Recently, both Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz have claimed the moniker, Surf City, USA. While today nobody considers Corona del Mar the center of surf culture in California, in 1928 it might well have claimed the title Surf City, USA. In that year, Corona del Mar had the only surf club on the Pacific Coast (with twelve members) and was the site of the first Pacific Coast Surf Board Championship. One of the most popular photographs in Sherman Library’s collection shows contestants in this race posing next to their redwood longboards.
In 1928, the entrance to Newport Harbor was a perilous place for boaters. Boats entering or leaving faced the real possibility of running aground or being swamped in the high surf. Only three years earlier five men died when the charter fishing boat Thelma was swamped in the harbor channel. Attempts to quiet the water by building jetties on both the east and west side of the harbor entrance had failed. However, the same waves that imperiled boats made for excellent surfing. Duke Kahanamoku, the 1912 and 1920 Olympic gold medalist and the man credited with popularizing surfing, considered the waves breaking into the entrance to Newport Harbor to be the best on the California coast.
At noon on Sunday August 7, 1928, the Corona del Mar Surf Board Association sponsored the first Pacific Coast Surf Board Championship and Sparr Bathhouse manager, T. W. Sheffield, organized the event. The competitions included a paddling contest from Corona del Mar beach to the west jetty and back, a canoe tilting completion, a demonstration of the use of surfboards for life saving, and finally a “rough water” surfboard race from the bell buoy off the harbor entrance to the channel nearest the east jetty.
The event organizers undoubtedly timed it to take advantage of the crowds gathering to watch the Star Class International Championship sailing race being held off the Newport Beach coast. Several hundred people lined the beach to watch the surfing contest. Fifteen contestants entered, coming from Corona del Mar, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Redondo and Santa Ana.
Had Duke Kahanamoku been at the race, he would have been the favorite to win. Kahanamoku, however, could not attend, because he was filming a movie title The Rescue. The contestants included Tom Blake, who later would write the first book on surfing and revolutionize board designs, and Gerard Vultee, a pioneer in the airspace industry. Blake took home silver trophies for first place in both the paddleboard and surfing competitions.