News / Arts & Entertainment

Surfing a Way of Life in California

Riding the Waves in Californiai
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August 13, 2013 1:02 AM
Surfing started in Hawaii, but Californians adopted the sport early and popularized it around the world. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Huntington Beach, California - known as Surf City - where riding the waves has become a way of life.
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Mike O'Sullivan
— Surfing started in Hawaii, but Californians adopted the sport early and popularized it around the world.  Huntington Beach, is known as Surf City, where riding the waves has become a way of life.

The surfers come out early to catch the morning waves.  

High school teacher Matt Grayson surfs nearly every day.

“Just getting out away from it all, get in the water and it is all blue and clean, and it just takes away all your problems," he said.

At Huntington Beach, they have been surfing for almost a century, but the sport got under way in earnest in the 1950s, and was popularized through music from the Beach Boys and duo Jan and Dean and by movies, like the 1959 film Gidget, based on a popular novel.  Starring Sandra Dee, the movie told about a teenaged girl's introduction to surf culture.

The International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach preserves the history of the sport, from Hawaiians George Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku, who brought surfing to California in the early 1900s, to modern surfing champs like Kelly Slater.  The boards have changed - they are shorter and faster today.  

One former competitor says the sport has also changed.  Today, there are big prizes and product endorsements for top professionals, says Australian-born Pete Townend, who was world pro-surfing champion in 1976.

“There are a lot of young surfers today making a million dollars a year," said Townend. "That is pretty good money to just go surfing in perfect waves with beautiful girls all around, right?”

The U.S. Open of Surfing, held last month in Huntington Beach, brought together top surfers from as far away as Japan and Brazil.  It is a worldwide sport today, says spokeswoman Jennifer Lau.

“Surfing is something that is appealing and it is a spiritual thing.  You either have what we call the stoke, or you do not, and it is really what keeps you alive," said Lau.

She says “the stoke” is the feeling you get when you are riding a great wave.

Surfing is the perfect way to get in touch with nature, says longtime surfer Josh Harrison.

“Because you are tapping into the energy, really, of the world, in a way of the planet, of the wind and the tides and distant storms, and you are getting that energy here where it is sunny," he said.

He says that every day and each new wave brings another challenge.

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