Since the beginning, surfing has fed a shimmering myth of a golden land where the natives are forever young, stoked and catching beautiful swells. And Miami, despite its relatively urban setting, has its own colorful and unique surfing mythology. So on a recent evening at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, some 200 guests gathered for the launch of the Miami Surf Archive Project, a nonprofit organization founded by several generations of local surfers and spearheaded by environmental engineer Michael Laas. Their goal: preserve the unique history and ethos of surfing in Miami-Dade for future generations. The crowd perused vintage long boards and paraphernalia. Old photos of countless lost afternoons at the beach unfurled like a ribbon of delight: the crew cuts and Gidget poses of the ’50s; long-haired, stoned surfers lolling in VW vans in the late ’60s; the psychedelic surf attire of the '70s and the punk-infused scene of the ’80s blurred into the glossy landscape of contemporary South Beach. It’s been one long, beautiful ride.

A Man On a Wave
Miami surf history more or less begins in 1932, the year Dudley Whitman and his late brother William (their brother Stanley developed Bal Harbour Shops) met legendary waterman Tom Blake at a woodworking shop behind their oceanfront Miami Beach home. The Whitman boys, who were already attempting to make wooden boards, struck up a friendship with Blake, the Johnny Appleseed of surfing, and were soon riding waves on their own long boards—10-foot, 85-pound affairs carved out of sugar pine. Two years later, with Blake’s help, the Whitmans perfected lighter hollow boards, using wooden pegs instead of screws. In 1937, armed with a letter of introduction from Blake, the brothers traveled to Honolulu’s Outrigger Canoe Club, of which the iconic Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, whose prowess and star power popularized surfing beyond Hawaii, was a member. As haole (white men from the mainland) they were initially dismissed, but their sophisticated hollow boards eventually earned Kahanamoku’s respect and a place of honor at the club: They were given a surfboard storage rack reserved for special VIP guests.

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