Intro to Surf Culture: The Honolulu Surfing Museum

by Gray Cargill on May 7, 2014

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If you are a cultural tourist like me, you probably scour the web for lists of museums in whatever city you’re next planning to visit. Pretty much every city has its “must sees”–places like the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid or the British Museum in London. And no matter how crowded they are, or how over-hyped, they generally are must-sees. But sometimes, those little, off-beat, hole-in-the-wall museums that nobody really talks about wind up being memorable and interesting, too. I spent some time at one of those little museums when I was in Waikiki: The Honolulu Surfing Museum.

Whatever little you may know about Hawaii, I’m sure you know that here, surf culture reigns supreme. If you already love surfing and/or want to learn more about its history, you should check out the Honolulu Surfing Museum at the Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber. It’s located upstairs near Jimmy Buffett’s and has a small bar that shares the same menu.

 

Surfboards

This museum makes efficient use of limited space

The Surfing Museum is a collection of surfboards and other surf culture artifacts that Jimmy Buffett purchased from a California collector named James O’Mahoney, founder of the Santa Barbara Surfing Museum. It’s tiny, as museums go. It won’t take you long to tour it, but the bonus is that you can combine a visit to the museum with a break for a cold beer or bite to eat at the Surfing Museum Bar (or Jimmy Buffett’s), so win-win, right?

Broken prop board

This broken balsa board was a prop in the 1964 movie “Ride the Wild Surf” starring Fabian,Tab Hunter, and Barbara Eden

I was born after surf movies were all the rage in Hollywood (which was the late 1950s to early 1960s). It obviously influenced my parents, even though they lived far from any ocean; I once ran across a list of girl’s names in my mother’s handwriting that sounded like they came right out of the movies from that time period. But I didn’t know a lot about it. I don’t even swim in the ocean, let alone surf in it. (Tides freak me out–as do sharks, stingrays and jellyfish.)

So I actually took the time to read the little signs as I toured the museum, and I learned a lot about surf culture. I learned about the more prominent figures in the surfing world (including Duke Kahanamoku, Phil Edwards, Tom Blake, and Pete Peterson), the types of materials boards have historically been made of (including redwood, balsa, and fiberglass), and how different shapes affect the ride. Hawaiian royalty, chiefs and high-ranking warriors rode boards that were different from everyone else, called “Olo” boards. They were over 20 feet long and weighed more than 200 pounds–imagine the strength it would take to ride something like that!

Hula girl surfboard

One of the more decorated boards

The Hawaiian island lifestyle had a major influence on surfing culture in the form of clothing, but also music (there’s a small collection of vintage ukeleles here, some of which were owned by Bing Crosby and Mickey Rooney). There are two exhibits that may be of special interest to film buffs: The first is an Apocalypse Now Exhibit, featuring the surfboard from that movie (the 86″ “Yater Spoon”), along with a Huey helicopter you can snap a a selfie in front of. The second came as a complete surprise (and delight) to me, since I wasn’t expecting anything like it here:

Silver Surfer Board

The Silver Surfer’s board

That, my comic book-loving friends, is the Silver Surfer’s surfboard, approved by Stan “The Man” Lee himself, creator of the Fantastic Four and hundreds of other cool Marvel characters. It’s made of aircraft aluminum and built to the specs laid out in the comics. I totally geeked out over it.

Silver Surfer comics

Silver Surfer comics

But the real showpiece of the museum, in my opinion, was a beautiful, 11-foot board on which was drawn a pictorial of the history of surfing. It’s called “The Ark”:

The Ark

“The Ark” features a pictorial history of surfing

 

The Ark

Close-up of some of the drawings

See what I mean? Sometimes those little museums are the most fascinating places. Check it out for yourself next time you’re in Honolulu.

What You Need to Know:

Location: 2300 Kalakaua Avenue, 2nd floor at the Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber, behind the pool
Hours: Open daily 10am – close.
Admission: Free
Photography is allowed (obviously).

Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren May 14, 2014 at 12:23 am

I love little museums! This one looks fun. Thanks for sharing!

Happy travels 🙂

Gray Cargill May 18, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Thanks for reading!

Brittany @ Paws for Beer May 10, 2014 at 9:58 pm

I can’t imagine carrying a 20 ft board that weighs 200 lbs! That’s some determination to go surfing 🙂

Gray Cargill May 11, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I know, right? They must have been so strong!

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