SPOT ON SPOT – A Revisionist Glance at Historic Surfing Locales: Huntington Beach Pier

HB, Surf City USA, The Pier, Northside, Southside, Taco Bell Reef

Notorious Local(s):
Despite what you may know or have heard about Chuck Dent, Corky Carroll or David Nuuhiwa, the real notorious local is the dude sporting a chain wallet, Doc Martens and a bandana. He has multiple piercings and a bald head. You've seen this guy: He's wiping the ash of a half-smoked cigarette from his goatee while leaning on his motorcycle outside of Sharkeez. His oversized shorts should probably be called pants, and he looks irritated as he restrains his pit bull from attacking pedestrians. This guy probably used to surf when he was a junior in high school.

Significant Moment(s) in History:
While everyone knows about the 1986 OP Pro riots, the HB Pier also hosted the first U.S. Surfing Championships in 1959.

Years later the blackball was invented in Orange County, adversely impacting premier breaks along Huntington Beach, and in 1988 huge storm-surf destroyed the pier and caf, forcing the city to rebuild the area's most recognizable landmarks. Bad luck continued for HB as a series of oil spills plagued coastal waters and wildlife.

That said, the essential moment in Pier history is clearly the construction of Taco Bell off of PCH. Taco Bell has fed legions of hungry NSSA competitors and future WCT standouts. Without it, countless budding surf stars would have suffered from pre-heat starvation, and that means no Curren and no gorditas — surfing in California wouldn't be what it is today.

The Dirt:
The major cable-television network A&E has just finished filming the pilot for a reality-TV show based in Huntington called "The Beach." The show will allegedly track the daily life of HB lifeguards — everywhere from the surf to the clubs.

Huntington Beach just shelled out thousands of dollars in legal fees to win exclusive rights to the moniker "Surf City USA." The city's court victory over Santa Cruz entitles it to use the nickname in advertisements and on beach paraphernalia.

The celebrity surf scene in Huntington gets pretty gritty, with resident celebrities ranging from Jonathan Davis, lead singer of the rock band Korn, to ultimate-fighting legends Tank Abbot and Tito Ortiz. So if you bump into a large bald man in a club, it might be wise to say, "Excuse me."

"It's not true that all the strippers in California live in Huntington, just half of them." — Gary Sahagen, Chairman of the Huntington Beach Surf Museum

"The surf scene in Huntington Beach is as important to the community as breathing the air. Surfers are here at all times. We have visitors from all over the world and it creates an interesting marriage between an authentic and an ingrained culture — probably unique to anywhere in the world. Surfers are esteemed members of our community. We've got all flavors, shapes and sorts in a very open and accepting vibe out here." — Doug Traub, President of the Huntington Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau

"HB — the original boys' town in the '30s, a wide-open oil derrick … there were hookers hanging on roughnecks like cheap suits, gambling and vice that made Las Vegas look like Disneyland. Corruption was the standard of morality." — Chuck Dent, from SURFER magazine in the 1970s.

"They're either out surfing or they've got a party going" … "Two girls for every boy." — Jan and Dean, in their 1963 song "Surf City."

The surf is good in the summertime. In reality, HB breaks much better during the winter.

Many feel the Huntington "surf ghetto" was somehow a blight on the town's history in the 1960s, when it in fact replaced hundreds of oil derricks.

Huntington Beach is the real Surf City — not the case. Despite the trademark's implications, a quick glance at a U.S. map reveals the real Surf Cities. One Surf City is located on Topsail Island in North Carolina, and the other in the middle of coastal New Jersey.

In The Beginning:
Named "Shell Beach" at the beginning of the century, Huntington was so remote that a New England company gave away free plots of land there to customers purchasing a set of encyclopedias. The Pier was likely first ridden by Hawaiian surfing pioneer George Freeth, rumored to have arrived on the mainland to promote a newly installed Huntington Beach trolley at the request of railroad executive Henry Huntington. Surfed several years later by Duke Kahanamoku, the Pier became a hotspot for local lifeguards as they built their own surfboards and shared knowledge of the sport with the community. By the late 1930s surfers regularly frequented the Pier for the consistency and shape of the waves, sometimes leaving the water covered in oil from nearby drilling projects. HB soon became a town economically based on the nearby oil reserves.

2008 — A lift is constructed off of the end of the pier to transport surfers in to the lineup — paddling becomes obsolete at the HB Pier

2010 — The city finally enforces the "no surf-fishing off the pier" rule after little Willy Smith loses an eye and acquires the nickname "One-Eyed Willy."

2012 — The city of Huntington Beach purchases the first National Surf League franchise using parking-ticket revenues. The team, known as the Huntington Beach Hurricanes, goes on to win the NSL Cup.

2035 — While defending the trademark title of "Surf City USA," defense litigation bleeds HB of most revenues. The budget jam forces the cost of surf-contest permits so high that no one can afford to host contests at HB — causing Santa Cruz to become the new hotbed of competitive surfing.

Editor’s Note: In the coming months look for more of these slightly skewed historical perspectives on famous surf spots. — Scott Bass