The Popularization of Surfing in Santa Cruz
It wasn’t until the late 1930s that the sport really took off in Santa Cruz when a group of locals formed the Santa Cruz Surfing Club. The surfers started venturing into the harsh waves of Cowell’s Beach, one of the best surf spots in the Golden State. Back in the day, they had the area all to themselves since surfing wasn’t as popular. The surfers would ride plywood and ironing boards on the regular due to lack of surfboards. But things changed after World War II; the sport’s popularity rose in the area, and different groups started claiming certain parts of the beach.
As surfing became a common pastime, the boards became more functional. Redwood planks were soon forgotten, and instead, surfers began using more pliable and lightweight boards. Soon after, the invention of wetsuits made surfing in the cold waters more bearable, all thanks to Santa Cruz resident Jack O’Neill. Now, surfers were able to stay in the water for longer periods of time, ride larger waves, and perform new tricks on lighter boards.
The 1960s saw the rise in the sport’s popularity nationwide, with Santa Cruz being the epicenter of attention. And it didn’t take long for the soul surf movement to rise in popularity either—locals began searching for their spirituality on the waves. In 1986, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum on Lighthouse Pointe at Steamer Lane was established, where visitors were able to learn about the history of surfing culture. And 26 years later, in 2012, Santa Cruz County became formally recognized as a World Surfing Reserve, joining Malibu, in holding the honor.
Famous Figures in the Santa Cruz Surfing Scene