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Surf Roots

Two museum exhibits showcase origins of surfboard design and surf culture

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Simmons' designs lay dormant after his death, but were rediscovered in the last 15 years by surfers like Kenvin. Kenvin's second life as museum curator grew out of a documentary film project about Simmons that he's been laboring on called Hydrodynamica.

As more of the surfing world discovers Simmons and Polynesian surfboard design it marks a return to the forms and simple beauty of the surfboard. It's become an engrossing life's work for Kenvin. The only downside is he doesn't surf as much anymore.

"The more I work with surfboards, the less I surf," he says grimly as he notes the run of south swell he's missing at home in San Diego.

Talk about history coming full circle—the original Bolinas Surf Shop, which opened in 1963, is now hosting an exhibit devoted to the history of surfing in Bolinas. That history is largely shot through with the efforts and presence of Eric "Buzz" Besozzi who made North Bay history when he opened the shop; it was the first of its kind north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Buzz now runs a screen-printing clothing shop just a few doors down from the museum on Wharf Road, not far from the town's iconic beach, where you can still make out a "Naked Surfing Area" street sign and where rare is the day that someone's not out there in the surf.

Spread between two Bolinas Museum buildings, the show features numerous boards and silk-screens, lots of stickers and historical photos and a cool period film that shows surfers riding the waves in the tiny coastal Marin town in the 1960s.

The show—SeaPeople: The Bolinas Surf Shop, Est 1963—provides a great sense of the cottage industry that Buzz created and the spectrum of cultural offerings that sprang from the surf. T-shirt prints and skateboard decks line the walls, and there's an acoustic guitar whose back is screen-printed with a wave.

As the story goes, Buzz started his board-making business in San Anselmo before moving to Bolinas to shape boards and glass them. The museum has gone to lengths to recreate the feel of the original surf shop, which is depicted via a large photo on the wall of the Coastal Marin Artists Gallery—the selfsame building that was once the Bolinas Surf Shop. There's a braided sea-grass floor and longboards with "Boards by Buzz" identification, along with SeaPeople surfboards and Seaflex skateboards from the 1960s, '70s and '80s. They also made kayaks here and did the glassing in another nearby building that's now the Bolinas Laundromat. Fritz the Cat pops up all over the exhibit, carrying a round, black bomb with a fizzling fuse.

THE CURATOR Richard Kenvin laments he spends more time studying surfboards than riding them.
  • THE CURATOR Richard Kenvin laments he spends more time studying surfboards than riding them.

Besides surf culture's obvious impact on the emergence of skateboarding, the board-making enterprise spawned another of Buzz's outlets for expression with the creation of so-called crinkle plaques, which use resin from the board-making process to create what look like oversized Shrinky Dinks that depict everyone from Chairman Mao to Jerry Garcia—and Jack O'Neill, inventor of the modern wetsuit. There's even Buzz's membership card with the United States Surfing Association, and all kinds of Buzz-provided bric-a-brac he's collected over the years in Bolinas, cool old glass bottles and such.

The show is intertwined not just with the history of surfing in Bolinas, but the history of the town itself, which has, for example, fielded its own Bolinas Border Patrol in hopes of keeping the tourists, developers and curious journalists at bay. To that end, there are cool screen-prints of that "agency" on the wall, along with numerous others recognizable to locals, such as the Bo-Gas emblem.

But the overarching theme here is, of course, surfing, and one of the more hilarious boards on display is one called the Flying Feces. That board was shaped around the same time Bolinas was developing its sewer ponds up on the Big Mesa in an effort—successful—to keep the crap out of Bolinas Bay and the lagoon. If nothing else, the show demonstrates that despite what recent arrivistes might want to tell themselves, Bolinas hasn't become a surf town—it's always been a surf town.

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