A Ride Through O’side Surf History

Surfing culture is vibrant and alive in O’side! The history surrounding the sport’s lifestyle and uniqueness is spotlighted at none other than Oceanside’s California Surf Museum (CSM)! Since 1986, CSM has worked to preserve iconic surf memorabilia for visitors and locals alike to experience the joy, skill, culture, technique and entertainment of surfing, water sports and the ocean firsthand. The museum hosts rotating exhibits in addition to its signature historical timeline of surfboards, Bethany Hamilton’s shark-bitten surfboard, the new Science of Surfing exhibition and MORE! While the exhibits explore the global influences that contributed to the sport of surfing, the museum also highlights local Oceanside surf stories and athletes. Get a taste of the historic O’side surf scene with the epic throwback photos below archived by CSM Staff Historian Jane Schmauss.

California Surf Museum: new exhibit about the science of surfing
Oceanside's Surf Museum explores science of surfing | KPBS Public Media
Exhibit explores connections between science and surfing - The San Diego Union-Tribune

California Surf Museum’s newest exhibit “The Science of Surfing” is an eye-opening fun and informative addition to the museum that explores the many surprising connections between science and the advancement of modern surfing.

This entertaining and educational display highlights wave energy, tides, types of surf breaks and conditions as well as custodianship of our oceans, which is explained through a series of charts, diagrams, photographs, art, and the use of video monitors. By blending history and science, the display covers a wide variety of information designed to engage all visitors, regardless of their familiarity with surfing.

“While modern science is forever looking for explanations of what goes on in the natural world, modern day surfers have been at the ready to apply this knowledge where they can in advancing in the art of riding waves,” says CSM President Jim Kempton.

Surf Highlights

Phil Edwards, who became the world’s first professional surfer in the late 1960s, was raised in Oceanside and honed his considerable skills on the local beaches. In 1999 Surfer magazine featured him as one of the “25 Most Influential Surfers of the Century.” At thirteen Phil was part of the brand-new junior lifeguards program, and by age eighteen he was making and selling balsa wood surfboards out of his garage. His ­­­superb craftsmanship also extended to designing and building catamarans with a successful career with brand Hobie!

Robert Lee “Black Mac” McClendon was a San Diego local who shaped his first boards with balsa wood and eventually progressed to foam and fiberglass. His family is pictured along the Oceanside shoreline with Pacific Street in the background! Today, when you visit Oceanside beaches, Pacific Street is still an iconic coastal stretch you’ll often find surfers snagging a parking spot on before they head down to catch a wave! Even with decades gone by, the convenience, breaks and weather continue to attract phenomenal surfers and their families to Oceanside. 

Having a surf shack on the beach was a hot idea in the late-1950s, and a group of teens decided to call themselves the Oceanside Surf Club. Overnight they constructed a wood-and-bamboo structure that would provide shade from the summer sun, support their sturdy longboards, and create a “clubhouse” vibe. Local authorities, however, ruled that the hut was a liability on city property, and it had to be torn down. Today the Oceanside Longboard Club maintains the surf club tradition and is an active participant in numerous community events. 

Surf Contest History

Oceanside Longboard Contest

With waves shaped in part by its classic Pier on the Strand and by twin jetties at the Harbor, Oceanside has long been one of the top surf contest venues in Southern California. In the early 1980s the community-oriented Oceanside Longboard Surfing Club was formed and began a tradition that celebrated its 38th annual competition this summer. On August 11-13, 2023 many of the world’s top longboarding men and women competed for trophies and enjoyed the family-friendly, two-day festivity at the Pier.

World Bodysurfing Contest

Bodysurfers are a different breed. Give them a pair of swim fins and room to catch a wave, and they’re happy as, well…seals and dolphins. Bodysurfing is one of the oldest, simplest, most playful water sports on the planet, no doubt inspired by watching our distant-cousin mammals frolic in the surf. On August 19-20, 2023 Oceanside will host the 46th annual World Bodysurfing Contest, bringing in over 300 top athletes to compete for titles and prizes in their respective categories.

Nissan Super Girl Surf Pro

A crowd-packed, action-filled event held for several years at the iconic Pier, the SuperGirl Pro Series was launched in 2007 to showcase the top talent in women’s action sports. It’s a true celebration of female strength and camaraderie, bringing together many of the sport’s established and rising stars in a team-based format. In 2020, Team California, featuring Lakey Peterson and Oceanside’s own Caity Simmers, secured the title in near-perfect surf conditions, and Caity, at age 14, became the youngest SuperGirl in the event’s colorful history. Watch these Super Girls in action September 22-24, 2023.

U.S. Open Adaptive Surfing Championship

Surfing is not an easy sport – right? It lifts you up, knocks you down, but you get back up and do it all over again. Now add a physical impairment or disability and there are multiple challenges to overcome. Adaptive surfers meet these challenges head-on and are an inspiration to all. They won’t be held back. Catch these US Open pros on the waves September 6-10, 2023.

Special thanks to the California Surf Museum and CSM Staff Historian Jane Schmauss for providing the photos and stories featured in this blog!
Published: September 10, 2023

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