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Photograph by Shmuel Thaler, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Surf Art Safari: Photographs, boards and resin sculpture are on display at the Attic and the Hide and Dead Cow galleries; another show opens this weekend at the Santa Cruz Art League.

Surf City Art

As the fight over who gets to claim the title of Surf City heads to court, two surf-themed art shows hit Santa Cruz like a monster swell.

By Jean Stirling

Historians tell of three Hawaiian kings surfing the mouth of the San Lorenzo River in the 19th century, but it was the Olympic swimming champion from Hawaii, Duke Kahanamoku, who is credited with introducing surfing to mainland United States around 1919, when he demonstrated the sport in Santa Cruz.

Other Hawaiians around the same time introduced the surfboard to Southern California and Australia. Locals on every coast watched those buffed athletes standing on 16-foot shaped trees a half-mile out, then cut down a tree and made their own boards. So the sport of surfing spread wherever the spirits moved and the waves were good.

In acknowledgement of Santa Cruz's historic role in the sport of surfing, Surf City, Santa Cruz, a huge and highly diverse art exhibition shared by the Attic, the Dead Cow and the Hide galleries, opened during last week's First Friday ArtWalk. A fourth show with another 100 or so artworks opens as Surf City Art at the Art League this Sunday, Dec. 16. The timing of the Art League show is pure coincidence. But then, are there really any coincidences?

In 2005, the city of Huntington Beach registered "Surf City USA" as its trademark and began establishing exclusive rights to the title—rights disputed by Santa Cruz. The trademark was granted to Huntington Beach, but its Chamber of Commerce got pushy. They sent a letter to Ginger Noland of Nolands on the Wharf, a little 46-year-old mom-and-pop beachwear shop, threatening to sue them for using "Santa Cruz, Surf City USA" on their T-shirts.

Enter Ted Herhold, a high-powered patent attorney. He works in Palo Alto and surfs Santa Cruz. He read about the dispute and was incensed that the SoCal city would claim exclusive right to the title. After talking with Ginger Noland, he offered to take the case pro bono and immediately filed a pre-emptive lawsuit claiming that the designation could not be held exclusively.

After several fruitless mediation hearings during which the judge reprimanded Huntington Beach attorneys for their tactics, Herhold decided to take the case to a jury trial. The deposition takes place in San Francisco on Dec. 28.

Next enter Santa Cruz printmaker Joy Herhold, sister of Ted. She told Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Arts director Kirby Scudder about the dispute and proposed an exhibit based on "sharing the waves. ... It's not about winning, but about stopping this bullying—Surf City USA was around long before Huntington Beach used it."

In the four galleries, it's clear that Santa Cruz has a deep relationship to the sport that is also for many a way of life and for some a spiritual practice. In the Attic, an exhibition of surfboards gets to the essence of the subject.

"There are more board builders for a town this size in Santa Cruz than anywhere else in the world, including Hawaii," says Michel Junod, a top-ranked competitive surfer who has been surfing since 1962 and shaping boards since 1966. "Santa Cruz has a world-renowned surf community."

Junod tells of local legendary shapers like Doug Haut, Bob Pearson, Geoff Rashe and Steve Coletta and points out features of some of the boards on display, including a sleek red-and-black tow board with stripes of embedded BBs, built for monster waves at places like nearby Mavericks.

His own board is a collaboration with local artist Thomas Campbell. Junod shaped the board from white foam, Campbell airbrushed the surface and then drew on it, then Junod glassed it with layers of colored resin, resulting in a deep jewel-like finish.

More painterly boards by Kevin Walsh appear at the Hide Gallery. Walsh covers his boards with luscious scenes like a slice of ocean showing surfers riding on top and a shark hunting sea lions just below them. Several really good photographers are also exhibited there, like Bob Barbour, whose shots of the action at Mavericks reveal the heart of the sport.

Rosemari Reimers-Rice's portraits of famous surfers are exhibited at the Dead Cow Gallery. She recently gave up surfing competitively after she came in second at the Roxy and fourth in Women on Waves at age 65.

"It isn't riding the waves, it's paddling back out that became difficult," she says. Still surfing alongside her husband, a board builder, she's been an artist all her life. Last year Rosemari was inducted into the Surfers Walk of Fame in acknowledgment of her contribution as a pioneer surfer in Southern California's Hermosa Beach, where she grew up.

Asked about the controversy, she responds, "I was in the Huntington contest in the '60s. There's no comparison. There's mostly a beach break there; here it's a point or reef break—and a lot more fun."

SURF CITY ART SHOW opens at the Art League Saturday, Dec. 15, at 6pm at 526 Broadway, Santa Cruz; 831.426.5787. SURF CITY SANTA CRUZ continues at the Hide Gallery, 131B Front St.; the Attic, 931 Pacific Ave.; and the Dead Cow Gallery, 1042 River St., through Dec. 31.

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