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A Brief History of Surf and Skate in San Diego

The Early Days of Boarding

Surfing and skating are both beloved sports on an international scale, but the action sports world wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for San Diego. And San Diego wouldn’t be the same without surfing and skating. It’s a lifestyle that can be felt as much as experienced in this destination. It’s how San Diego rolls, and it’s been that way for a long, long time.

San Diego’s Surf History

Surfing is tied to San Diego, and San Diego to surfing. Their histories are intertwined, and the influence of surfing is ingrained in San Diego’s DNA. It started with Hawaiian surfers like Duke Kahanamoku and George Freeth coming to San Diego in the early 1900s, drawing big crowds and big excitement with their surfing demonstrations. Later, in the 30’s, Woody Brown—who would eventually go on to become one of the first legendary big-wave surfers—moved to San Diego and changed the surfboard design game. This kicked off San Diego’s reputation as a hub for not only surfing, but for surf innovation. The surf culture hit a boom in the 60’s, with the creation of the Windansea Surf Club, the rise of local competitions and the popularity and inclusivity of this laid-back community. It had become a true part of the San Diego story—the vibe, the energy and the lifestyle—and has remained that way to this day.

The Local Legends of Surf

San Diego’s surf heroes are made up of shapers and surfers. For surfboard shapers, there are legends like Gordon & Smith, Rusty Preisendorfer, Don Hansen, Donald Takayama and Skip Frye—among many others. These guys changed the surf industry with their innovation and creativity. “So many incredible shapers have come out of San Diego,” Chris Cote, Local Action Sports Expert & Media Professional says. “And of course that translates to great surfers!” It’s an internationally-known group of athletes, including world champion longboarders like Jen Smith and Joel Tudor and World Tour rippers like Rob Machado and Taylor Knox. “And literally hundreds of elite surfers living and surfing in the space between the Mexican border and Oceanside,” Chris adds.

San Diego’s Skate History

San Diego’s rich surf history made the destination a place where action sports of all kinds could thrive. Not surprisingly, skateboarding came from surfing. In fact, before the the name “skateboarding” was coined, it was simply called “sidewalk surfing”. San Diego was one of the cities where skateboarding came to life. “Legends like Skip Frye and Gregg Weaver took surf-style skating to the streets,” says Chris. Skaters started finding new uses for urban places all over San Diego, including the Escondido reservoir. Then, in 1976, Carlsbad Skatepark opened—the first skatepark in California and among the first in the world. Not long after, Del Mar Skate Ranch opened. “This was a flashpoint of modern skateboarding,” says Chris. “Just look at the early photography of (San Diego local) J. Grant Brittain for proof!” Tony Hawk started his career winning contests right there at “The Ranch”. “He did pretty well for himself after that,” Chris jokes. San Diego quickly earned its spot at the top of the skate world.

The Local Legends of Skate

“Half of the Skateboarding Hall of Fame is made up of San Diegans!” Chris says. Some of the top names? Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Skip Frye, Gregg Weaver, J. Grant Brittain, Bruce Logan, Kim Cespedes, and many more.

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