The Santa Cruz Surfing Club
An original member dishes about early Santa Cruz surfing
Previously featured in Santa Cruz Waves Magazine
Santa Cruz hasn’t always been a surf town. The sport came to Santa Cruz, originally, with the visit of three Hawaiian princes in July of 1885, but it didn’t become popular until the 1930’s, when surfers from Southern California visited the area and discovered the bounty of cold, yet perfect, surf.
A group of local teenagers took notice and subsequently caught “surf fever,” borrowing the visitors’ boards and gathering as much advice as possible. These youngsters began shaping their own surfboards in high school wood shop, and a fledgling surf community was born, culminating in 1936 with the establishment of the Santa Cruz Surfing Club. Ninety-one-year-old Harry Mayo was one of those youngsters, and is the last surviving original member. Waves sat down with him to hear about his memories from that era.
The Club: “Locally, nobody else was surfing. Members of the Santa Cruz Surfing Club were the ones who started it. It was a mixed group—some of us lived on the Westside, some of us downtown and some of us lived on the Eastside. I started at about age 14 in junior high at Mission Hill Junior High. It was just us youngsters at first, but then a few older guys from out of town [Burlingame and San Mateo] started coming around, and between them and us we formed the club around 1936.
In ’38, the Junior Chamber of Commerce built the clubhouse board house for us. We had keys [and] charged guys from out of town a buck to store their boards in there. The Club was social and became more popular with time. We started charging dues, so in ‘38 it became more organized. We had a president, a secretary and a treasurer. We had our own bank account. During the war we leased a hamburger stand for our clubhouse and we bought it later.
We had our logo on the T-shirts and then we got some big heavy parkas—hoodies is what we called them, and we got the logo on them, too.”
The Equipment: “We had basically two types of boards. We had the planks—solid planks—and the rest were hollow paddleboards. I made mine in high school in 1939, at Santa Cruz High School. We had skegs, like on a rowboat. Tom Blake [the inventor of the surfboard fin] came and visited us one time. He used an umbrella to sail around Cowell’s. First windsurfer. [Laughs] No wetsuits or leashes, we wore bathing suits, and we used paraffin wax.”
The Surfing: “You didn’t go out alone. If we were able to get down to the clubhouse early or something, and there was nobody around, we’d wait for somebody to show up to go out with.
Then we’d surf for approximately an hour and come in. If it was the wintertime, we’d come into the clubhouse to warm up—we had a pot-bellied stove. We’d get it goin’ with wood, try to warm up, take off our wet bathing suits, put a warm one on, or put our pants back on. Or, if the weather was halfway decent, we’d sit in front of the clubhouse facing the east and warm up with the sun.”
The Culture: “I don’t know exactly what the girls at that time thought about us. We had plenty of women hanging around. We even had a couple gals surfin’ with us. But folks didn’t like them surfing cause they could fall and get black and blue marks if they got hit with a board.
If you weren’t a big football player, or a big basketball player, you were out. Surfing was nothing, it wasn’t even counted. It’s changed. But still, some girls hung around at the beach with us. We weren’t looked on very highly because we weren’t winning any big games for the old alma matter. You had to be a football jock or something, so we more or less flew under the radar.”
The War and Decline of The Original Club: “Originally, in the SC surf club, you couldn’t get in if you drank or smoked. But that changed during the war, I’m sorry to say it did, but it did. It was a different attitude. We didn’t know if tomorrow we’d be in the service. It was a kind of feeling of “what the hell?” We did no drugs, to my knowledge.
All of us went into the service: Army, Navy, Air Force. I went into the Coast Guard. We all came back- one guy had a knee problem, but we all came back.
By then, the club started breaking up, we were older, going to college, married with kids, workin’, etc. By the fifties I was done, I was workin’ three jobs, and I joined the Fire Department in ‘49. Then I was married and had a baby. Didn’t have the time to go surfin’ no more!”