More than 25 years ago, a surfing architect who now lives in the Anza Borrego desert hatched a plan for a surf heritage museum in an abandoned water tower off Santa Fe Drive in Encinitas.
Although a functioning surf museum in a municipal reservoir never got off the ground, the early days of Oceanside’s California Surf Museum (CSM) boasted local roots.
Stuart Resor had an astute premonition that early- to mid-century balsa boards and the first generation of foam boards would become both collector’s items and priceless surfing artifacts. Thus, Resor placed an ad in a local paper inviting anyone to help create his vision—a surf museum.
Thirteen people responded to the ad, including Jane Schmauss, who owned a restaurant in Cardiff called George’s. The restaurant catered to surfers, so Schmauss invited Resor and some of his cohorts to help decorate a corner of her restaurant with surfboards and other classic memorabilia.
Schmauss and Resor are two of the seven original founding members of the CSM who were in attendance at the nonprofit’s anniversary bash Saturday night at the museum on Pier View Way in downtown Oceanside.
More than a quarter of a century after Resor’s vision, the CSM has become a gem for surf history buffs in San Diego County and beyond.
“The museum sprouted from several people’s ideas just shooting the bull one day,” said Resor at the event. “We realized that these boards are handmade and signed by the person that made them—just like a Rembrandt or a Picasso, they tell a story and we knew they’d have cultural value."
What truly launched the CSM, Resor said, was the help of women like Schmauss—who acts as the museum's historian—and countless others.
“I credit some of the gals who got involved like Jane [Schmauss] and [original board member] June Chocoeles," Resor said. “Once they got involved, we had a committee, meetings, board members and bylaws. But the mother of the museum is Jane Schmauss. There are many people who stand out, but without her help, we wouldn’t be where we are today."
Crediting the role females have served in the evolution of the CSM is only appropriate, as the gala coincided with the end of the year-long exhibit "WOW" (Women On Waves).
Former Encinitas resident and longboard legend also attended the event. Benson is perhaps one of the first females to surf Swami’s—when she was just 12 years old. By the time she was 15, Benson surfed and conquered big-wave beast Makaha on Oahu.
The "WOW" exhibit showcased Benson’s exploits, including video footage of her perilous, steep drop at Makaha.
“Women have certainly come a long way in this sport,” said Benson, who was a flight attendant for 30 years and a women’s longboard contest organizer in her spare time. “Even 15 years ago, women were struggling to gain respect—it’s just simply amazing how much woman’s surfing has progressed in such a short time.”
Benson wanted last year to hold a woman’s longboarding championship at Swami’s, but concern from the about opening the floodgates to other events prompted her to abandon the idea.
Although denied another chance at making historical waves, Benson said she’s not bitter about not holding the contest.
“Encinitas would be a great venue for a women’s longboard championship and the one area where woman’s surfing is still struggling is the lack of quality venues for contests,” said Benson. “A lot of girls can’t afford to fly to France or other far-off places for preliminary events."
Perhaps Cardiff resident Hannah Cook will one day enjoy the fruits of Benson’s labor in promoting women’s surfing. Cook hasn’t surfed in quite a while, but attended the anniversary event because her father is a member of the museum.
“This is my first time here—it’s amazing how much history there is to read," she said. "It’s definitely inspiring to me. Maybe I’ll even get back in the water.”