100 Years of Surfing in Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach has had quite a few memorable moments in the last 100+ years. Learn more about the history of surfing in Surf City USA from 1914 to today.

Meet George Freeth
George Freeth

George Freeth was the first surfer at the now famed Huntington Beach Pier. One hundred years ago, Freeth impressed thousands of onlookers with his “surf riding” demonstrations during the dedication of the new, concrete Huntington Beach pier. Invited by railroad magnate Henry Huntington to participate in the pier celebration, George Freeth was said to “have walked on the waters”. The spectators were awestruck by his ability to literally stand upright and ride a wave all the way to the beach. Image courtesy Surfing Heritage & Culture Center.

Duke 1921
Duke Kahanamoku

The legendary Duke Kahanamoku, known as the father of modern surfing, made his first visit to HB in the 1920’s. Following his Olympic gold medal win at the 1912 Olympics, Duke traveled the world giving swimming and surfing exhibitions. In 1925, he was living in Newport Beach and surfing at the Huntington Beach Pier with city lifeguards, Bud Higgins and Gene Belshe. The Duke is credited with popularizing surfing in Southern California from 1913-1929. He was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in 1994 and remains one of the most important men in surfing history. A spectacular bronze statue of the Duke sits in the center of the Surfers’ Hall of Fame at the corner of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway in Downtown Huntington Beach.

First HB Lifeguards Bud and Gene
HB's First Lifeguards

Delbert “Bud” Higgins and Gene Belshe were two of Huntington Beach’s first lifeguards and became enamored with surfing when they met Duke Kahanamoku in Corona Del Mar. In 1927, they fashioned their own boards out of a redwood plank using a plane and drawknife. The new boards were 10 feet long and weighed 135 pounds. Bud Higgins is credited as the first surfer to shoot the HB pier. Bud and Gene were both considered lifesaving pioneers. During their long public service careers, Gene served as Assistant Police Chief and Bud as Fire Chief. Photo from Images of America: Huntington Beach Lifeguards, by Kai Weisser.

1955 HB Pier Club
Boys of '55

Prior to surf shops, surf music, and surf movies, a group of surfers that shared a common passion for surfing formed the HB Pier Club. These thirty surfers became known as the Boys of ’55. Their names were inscribed in a wood longboard that is currently located at the Surfing Heritage Museum in San Clemente, California. Image courtesy Surfing Walk of Fame.

Gordie Duane 100 YOS
First Huntington Beach Surf Shop

Gordie Duane, who was a member of the HB Pier Club, opened the first Huntington Beach surfboard shaping shop underneath the pier. His four-room shop became a local hangout for fellow surfers. Over the next 25 years, Gordie shaped thousands of boards and was known for his fine craftsmanship. He was also a member of the famous Hole in the Wall Gang surf team. Image of Gordie Duane courtesy Surfing Heritage & Culture Center.

Jack's Surfboards Historical
Jack's Surfboards

Jack Hokanson opened Jack’s Surfboards, on the corner of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, across from the Huntington Beach Pier, in 1957. He was inspired to open a conveniently located store that offered a wide range of products for the surfer, including wax, wetsuits, surfboards, clothing, and eventually skateboards. Little did he know at the time that this was the dawn of the surf industry. Photo courtesy Chris Epting, from Images of America: Huntington Beach California.

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