Grass Roots Effort Saves Santa Cruz Lighthouse And Surf Museum

Santa Cruz Lighthouse Surf Museum

As reported on

The red-and-white lighthouse overlooking Santa Cruz’s premier break of Steamer Lane is a telling feature, as evocative to surfers as San Diego icons such as the Goat Trail at Black’s, the trestles at Trestles or the golden dome of the Self-Realization Fellowship at Swami’s.

But it is more than that. At the base of the lighthouse is a humble, 900-square-foot museum, which has stood since 1986 as a tribute to Santa Cruz’s rich surfing history.

"People forget that the first surfers to surf in the continental United States were three Hawaiian princes who surfed here in 1885," says Dan Young, director of public affairs for the Santa Cruz Surfing Club Preservation Society.

In December, facing a budget crisis, the Santa Cruz City Council voted to shut down the museum, along with a slew of other museums and community resources.

To Young, this was unacceptable.

"That museum gets 35,000 visitors per year, there’s no admission charge, and whether they’re surfers or nonsurfers, people come out of there with big smiles on their faces."

To maintain the resource, the Santa Cruz Surfing Club Preservation Society acted quickly.

"We figured out that we only needed $10,000 to keep the museum open until June 30, the end of the fiscal year," Young said.

The surf community quickly rallied around the museum. Local icon Jack O’Neill – inventor of the wet suit and founder of O’Neill wet suits – donated $4,000.

"Then, at the ceremony when he’s giving us the check, somebody else comes up and gives us $2,500; $250, $50 . . . we’ve been getting lots of donations and we’re almost to our $10,000 total," Young said.

In the coming months, the Preservation Society will be hosting fundraisers, and the city has approved Young’s plan for the society to assume responsibility for the museum in perpetuity.

"When we started digging around into what we needed to keep it open, we found that it only cost about $20,000 per year, that the donation box brought in about $6,000, and that the gift shop brought in about $40,000. With those numbers, we plan on being able to maintain the museum for a long time."

The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, Young said, is the first of its kind in the world and houses many artifacts from the early days of Santa Cruz surfing – old boards, wet suits and photographs of the Santa Cruz Surfing Club, founded in 1936. A 10-by-10-foot portion of the lighthouse is federal property and belongs to the Coast Guard.