Santa Cruz, the historical home of Californian surfing
By Florian Sanktjohanser Oct 4, 2011, 3:06 GMT
Santa Cruz, California - Santa Cruz may have lost its legal battle with neighbouring Huntington Beach over which Californian coastal town can call itself Surf City USA but it can boast a longer history as surfing has been going on there since 1885.
Harry Mayo proudly shows a photo of himself as a fit young man holding a huge surfboard alongside 10 friends at the Santa Cruz Surfing Club. The snap was taken in June 1941 and most of people in the image are now dead. 'Back then we had the waves to ourselves,' says Harry, who now wears a hearing aid.
The photo is just one of the exhibits in the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, which is housed in the small Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, overlooking Steamer Lane, an internationally known surfing site. The building is full of surfboards, photos and early neoprene wetsuits - all reminders of the pioneers of the sport that has made Santa Cruz famous.
Today, riding the waves is everywhere in Santa Cruz with Pacific Avenue in the city centre full of surf shops while ever second car that goes by seems to have a surfboard strapped to the roof.
Situated on the northern edge of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is where surfing first took place on the American mainland when, in 1885, three Hawaiian princes on holiday from the nearby military school surfed the waves at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River.
It took another 40 years until another Hawaiian gave what was perhaps the decisive push when triple Olympic swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku presented a swim and surf show on the beach at Santa Cruz.
Mayo and his friends began surfing with short planks of plywood but the homemade boards were so large and heavy that they had to be hollowed out in order for the surfers to be able to carry them into the water. 'My one weighed 65 pounds when it was dry and on land,' explains Mayo, adding that they had the advantage of being more stable than the modern lightweight boards.
Naturally, they were much less maneuverable so it wasn't possible to do any of the tricks being done by the several dozen surfers who have braved the cold out on Steamers Lane, one of California's top surfing spots. 'One day, I counted 250 people in the water,' says Mayo.
Virtually nobody trusted themselves to surf the breakers at Steamers Lane when Mayo was young. Instead they rode the waves at Cowell Beach near the pier, which is very popular with beginners, who learn to surf on foam boards. However, the Pacific water is cold and the temperature never rises above 16 degrees even in summer.
Mayo is no longer able to surf and last braved the water five years ago. 'I don't have the strength in my shoulders anymore,' says the 86-year-old with a smile.