ASBURY PARK’S PREEMINENT HISTORIAN DISCUSSES ONE OF SURFING’S BIGGEST MYSTERIES
Was Asbury Park the home of the first-ever continental US surfing exhibition? Many, including Dr. Bill Rosenblatt and I, are hopeful the answer is a resounding “yes.” More are skeptical or downright adamant Santa Cruz, California can own that history-making claim.
Rosenblatt, who presented his case at last year’s TEDx Navesink conference, shared his compelling reasoning with The Coaster and TheBPlot. The Queen of Asbury Park History, Helen-Chantal Pike, thinks otherwise…
TBP: Are you aware of any more information about the Police Gazette cover and story? Was this part of Bradley’s marketing strategy for the city?
Chantal Pike: The Police Gazette’s illustrations and content were designed to titillate men in barbershops and, of course, to sell copies elsewhere. It was a combo-forerunner of “True Crime” and “News of the World”.
Mr. Bradley’s marketing pitch was all about selling real estate to upwardly mobile white Protestant families preoccupied with raising chaste young ladies. Good heavens, young couples were prohibited from public hand-holding. If they were caught kissing on The Boardwalk at night by one of Founder Bradley’s “angels” their names were reported. P.T. Barnum would have used that act of pre-connubial defiance as a promo for coming attractions! Father Bradley would have insisted his ministers to preach abstinence from their pulpits.
TBP: So, what do you think? Was Asbury Park the home of another first – continental US surfing exhibition in 1888.
Chantal Pike: It’s tantalizing in the 21st century to think of a scantily clad woman surfing off Asbury Park in 1888. Why? Because we all know liquor, card-playing, and public dancing were banned from Asbury Park and yet we romantically hope some free spirit (a woman, no less!) was thumbing her nose at (Asbury Park) Founder Bradley and, by extension, the all-boys’ club of surfers.
Pish. Such a feat would have garnered media coverage. Yet, no reading of all the 1888 Asbury Park newspapers on microfilm in the city’s library makes mention of either occurrence. Honestly, more people should try it the next time there’s a rainy day at the beach. Or else go see a movie at The ShowRoom.
According to the 2006 edition of the “Legendary Surfers” newsletter: “Princess Kaiulani left Hawaii to travel to school in Britain in May 1889, when she was 14 years old. So she cannot have been the surfer girl (pictured on the cover of the Police Gazette).”
Award-winning writer Helen-Chantal Pike is the elegant authority on everything related to Asbury Park area history. If you are new to town – or just looking for a great beach read – her books are a gift of fun, vintage pop culture and formal knowledge. Visit HelenPike.com for more.
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