SoCal Explorer Partner Highlight: California Surf Museum

Founded in 1986, this iconic Californian museum is located in Oceanside — which is appropriately a major surf hub of the Golden State. This collective curation of surf history has been in operation for more than three decades, offering tens of thousands of annual visitors from over 40 nations across the globe the opportunity to learn about the history of this legendary sport. 

Onsite, there’s a permanent collection of exhibits which chronicle the history of surfboards and wave-riding for the past 30 years — including surfboards, surf art, surfing equipment, photographs, magazines, videos, and surf-related media.

Metrolink spoke with Jane Schmauss, who is one of the original co-founders of the California Surf Museum in Oceanside. She has been studying surf history and collecting surf memorabilia for the museum for over 35 years now. “And I’m still dazzled by it — let me tell you.” She begins. “The magic of surfing. The camaraderie. It’s bigger than I can express, but I’m so glad to be a part of it.” Schmauss enthuses about her long-lasting interest in the sport.  

“Back in the day, [my restaurant] George’s, became a surfer hangout. I founded it in 1983. Since we were located in Encinitas and we offered cheap food — and huge amounts of it — our place appealed greatly to the surfing crowd. After all, we were in a surfing capital — Encinitas.  

I liked these people I met and liked their energy. So, when my friend said he was thinking of founding a surf museum, I was in. We started organizing at the same time the Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz museums started to organize themselves. We spoke to them and discussed the possibility of combining operations early on, but each of us ultimately decided to go our own separate paths. At that time back in 1986, many of the original surf pioneers that we so admired (and that everyone today is standing on the shoulders of) were still alive. 

In my eyes, a surf museum is one of the best things that can happen to any beach community. People all over the world are fascinated by the lure of surfing. And it’s mind-boggling how interest in surfing has grown. Surfing as a sport has grown right along with the surf culture. 

For example, years ago, there were no organizations set in place to help adaptive and disabled surfers. Now, there are organizations from helping those who suffer from PTSD, to other conditions that might limit their ability to get into the water safely and surf. It’s been amazing to watch all of this happiness come from one beautiful sport and lifestyle.  

I have thousands of uplifting stories of interacting with visitors here at the museum. I’m here a lot doing research and collecting data as well as interacting with visitors onsite. Our goal at the museum is to have people leave smiling and having learned something new no matter what level of surfing they’re at (if at all). We work with a wide variety of guests and 75% of our visitors do not surf. They come from all over the world because we’re a destination, and they’re curious about surfing. They embrace what they see at the museum and they’re enriched by the experience.  

The technology present in the surfing community has vastly improved over the past few decades. At first, these surfers started out on heavy wooden boards that are not what we see today. There are jet skis now to pull you in, hydrofoil surfing, the “tow in” big wave surfing… it started off just with only having power to paddle out with your own arms, and no leashes — and having to find your board upon wipeout — to now. This technology started with these guys in their own garages trying to build better equipment. But it’s been wonderful to witness the progress in these last 35 years. There are surfers all across the world — anywhere there are waves. You watch surf movies, and you don’t see the countless wipeouts and the time it takes to become a really good surfer.  

My favorite part of working at this museum is having the opportunity to collect these surf history relics and present them to a number of very appreciative guests. We’re well-located between Los Angeles and San Diego and we’re Oceanside’s second largest tourist destination after the mission — so we take our business very seriously.  

Also, it’s important to recognize that for hardcore surfers, this is lifestyle — not just a sport. It’s an addiction in the best sense of the word! Surfers have to go in the water when the waves are good. Just, — drop everything and go — because the wave is a gift. No two waves are ever alike.  

These surfers appreciate the gift of nature and the gift of being “at one” with the ocean  and a really nice surfboard ride, even if it only lasts a few seconds. It gives them energy — it’s a renewal of life. The waiting for the wave itself is a zen experience. For example, when surfers are out there in the lineup, and they might have just caught a really great wave themselves, they’re going to let their buddy take that next good wave knowing that there will be another for them that they can catch. The sport has always been about the comradery and the sharing of the appreciation for nature and the natural environment.” 

When SoCal Explorers take the train to the California Surf Museum in Oceanside and show their loyalty card, they will receive $1 off the cost of admission.

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