California - Surfers don't really
care what nickname you give their
city. Just give them good waves,
room to move and a couple of
exhilarating hours of freedom.
But to the business-suit crowd,
reputation is everything. And so for
15 years two California beach towns
have been kicking sand at each
other, both claiming the boasting
rights of being the true Surf City.
In Huntington Beach, tourism
officials struck first, in November,
by getting the trademark "Surf City,
USA." That pinched a nerve up north
in Santa Cruz, which this month
directed its city attorney to seek a
federal trademark of its own.
"Original Surf City, USA" sounded
Deciding who really deserves the
title is like trying to broker a
peace agreement between the Dodgers
and the Giants, the conservatives
and the liberals.
Arguably, each city can claim a
piece of surf glory. Each is on the
ocean, and each has deep roots in
But that's about where the
In Huntington Beach, surfers stroll
across a wide, sandy beach, paddle
out and catch waves breaking off a
sandbar. In Santa Cruz, they leap
off a rocky cliff into the frigid
water, ride ridiculously long waves,
hoist their boards up a few flights
of concrete stairs and trek half a
mile back to do it all over again.
Sexy vs. serious
In Huntington Beach, surfers all
seem trim and sun-kissed, so
alluring that trendy clothier
Abercrombie & Fitch has a camera
piping live video from the pier into
its stores. Santa Cruz surfers
embrace the motto "Keep Santa Cruz
Weird" and pride themselves on
hitting the beach without stopping
to look in the mirror.
There is one other major difference.
For Huntington Beach, the moniker is
about more than bragging rights;
it's about money. The "Surf City,
USA" trademark--approved by the U.S.
Patent and Trademark Office for a
$335 filing fee--is part of a
marketing effort to sell the city
along the increasingly lavish Orange
With a fancy new Hyatt and 500 more
hotel rooms on the drawing board,
the city's ambitions are to mature
from "a sleepy beachfront community
to a world-class overnight resort,"
said Doug Traub, director of the
That couldn't contrast more with
slow-growing Santa Cruz, a city that
circled itself with a greenbelt to
knock out suburban sprawl. Indeed,
the gritty surfers exaggerate the
risk of their shark-infested, icy
waters just to scare away outsiders.
Still, word of Huntington Beach's
trademark traveled up the coast,
where Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin
said he fielded about 30 calls from
So Rotkin invited the "wimps" of
Huntington Beach to a surf-off. He
went on local television, singing
his own rendition of Jan and Dean's
famous "Surf City:"
"You think your pier compares to
(Surf City's Santa Cruz)
Just give it up and go drive your
(Surf City's Santa Cruz)."
The officials down south just smile,
gleefully slapping "Surf City, USA"
all over their tourist brochures and
adding a warning note on their Web
site to anyone who dares tread on
Even Dean Torrence, of Jan and Dean
fame, got in on the act. When the
duo wrote their famous anthem "Surf
City," which topped the Billboard
charts in 1963, "none of us," he
said, "had Santa Cruz in mind."
Torrence lives in Huntington Beach
and spent many of his teenage years
surfing in the city. "I'm flattered
that [Santa Cruz] is so uptight
about it," he said.
Neither city was actually mentioned
as that fantasy land where there are
"two girls for every boy," though
both are mentioned in Beach Boys
songs: Huntington Beach in "Surfin'
Safari" and Santa Cruz in "Surfin'
"Real surfers don't care," said
Santa Cruz surfer Brian MacDonald, a
46-year-old retired dot-commer. "Or,
if anything, they don't want the
name Surf City because it sounds
kind of cheesy."
Still, Santa Cruz boosters are proud
of what they have.
"We've got more surf around here
than they have in their little
thumb," boasted Harry Mayo, 81, a
retired firefighter and one of the
original members of the Santa Cruz
Indeed, Santa Cruz's Steamer Lane
and Pleasure Point are considered
world-class surf sites, where
up-and-coming pros cut their teeth
before packing their boards for
Hawaii. They also claim proximity to
Maverick's, about an hour north in
Half Moon Bay, a big-wave spot
referred to by surfline.com as "one
of the seven natural wonders of the
The northern surfers include
old-timers, teenagers and wealthy,
middle-aged imports from the Silicon
The locals are schooled in Santa
Cruz surfing lore, tidbits they may
have picked up at the Santa Cruz
Surfing Museum, where guys such as
Mayo gather on Friday afternoons to
spin yarns about their surfing days
before World War II.
Just about any surfer can spout the
story of how surfing came to town.
"It was a couple of Hawaiian princes
surfing at the Rivermouth in the
1800s," said Dave Gardner, 34, a
"They weren't even drilling for oil
in Huntington Beach yet."
And they idolize local legend Jack
O'Neill, inventor of the modern
wetsuit. Never mind that he's just
as much a part of the Huntington
Beach surf scene as he is in the
In Huntington, he has a star on the
Surfing Walk of Fame on Main Street,
across the street from the statue of
legendary Hawaiian surfer Duke
Kahanamoku and the Surfing Hall of
Fame. And the O'Neill logo is
plastered over the oceanfront
windows of the surfboard shops that
overlook Huntington Beach's pier.
Then again, just about every major
surf brand--including Quiksilver,
Billabong and Hurley--is represented
in Huntington Beach. Competitive
surfing is also at home in
Huntington Beach, which has 35 to 40
competitions a year, including the
headlining U.S. Open of Surfing.
"What do they have in Santa Cruz'
The Cold Water Classic'" mocked
Randy Hollowell, 19, of Huntington
Beach. "And that got canceled last
time because they didn't have any
Millions of Americans have known of
Huntington Beach's waves for
decades, with its surfing contests
legitimized by ABC's "Wide World of
Sports." The city was the host of
the first U.S. Surfing Championship
in 1959, two years before anybody
had heard of the Beach Boys.
Year-round, the water and air are so
much warmer in Huntington Beach that
Steve Pezman, publisher of the
Surfer's Journal, says a Santa Cruz
surfer who hit the waves in
Huntington "would think he'd died
and gone to Hawaii." The waves,
though smaller, are more consistent
Some don't understand the civic
"It's kind of a non-event as far as
the surfing community is concerned,"
Pezman said. "Culturally, both
places have earned a piece of the
title. Both places have solid
credentials. I wouldn't rate one
over the other."
And for some folks, it's just a
matter of perspective.
"Surf City' Yeah, I've heard of it,"
said Santa Cruz visitor Albert
Vasallo, who lives in Miami. "I
think it's up in Hollywood ...
Hollywood Beach, Florida."