History of Santa Cruz Surfer Statue

At Lighthouse Point on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz stands an 18-foot heroic bronze statue, an icon commemorating all surfers. Erected in May 1992, the figure recently celebrated 25 years as one of Santa Cruz’s most notable landmarks.

Created by prominent classical sculptor Thomas Marsh, Santa Cruz is also home to at least two of his other works, St. Joseph Marello at the Shrine of St. Joseph also on West Cliff Drive and St. Joseph, Patron of the Unborn. In addition to receiving his Masters of Fine Art degree at Cal State Long Beach, Marsh trained extensively in Italy to perfect his talent and learn the classical sculpting methods. His works are found in multiple private and public collections and he has created numerous public monuments.

As at urging of one of his students, Marsh submitted his surfer design, winning the commission, which became a collaborative effort. Marsh created the surfer, sculptor Brain Curtis, Marsh’s former student, designed the base and Santa Cruz shapers, (known for their creation of surfboards) David Stewart and Bill Grace, devised the 1930’s longboard the towers behind the valiant surfer.

The bronze monument was commissioned to celebrate the passing of one of the original members of the Santa Cruz Surfing Club, Bill Lidderdale, Jr. His sister claims she sees a resemblance between her brother and the bronze figure. The statue cost $60,000 and is officially titled, “To Honor Surfing”. A nearby plaque reads, “Dedicated to all surfers, past, present and future”. Nearby are unofficial wooden signs noting the passing of other surfers as well as one, which states the four commandments of surfing:

  • The first surfer on the wave has right of way
  • Paddle around the wave and not through it
  • Hang onto your board
  • Help other surfers

The bronze surfer is often (illegally) adorned with flower leis, pumpkins, lights and other ornamentations, especially around the holidays. He stands proudly, grasping his board, back toward the ocean where surfers of all ages and abilities share the waves. Near the base of the monument is a bronze memorial dedicating Santa Cruz as a World Surfing Reserve. Imparted in 2012 by the Save the Waves Coalition, this honor distinguishes a 7-mile stretch of surfer- and wildlife-friendly coastline running from Pleasure Point to Natural Bridges State Park. This designation, used to “proactively identify, designate and preserves outstanding waves, surf zones and surrounding environments around the world,” made Santa Cruz the fourth World Surfing Reserve, part of an elite assembly that includes Malibu Beach, Manly Beach in Australia, and Ericeira in Portugal.

Locals and visitors alike can be found walking, skateboarding, or cycling along the West Cliff Drive pathway, taking in expansive views of the Monterey Bay, the Boardwalk and wharf, great people- and surfer-viewing. Watching over them all – but especially his fellow surfers carving the waves – is Santa Cruz’s bronze border, an iconic landmark that will continue to stand guard for another quarter century and beyond.

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