Surf City Index

LA Times

Turf Battle for Surf City

Huntington Beach sues Santa Cruz, but is the surfing capital really locals-only?

September 30, 2006

YOU'D THINK, WITH ITS FORMER mayor sentenced in a condo conversion scam and a distraught teenage girl shot and killed last month by police, that Huntington Beach has bigger legal fish to fry than a dispute about T-shirt slogans. But this month, the city's Conference and Visitors Bureau sicced its lawyers on a Santa Cruz shop for selling shirts that said: "Surf City Santa Cruz California USA."

Huntington Beach is not, as you might first expect, just trying to cash in on the success of the two coastal cities to the south (Newport Beach and Laguna Beach) in luring hit TV shows (though we'd totally watch "Desperate Dudes of the O.C."). HB, you see, wants to be known as the one real Surf City, and it recently trademarked the slogan "Surf City USA" to make sure. Its credentials? Jan and Dean recorded "Surf City" in 1963, and Dean still lives in Huntington Beach. Then there's the annual world surfing championship and the surfing museum.

Santa Cruz is taking a much mellower approach to the conflict, despite its much bigger waves, matching surf museum and requisite contests. The legal spat and attendant publicity might be the best thing to ever happen to longtime beach shop Noland's on the Wharf. Suddenly those tacky tourist shirts are potential collector's items.

In this locals-only war over surfer territory, Huntington Beach gets points for being aggro enough to obtain a trademark, while Santa Cruz scores for showing more of a surfer's laid-back 'tude. Huntington Beach is relentlessly commercial and buzz-cut; Santa Cruz is relentlessly New Age and long-haired. So which one is the real Surf City?

Not to sound like we're equivocating, but there are at least two of them. And neither is in California.

There's Surf City, N.C. &emdash; yes, that's its official, postmarked name &emdash; where the big issue these days isn't commercial rights but the need for a new post office. And, of course, the town that Jan and Dean probably never meant: Surf City, N.J.

Others also have some claim on the name. The Honolulu Advertiser recently referred to its hometown as Surf City. The Yakutat, Alaska, City Council passed a resolution that identified the town as "Surf City Alaska," a state-centric solution Huntington Beach apparently hasn't thought of yet.

As for the prize for most original location, it's a tie. Surf City Squeeze, a chain of smoothie outlets, is headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., hundreds of miles from the nearest waves. (A desert rat can dream.) But it has to fight for its title with, well, Surf City, a trademarked auto washing business in Toledo, Ohio. We just hope the car washers don't come threatening any T-shirt stores in Huntington Beach.

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