Surfing Culture and Public Art

Public Art in Public Places

Surfing Themes in Public Art from Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawai'i

Surfing Themes
Surfing culture is embedded in some of Southern California's and Hawai'i's most popular public art. Infused with history and fable, sport and fantasy, surfing themes in public art also parallel a respect for the coastal environment.  These sculptures, statues and murals pay tribute to both surfer and sea. 
Modern Surfing
Surfing was popularized in the early 20th Century by Hawaiian swimming and surfing athlete Duke Kahanamoku, bringing surfing to the level of a professional sport.  The 9-foot cast bronze statue "Duke Paoa Kahanamoku" by Jan Gordon Fisher stands at Kuhio Beach Park at Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawai'i.  The sculpture pays tribute to Kahanamoku as a Hawaiian cultural icon, and is continuously adorned with honorary leis.  Bronze plaques and a surfboard-shaped marker describe Kahanamoku's extensive lifetime achievements.


Statue is draped with honorary leis at 2010 ceremony.

Famous Surfing Locales
As surfing became an established sport, ideal surfing locales in both Hawai'i and Southern California attracted surfing athletes and fans. This Memorial in Hermosa Beach, California pays tribute to surfing legend Dewey Weber.
The Iconic Surfboard
Larry Gill's and Gavin Heath's "Tide Pool Paddleboard" merges surfing imagery with appreciation of local coastal tide pools.  The surface of the cast concrete and stainless steel sculptural bench is infused with colored glass insets of tide pool creatures and forms. Included in this Exhibit is the artists' video of this highly technical glass-blowing process.


The glass insets are formed in the studio.

The sculptural bench also serves the bus stop at Laguna Beach's Heisler Park Sculpture Garden.

Dynamic Surfing Action
Robert Pashby's 12-foot cast bronze sculpture "Surfer on a Wave" conveys strong dynamic movement.  Verdigris patina enhances the impression of frothy waves below the surfboard. 

Seemingly poised above the nearby surf of Waikiki, "Surfer on a Wave" is located at Kuhio Beach Park in Honolulu, Hawai'i. The sculpture's base was originally surrounded by a pool.

Surfing in Children's Literature
This cast bronze sculpture by Holly Young was inspired by the Fred Van Dyke story "Makua Lives on the Beach" about the adventures of a young boy and the Hawaiian monk seal who becomes his special surfing buddy.  The artist's integration of native rock and foliage enhances the dynamic impression of wave and water.  


Located at Kuhio Beach Park in Honolulu, Hawai'i, the sculpture visually merges with Waikiki Beach surf and sea.

Surfing Humor
What began as local criticism over the image of a novice surfer at the entrance to a beloved surfing locale, later evolved into a community beacon for countless humorous pranks. Intended as a recognition of beginning surfers, the sculpture was locally dubbed "The Cardiff Kook." After a few early pranks took advantage of the piece's outstretched arms to hang public-oriented jokes and messages, the competition was on.  The boy surfer has been costumed as a pumpkin, clown, Santa Claus, and Uncle Sam, it has been dressed as and surrounded by mock turkeys for a local 10k "Turkey Trot" race [see next frame], and has been "attacked" by a dinosaur and huge shark.
Surfing Life
Stanton Macdonald-Wright's historic 1936 "Recreations of Long Beach" provides one of California's earliest surfer images in public art. At center amid images of lively beach-goers is the muscular and tan surfer with his board, seeming to dodge balloons floating his way. The 800 square foot ceramic mosaic mural was restored in 1982 and re-installed at the Long Beach Promenade.    

The restored historic mural was re-installed as a prominent focal point at the north end of Long Beach's 3-block long public Promenade.

Surfing Tributes: A Young Surfer
Michael King and Wade Koniakowsky created their 8-foot ceramic tile mural "Tim" in 2013 as a tribute to a young surfer who lost his life.  The image's vertical perspective emphasizes surfer and wave as one integrated and dynamic subject. 

"Tim" is one of several ceramic tile and acrylic murals installed in San Clemente's downtown district. This mural also incorporates ceramic starfish medallions at the base of the niche.

Surfing Tributes: Surfers and Lifeguards
Randy Morgan's high-relief sculpture, "The Waterman's Wall," spans 40 feet and pays tribute to surfing athletes and to their ever-vigilant lifeguards.  The 2-panel, wall-mounted artwork in downtown Laguna Beach, California is part of the city's extensive public art collection.
Surfing Culture and Public Art: Conclusion
From tributes to local surfers to a respect for ocean and shore, Hawaiian and Californian communities have discovered how well public art can show the world their surfing love, lore, and legends. 
Public Art in Public Places
Credits: Story

This online exhibition is a product of Public Art in Public Places.

All images and videos, except where specifically attributed, are copyrighted and are the exclusive property of Public Art in Public Places Project.

All rights reserved.
Public Art in Public Places Project 2018

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.