MAIN ST — For the layman, “going vertical” may sound like a terrifying, alien experience.
For veteran surfers, going vertical — cutting back and riding up a wave, sometimes going airborne — is a really rad ideal, but it’s a maneuver that was impossible to achieve with the classic longboard.
It wasn’t until the creation of the shortboard that surfers could pull off stunts like that, and the shortboard’s invention inadvertently led to a surge of surf culture.
“Shortboard Revolution,” which premiered on Thursday night, is a new installation at the California Heritage Museum that showcases that evolution of surfboard design, which occurred from 1967 to 1984.
“That’s when everything happened,” said Tobi Smith, executive director at the California Heritage Museum.
Within that 17-year period, the sport saw a rise in respectability as surfboards underwent a structural and artistic evolution, Smith said.
Surfboards from that era are on display to show the gradual changes that occurred to make the boards more maneuverable, such as shortening board length and increasing the number of fins on the underside of the boards, she added.
As well as the surfboards, a room upstairs recreates the look of a 1980s shaping room, where surfers could have custom boards made.
“A thoughtful surfer might want a board to act in a certain way, so you would go to a shaper,” Smith said.
Guest shapers will come in and custom make surfboards throughout the remainder of the exhibit, and videos of shapers at work will be on display.
The show’s curator, Nathan Pratt, has been a surfer, a shaper, and was one of the original Z-Boys, the team of Santa Monica and Venice surfers and skaters who played a key role in Southern California culture in the 1970s.
Nathan Pratt wanted the exhibit to really showcase the bridge between classic and modern surfing. “Most shows do up to ‘74 and quit,” Nathan Pratt said, “The end of Gidget era through the modern era.”
But Nathan Pratt felt that to cover more ground the exhibit should go on into the modern era and showcase further change.
In order to put the show together, he didn’t have to reach too far. “I called friends of mine who were collectors and got boards,” he said.
One of those collectors was Spencer Croul, who co-founded the Surfing Heritage Collection. Croul started surfing in 1971 and became a collector in December 1996, he said.
“I was looking for art for the house,” Croul said, explaining why he chose to collect boards. “I liked the three dimensionality of surfboards.”
Another collector who donated surfboards to the exhibit was Jason Cohn.
Cohn grew up in Ohio, but was always fascinated by Southern California culture and the Pacific Ocean, he said.
“They’re functional pieces of art,” Cohn said of the boards on display.
Cohn also donated classic skateboards to the museum when it ran an earlier show about the history of that sport. “This is a way to keep kids interested, preserving our past,” he said. “Pop culture is a part of our history.”
A key sponsor for the show is Hurley, the Costa Mesa-based surf and skate clothing brand. “It was nice to be able to help out locally,” said Scott Pratt, vice president of art at Hurley. “Hurley is very proud to be part of a retrospective on the sport.”
The brand’s founder, Bob Hurley, was a surfboard shaper, and some of his boards are on display in the exhibit.
“It was a natural fit for the brand,” Scott Pratt said of the decision to sponsor the show.
The evolution of the shortboard is not the only exhibit at the museum. Dominating the downstairs is an installation reflecting the influence of Hawaiian culture on Southern California in the 1950s.
A tiki bar is on display, as well as a complete dining room set up with rattan furniture and hula girl lamps that suggestively shake their hips.
The museum’s kitchen is devoted to magazine covers of Surfer magazine from 1967 to 1984 to reflect the show upstairs.
The installations will remain up until April 2012. For more information, contact the museum at (310) 392-8537.