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Hickenbottom's Santa Cruz

Thomas Hickenbottom has written "Surfing in Santa Cruz," a pictorial history of Santa Cruz surf history. Here are two articles about the book. Please visit the websites for full text, images and comments:

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Hickenbottom's book a portable Santa Cruz surf museum

By Gary B. Niblock, 08/15/2009, Santa Cruz Sentinel


... With his new book, "Surfing in Santa Cruz," Hickenbottom presents a pictorial history of the sport from South County to Steamer Lane. Written by a native son, the book offers the reader an ultimate insider's look at the roots and evolution of modern day surfing in Santa Cruz.

"It was an era for only the boldest and most dedicated surfers," said Hickenbottom of Bonny Doon in the book's introduction. "This volume of photographs is a testament to those people from the earliest of times who helped define and transform surfing and beach life in Santa Cruz."

Hickenbottom's stories and pictures evolve from the slabs of redwood used by the three Hawaiian princes who christened Santa Cruz's waters to the heavy wood boards of the 1950s to the light "foamies" that emerged in the early 1960s.

Hickenbottom's sincere focus isn't the boards, however, but the people who rode them. He shares snapshots of some of the area's premiere surfing families, including the O'Neills and the Van Dykes. He digs up pictures of pro and local surfers waiting for their turn at contests and shows members of the Santa Cruz Surf Club gathering at the surf barn that used to sit at the corner of West Cliff and Bay Street.

One photo shows a group of longtime Westside surfers, including Al Fox, hanging out under a beach umbrella

"After Fox retired from the County of Santa Cruz, he rarely missed a day sunning at Cowell's," Hickenbottom wrote. "He was down there so much he would tell people, If you need me, I'll be at the office,' which meant under the beach umbrella."

Hickenbottom, 61, succeeds at capturing Santa Cruz's surf history in part because he lived it. He started surfing in 1959 as an 11-year-old "gremmie" [young surfer]. He progressed quickly, and as a member of the premier O'Neill Surf Team, was one of the first sponsored surfers. He competed up and down the coast, surfing against and often beating the best surfers of those days.

His meteoric surfing career was disrupted by the war in Vietnam, but Hickenbottom never lost his passion for surfing -- especially in Santa Cruz. That's why decades later, Hickenbottom delved into piecing together his latest book, taking his own knowledge and gleaning additional stories from some older members of the SCSC and information found at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.

"Surfing in Santa Cruz is a multifaceted experience," he wrote. "The community has some of the greatest surfers in the world as residents -- professional surfers who are constantly seeking out ultimate honors and personal triumphs. It is also a community that supports even the most physically compromised individual, who would like to experience the stoke of riding a wave."

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Bridging the gap: Top: In a 1954 photo, the legendary Sam Reid (left), nearing age 50, poses with Gene Van Dyke. Hickenbottom points out that the surfboard is an old balsa-and-redwood model that bridges generations of surfboards, much as Reid and Van Dyke bridged generations of surfers. Bottom: In this 1957 shot, Betty Van Dyke, who was married to Gene, stands at 38th Avenue with her Dale Velzy Pig model and a rare wetsuit jacket brought to her by Jack O'Neill--who was still two years from opening his Santa Cruz surf shop. - Photos courtesy of the Van Dyke Archives and reposting by Metro Santa Cruz



"Surf Citizens" Column, 8/12/2009


... Right after Thomas Hickenbottom signed with Arcadia Publishing last fall to compile a pictorial history of surfing in Santa Cruz, the bottom fell out of his plans. Hickenbottom, a Santa Cruz native and professional surfer during the '60s, '70s and '80s, knew he'd have no problem gathering photographs from the 1950s and 1960s; his friends had plenty of those. But the collection he was relying on for 90 percent of the vintage photos from the 1940s and earlier --photos belonging to original Santa Cruz Surfing Club member Harry Mayo -- was suddenly off limits, tied up in litigation over rights to the images and the club name.

It may have been a blessing in disguise. Nerve-racking though it was, it forced Hickenbottom to reach out to other surfers, some of whom had moved away from Santa Cruz years before. Slowly the significance of his task dawned on him.

"I didn't realize what a cosmic thing I was doing for the whole surfing community, to be able to talk to all these people and sit in their living rooms and realize what incredible people were involved in this thing called Santa Cruz surfing," he says. "It's done for posterity, man! It's so bloody cool!"

Hickenbottom, a tanned, good-natured man with laughing hazel eyes and the upright, eternally youthful vibe of the soul surfer, speaks unselfconsciously about the Great Spirit and the role of service when he talks about the book. But it works on a material level, too, as a history of how boards themselves shaped the sport, the evolution from redwood plank to balsa to foam blank to shortboard fostering a constant expansion of maneuverability and athleticism. His book ends in 1968, after a decade of foam longboards had made possible the stylistic riding of the era. "In some ways it was more of an art form than an athletic endeavor," he says. Even the hotdogging--that quaint term--of the day was graceful.

Of course surfing didn't end in 1968. Hickenbottom himself went on to adapt to the shortboard revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, and he's as excited about surfing today, tow-ins and all, as he ever was. "It's going in all different directions!" he says. "Who knows where it could go?"

Ultimately, though, the book's significance, at least to its author, resides in the story of a developing Santa Cruz surfing community, one that embraces the physically limited along with the supremely gifted. "If someone were to ask me to write the history of Santa Cruz surfing, I'd tear out this page and say, 'Here it is, man!'" says Hickenbottom. He turns to a page with two plates, one of Dick Keating on a monster wave at Steamer Lane and one of Danny Cortazzo helping a young amputee catch a two-foot swell. "You can go into the consciousness, man, and this is where we need to be going. We need to be changing things for the better. And I think the Santa Cruz surfing community is like a metaphor for that."

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