ONE OF SURFING’S BIGGEST MYSTERIES: WAS ASBURY PARK THE FIRST? YOU DECIDE…
Did the first person (and woman) to surf in the continental US do it in Asbury Park?
Many say “yes,” including Dr. Bill Rosenblatt, co-founder of the NJ Shore Surfrider Foundation and 50 year-long surfer.
The mystery regarding which coast can stake claim to the history-making surfing “first” has been debated for decades by surfing fanatics. It all centers around a vintage magazine cover, a legendary story and a difference of three years.
I spoke with Dr. Rosenblatt about one of the surfing community’s biggest debates last week.
TBP: New Jersey has a vibrant history of surfing that is somewhat overlooked.
Dr. Rosenblatt: Back in the 1960’s this area had a very small and tight surf community. I learned to surf in Miami one summer when I stayed with my grandparents and it is all history from there.
Around here, we were doing our own thing and surfed anywhere we could from Long Beach Island to Sandy Hook. My friends and I usually preferred Belmar, Long Branch and Lavallette.
Surfing became popular, or at least more mainstream, in the late 1960’s after the beach blanket movies like “Gidget” and “Endless Summer.” Those movies opened up people’s minds to surfing. Still, for years, surfing was primarily thought of as a west coast sport.
TBP: The history of surfing in New Jersey goes back much further than the 1960’s.
Dr. Rosenblatt: It is a fact that Duke Kahanamoku (Hawaii), the father of modern surfing and considered the Michael Phelps of his day, did exposition surfing on a wood board in Atlantic City in 1912 and then returned there every few years for two or three decades. Duke is credited with spreading the sport of surfing around the world.
TBP: The mystery today is grounded in where the first person surfed in the continental US. Some say it happened in Santa Cruz, California. But the “Gay Queen of the Waves” has fans of the sport questioning whether the historical wave ride happened in Asbury Park.
Dr. Rosenblatt: The cover (photo left) of the August 18, 1888 Police Gazette depicts a drawing of a woman surfing in Asbury Park with an iconic boardwalk pavilion in the background. The caption reads, “A Gay Queen of the Waves: Asbury Park, New Jersey surprised by the daring of a Sandwich Island Girl.”
The key is the date of publication. Legend is that three Hawaiian princes surfed in a Santa Cruz exhibition in 1885 but the Police Gazette illustrates surfing in Asbury Park in 1888. No one can one-hundred percent confirm either physically happened. Most surf history is centered on the west coast and it is difficult to get historians to acknowledge what happened here. The east coast has always been the step child of surfing.
TBP: More and more, however, the surfing community is coming around to the possibility that Asbury Park was the continental US “first.” At a minimum, I believe it would be one of the sport’s trailblazers and the first female surfer. As far as tangible proof, the east coast has something more substantial than legend.
Dr. Rosenblatt: I hope it is a reality. I would absolutely not be surprised if Asbury Park hosted the history-making first continental US surfing exhibition. It seems very logical. (City founder) James Bradley was a PT Barnum type forward-thinker and quite the promoter of Asbury Park.
Bradley did an awful lot of swimming competitions to attract tourists so bringing surfers to town would make sense. Afterwards, the event being publicized in the magazine would have it all add up.
SURFING EVENT: Saltwater Art and Surf Festival this weekend (June 27 and 28) at the Algonquin Arts Theatre in Manasquan. In addition to bands and craft booths two films will be premiered: “A life Outside” and “Paskowitz Experience.” More at NJSurfShow.com.