|By Eric C. Rodenberg
COSTA MESA, Calif. — Here, in California, the auction scene will be “totally rippin’” on May 11 when many of the rarest and more iconic surfing memorabilia come up for auction at the OC Fair and Events Center.
The sale, sponsored by the Quiksilver Waterman Collection, will be the first auction devoted entirely to surfing in the continental United States. At least four such auctions have been conducted in Hawaii.
Expect the auction action to be hot, according to Scott Bass, board of director member of the Surfing & Culture Center, which is hosting the sale.
The Center has, so far, received queries from all over America, Europe, Australia, Hawaii and South America.
Both onsite and online (at https://thevintagesurfauction.auctionserver.net) are expected to draw thousands of bidders, Bass said.
“There are only so many of these around anymore,” Bass said. “The Federal Reserve is certainly not printing any of these … there’s only so many telling our story of surfing.”
The lots come from various individual consignors, with the buyer’s premium of 15 percent going to the non-profit Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center.
And the auction offerings are nothing short of gnarly (as in: remarkable, outstanding).
For sale will be balsawood, early polyurethane foam and fiberglass surfboards from the 1920s through the 1990s, with some of the rarer and more iconic boards estimated to sell for up to $20,000.
One of the early boards dates from the 1930s, customized from redwood by the co-founder of Pacific Systems Homes for his surfing son. Pacific Systems would later spin off the first firm to build and market the boards commercially in Hawaii.
Another iconic board, considered a work of art by many surfing aficionados, is an early 1960s customized board made by legendary surfer Pat Curren. The board, noted in its description as featuring “the classic Curren lines, built for no-nonsense performance in serious surf,” is estimated at $7,000 to $15,000.
Another “cultish” board is the Zephyr from the early 1970s, designed by Dogtown’s Jeff Ho, featuring a characteristic boxy rail and beaked nose.
“ … this wicked machine is finished with airbrush graphics reflecting street art from the tough neighborhood this board came from,” an auction description notes.
Dogtown, an area of West Log Angeles, constituted the poorer, slum area on the south side of Santa Monica that included Venice Beach and Ocean Park Beaches. Throughout the 1970s, the Dogtown surfers were seen as aggressive, antisocial dropouts that lived only for surfing.
During the late 1960s and into the 1970s many of California surfers became fiercely loyal to regional brands like Dogtown.
However, the crown jewel of the auction is not a board; but comes from Hawaii, the land (or water) where it all began - a shipmate of Capt. John Cook wrote of seeing Polynesians surfing during the explorer’s first journey to the islands in 1769.
Despite the certainty that natives of Hawaii were surfing long before European contact was made on the island, relatively little was recorded over the ensuing years. That ended in the early 20th century when A.R. Gurrey, Jr. opened an art shop in the still desolate Waikiki Beach. Acknowledged as the “Father of Surfing Photography,” Gurrey was an avid surfer - and one of the very few “haole” (whites) invited to ride boards with the natives. As a highly regarded member of Hui Nalu, the Hawaiian surfing and canoeing club, Gurrey was privy to portraying an unprecedented upfront and personal record of surfing on film.
Between 1910 and 1914, Gurrey mounted his original photographic prints directly onto heavy paper stock, bound the pages together with a colorful cord, and hence created The Surf Riders of Hawaii - the first book to document surfing.
No one knows how many of the handmade books were originally produced; however, only eight books are known to exist today. “They are a landmark in surfing history,” according to surfing historian Joel T. Smith.
“The book captured, for the first time, the spirit and essence of surfing,” Smith said. “Gurrey was an avid surfer himself, and he brought a true understanding of the sport to his photographs.
“All of his pictures were taken from the water, probably from a canoe riding alongside the surfers. This was a significant challenge given the technical limitations of the early cameras and film stock. Yet the result is a stunning representation of surf riding in its Golden Era.”
Last year, one of the books sold for $37,500 at Sotheby’s auction house.
However, The Surf Riders of Hawaii up for auction May 11 has the special provenance of having been found by Gurrey’s family in his personal belongings. The book features images of some of the first modern surfers in Hawaii, including Duke Kahanamoku, 1912 Olympic Gold Medal swimmer, actor and early beach volleyball player.
“Originally, the family member didn’t know what they had,” Bass said. “But, for us it is an important part of surfing culture. We know that it brought a little over $37,000 last year. There’s been a lot of interest in the book … with the direct link to Gurrey we would anticipate that it will bring more.”
Despite being a pioneer in capturing the spirit of surfing, Gurrey died in 1928 at the relatively young age of 53. His father, A.R. Gurrey, Sr., who outlived his son by nearly two decades, became a well-respected painter of Hawaiian scenes with many of his paintings today being highly sought after by collectors. The younger Gurrey’s wife, Caroline Haskins Gurrey, was also a highly esteemed photo portraitist who operated a successful photo studio in Honolulu for many years. Again, many of her photographs are in great demand by collectors.
However, such notoriety has so far eluded the younger Gerrey, according to Smith. “His name and work are virtually unknown outside the modern surfing and photographic communities,” according to Smith. “Outside of a few collectors most of his pictures have not been seen for almost 100 years. But, his artistry speaks for itself.”
Financially insolvent, he was forced to close his art gallery in 1923. During this difficult period of his life, the Gurrey house suffered a fire and a flood.
“This was a true disaster,” Smith said. The double-catastrophes destroyed all of Gurrey’s early surfing negatives.
“I think he died of a broken heart,” Smith says, “his dreams had been all swept out from under him.”
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