the opening of the Panama Canal, beginning in June 2014 and throughout 2015 the Mingei will present a series of exhibitions to celebrate the imagination, inspiration and innovation of Americans who have for more than three centuries created stunning works of folk art, craft and design — our shared American Icons.
■ If you go: Mingei International Museum is at 1439 El Prado in the Plaza de Panama, Balboa Park. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Admission: $5-$8. (619) 239-0003.