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Exhibit making waves: Artifacts chronicle La Jolla’s surfing roots

BY AARON SCHALL

Contributor

The roots of California surfing run deep and reach far. They stretch back across decades and generations, through changes in mainstream culture and through the evolution of the sport itself.

Many of the most significant eras have been well chronicled and romanticized, written and directed, brought to the forefront of mainstream consciousness, but the true beginnings — before the glamour — have often gone overlooked. But, with a new exhibit opening today at the La Jolla Historical Society’s Wisteria Cottage, that’s about to change.

In the words of society historian Carol Olten, “The early years of surfing in La Jolla have not been researched and resourced the way the ‘50s and ‘60s have been.”

Presented with an opportunity to shed greater light on the earlier formative years of surfing, Olten and the society’s archivist and curator, Mike Mishler, decided to concentrate on the earlier times of the 1930s and ‘40s.Together, and under the direction of John Bolthouse, the society has put together a stunning collection of artifacts and photographic reproductions that take the visitor on an authentic and enlightening trip back to where it all began.

Visitors to the exhibit will see the true beginnings of the pursuit of riding waves in La Jolla through the eyes of a close-knit group of friends seeking new thrills and escape from normal life on land.

Curator emeritus Woody Eckstrom along with La Jolla High School buddies Towny Cromwell, Buddy Hull and brothers John and Francis Blankenship have helped to weave together these formative years with ageless tales of youth and exuberance, of surf and sand, and of progress and invention.

With 10 authentic surfboards on display, photographs and other artifacts, the exhibit, titled “Waveriders — Perspectives of Surfing La Jolla 1930-1950,” glides through the waters of La Jolla Shores and Tourmaline as 75- to 100-pound redwood boards plane straight-lined towards water’s edge.

Also chronicled is the arrival of glider pilot Woody Brown, a friend and colleague of Charles Lindbergh, from the East Coast. It was Brown’s adaptations of glider technology to surfboard design that sufficiently lightened surfboards to enable them to be turned. With lighter and more maneuverable surfboards, horizons were broadened and the waves of WindanSea were discovered to be not just accessible, but desirable. And it is here that the hub of La Jolla surf culture has since thrived.

“Come and experience the surfing culture of La Jolla long before it became popularized by Gidget movies, The Beach Boys and ‘The Pumphouse Gang,’ ” Olten said.

The free exhibit runs through July 16 at the historic Wisteria Cottage, 780 Prospect St. Right now it is open only on Thursday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Stop by for a look into the birth and growth of La Jolla’s surf culture.