Thomas Hickenbottom has found a way to fit a surfing museum into a backpack.
With his new book, "Surfing in Santa Cruz," Hickenbottom presents a pictorial history of the sport from South County to Steamer Lane. Written by a native son, the book offers the reader an ultimate insider's look at the roots and evolution of modern day surfing in Santa Cruz.
"It was an era for only the boldest and most dedicated surfers," said Hickenbottom of Bonny Doon in the book's introduction. "This volume of photographs is a testament to those people from the earliest of times who helped define and transform surfing and beach life in Santa Cruz."
Hickenbottom's stories and pictures evolve from the slabs of redwood used by the three Hawaiian princes who christened Santa Cruz's waters to the heavy wood boards of the 1950s to the light "foamies" that emerged in the early 1960s.
Hickenbottom's sincere focus isn't the boards, however, but the people who rode them. He shares snapshots of some of the area's premiere surfing families, including the O'Neills and the Van Dykes. He digs up pictures of pro and local surfers waiting for their turn at contests and shows members of the Santa Cruz Surf Club gathering at the surf barn that used to sit at the corner of West Cliff and Bay Street.
One photo shows a group of longtime Westside surfers, including Al Fox, hanging out under a beach umbrella
"After Fox retired from the County of Santa Cruz, he rarely missed
a day sunning at Cowell's," Hickenbottom wrote. "He was down there so much he would tell people, If you need me, I'll be at the office,' which meant under the beach umbrella."
Hickenbottom, 61, succeeds at capturing Santa Cruz's surf history in part because he lived it. He started surfing in 1959 as an 11-year-old "grommie" [young surfer]. He progressed quickly, and as a member of the premier O'Neill Surf Team, was one of the first sponsored surfers. He competed up and down the coast, surfing against and often beating the best surfers of those days.
His meteoric surfing career was disrupted by the war in Vietnam, but Hickenbottom never lost his passion for surfing -- especially in Santa Cruz. That's why decades later, Hickenbottom delved into piecing together his latest book, taking his own knowledge and gleaning additional stories from some older members of the SCSC and information found at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.
"Surfing in Santa Cruz is a multifaceted experience," he wrote. "The community has some of the greatest surfers in the world as residents -- professional surfers who are constantly seeking out ultimate honors and personal triumphs. It is also a community that supports even the most physically compromised individual, who would like to experience the stoke of riding a wave."
To have all this together in one portable volume could be considered, for surfers, like finding a secret surf spot.