Iconic West Cliff surfer statue memorialized on 25th anniversary

SANTA CRUZ >> Virginia sculptor Thomas Marsh is glad people adorn costumes and hats on the iconic surfer sculpture at West Cliff Drive for holidays and festivities, he said Saturday during the bronze memorial’s 25th anniversary celebration.

“After the sculpture is complete, I become a spectator,” Marsh said as he glanced toward the flower leis draped over the statue, which was erected in 1992 in honor of the death of Santa Cruz Surfing Club member Bill Lidderdale.

The surfing club and Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation hosted the anniversary gathering.

Harry Mayo, 93, is among four living original members of the surfing club.

Mayo said he never surfed Steamer Lane but preferred the soft rolling waves of Cowell Beach.

“We didn’t have any leashes or wetsuits. There were no shortboards,” Mayo said. Without wetsuits, the small cadre of surfers could stay out about an hour, depending on the wind, in the cold ocean.

Mayo said he surfed until about 15 years ago.

Surfing club member Doug Thorne, 88, surfed consistently until about six years ago. He served as master of ceremonies during the gathering Saturday. Hawaiian music played as a slight onshore breeze was steady with small surf during the event on the cliff.

Marsh said a student inspired him to submit a model of the statue in a competition for the winning bid. The statue, which cost $ 60,000, ended up being a collaboration. Marsh created the surfer. His former student, Brian Curtis, created the base. Santa Cruz shapers David Stewart and Bill Grace made the 1930s-style surfboard.

“Twenty-five years passes very quickly,” Marsh said. “It was a tremendous honor to participate in this sculpture. This is one of the most beautiful cities on earth.”

Mary Lee Lincoln, the sister of the statue’s inspiration, Bill Lidderdale, said the statue is a striking resemblance of her brother.

“It’s a different world now,” she said as she looked up to the statue and a loud flow of Memorial Day weekend traffic buzzed behind her. “Bill was one heck of a guy.”

Peter McLean of Scotts Valley grew up surfing in Santa Cruz looking up to Lidderdale and listening for waves from his home on First Street.

“I missed 13 days of class so I could go surfing,” McLean said. He also said surfing has become commercialized and materialistic. He said before wetsuits, the sessions were shorter, but surfers could more easily submerge their bodies to duck under breaking waves.

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“The wetsuits provided too much buoyancy,” McLean said.

Fourth-generation Santa Cruz local Geoffrey Dunn said a “long, complicated battle” had to be overcome before the statue was placed.

“It didn’t come easily,” Dunn said. “So, 25 years later, it’s ironic that it stands as an iconic Santa Cruz symbol throughout the world. It’s such a part of this community now.”

Santa Cruz City Councilwoman Richelle Noroyan said she went away to college and, when she returned, the statue had been erected.

Noroyan, who has traveled widely in France, said the iconic Santa Cruz sculpture and surfing community are known globally.

“This has become one of the coolest symbols of Santa Cruz,” Noroyan said.

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