'Let's go surfing now:' surfing is now California's official sport

Surfing has long been entwined with California culture and now Gov. Jerry Brown has inked the relationship into law. Although Hawaii is the sport's birthplace, Californians helped to modernize and popularize the art of riding waves. 

Mike Blake/Reuters
The same day California governor Jerry Brown signs a bill declaring surfing the official sport of California, a surfer catches some of the last waves after sunset at Cardiff State Park in Encinitas, Calif., on August 20, 2018.

"Let's go surfing now, everybody's learning how," the Beach Boys have been telling us in song since 1962.

And if you haven't started listening by now – and you live in California – perhaps it's time you did.

On Monday surfing became the official sport of California.

So grab a board, catch a wave, and again as the Beach Boys like to say, find yourself, "sittin' on top of the world."

"I am stoked that surfing is now California's official sport," declared Al Muratsuchi, state assemblyman and a dedicated surfer dude himself, after Gov. Jerry Brown put his signature to the new law Mr. Muratsuchi wrote and shepherded through the Legislature.

"No other sport represents the California Dream better than surfing – riding the waves of opportunity and living in harmony with nature," added Muratsuchi, a surfer since high school who represents the city of Torrance, a place not far from the heralded California surf break called Haggerty's. (Yes, the one mentioned in the Beach Boys' song "Surfin' USA.")

While the law acknowledges that surfing, like so much other California stuff, actually came from somewhere else – in this case Hawaii – it also makes the case that California revolutionized the art of shooting the curl and hanging 10.

The Golden State is the heart of the surfboard building industry and the place where the wetsuit was invented, state officials say, and with 1,100 miles of coastline, it provides a surfer's paradise that Muratsuchi estimates generates more than $6 billion in annual retail sales.

Michael Scott Moore, author of the acclaimed 2010 surfing history "Sweetness and Blood," agrees that although Hawaii is the cradle of surfing, California did play a key role in revolutionizing the sport.

"Modern surfing was born in Huntington Beach, Malibu, the South Bay, Manhattan, Redondo," Mr. Moore said, referencing many of the beachfront cities the Beach Boys call out in "Surfin USA."

"That's where new technologies in surf design got developed," continued Moore, an avid surfer himself. "We had a lot of aerospace technicians who were into surfing, and they developed new shapes for surfboards that turned the sport into something of a pop cultural phenomenon."

Basically, California builders began making boards safer, lighter, easier to stand on, and easier to maneuver through the water than the ones the Hawaiians had used for centuries, Moore said. They also added a key feature, the skeg or bottom-of-the-board rudder and, yes, they invented the wetsuit.

Meanwhile, popular "Beach Party" movies of the 1960s that starred teen heartthrobs Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon made it look to the rest of the country like one big surf party was going on nonstop in California. The Beach Boys, Dick Dale, Jan and Dean,    and other popular musicians of the time provided the soundtrack.

"It's part of the California mythology," University of Southern California pop culture historian Leo Braudy said. "The idea of someone becoming Californianized, and if you become Californianized then surfing is part of the deal."

Indeed, Huntington Beach now calls itself Surf City and is home to the Surfers' Hall of Fame and the International Surfing Museum.

Oceanside has the California Surf Museum. In Redondo Beach, there is a bust of George Freeth, hailed as California's first surfer after he began dazzling local crowds with his wave-riding skills in 1907. (Mr. Freeth actually learned to surf in his native Hawaii, where it's been the official sport since 1998.)

But no matter. Which state lays claims to surfing as its sport doesn't bother surfers all that much, said Moore, who has surfed all over the world.

"As long as the waves are good, we don't care," he said laughing.

He may be right.

A woman who answered the phone Monday at legendary big-wave rider Titus Kinimaka's surf school in Hanalei, Hawaii, said she'd be happy to put a surfer on the phone to discuss the issue.

"But they're all in the water," she added.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writer Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this story.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.