Sometimes, you have to know the history of surfing to understand it better, and where else can you learn about its past — if not a museum?
Surfing is an ancient sport, and there are tons of cool historical facts about its origins. For instance, In 3,000 B.C., archaeologists found stone carvings of people riding the waves, which later turned out to be the very first evidence of surfing.
A thousand years after that, Polynesian ancestors brought it to the Pacific Islands where William Anderson first witnessed native Hawaiians surfing and wrote about it in his journal, ‘A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean’. He described the encounter as,
“He went out from the shore, till he was near the place where the swell begins to take its rise; and watching its first motion very attentively, paddled before it, till he found that it overtook him. He then sat motionlessly, and was carried along, at the same swift rate as the wave, till it landed him upon the beach…”
Curious to know where you can find more historic facts like these? In this article, I’m going to talk about the best surfing museums in the world, including their most-prized artifacts and revolving exhibits you may want to check out.
Top 9 Best Surfing Museums in the World
#1: Santa Cruz Lighthouse and Surfing Museum
- Admission fee: Free (Donations are encouraged)
- Location: Mark Abbott Lighthouse, West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, California
- Notable exhibitions: N/A
- Must-see displays: Photographs and memorabilia from surfing’s golden era, Replicas of the redwood board ridden by the Hawaiian princes
Take a trip to surfing’s memory lane with the first-ever surfing museum in the world — the Santa Cruz Lighthouse and Surfing Museum.
This museum is unlike the others, for its main structure holds a lot of stories and history. It’s located where the three Hawaiian princes surfed the waves one hot summer day in 1885, while an awestruck crowd watched them intently. Little did the three princes know, they’ve started the surfing trend in Santa Cruz.
The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is located at the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, which overlooks the world-famous surfing hotspot, Steamer Lane. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, and tourists can stroll around and get a good glimpse of the surfers catching waves.
It won’t take you hours to tour this small and simple museum, but the views alone are worth stopping for. If you’re lucky, you might also get the chance to witness fire dances and bonfires at night!
Some important and notable artifacts in this small museum are the photographs from different surfing eras, as well as books and memorabilia from surfing legends tracing back to 100 years. There’s also a small store inside that sells trinkets and local artists’ crafts.
The admission here is free, but there’s a small box at the front of the museum where you can give your donation to help keep the museum open.
#2: California Surf Museum
- Admission fee: $7 per adult, $5 for student
- Location: 312 Pier View Way Oceanside, CA
- Notable exhibitions: “Tom Morey and the Evolution of the Boogie Board”, “Abstraction in Symmetry”, “Doc Ball’s Camera”
- Must-see displays: Bethany Hamilton, Greg Noll, and Eddie Aikau’s displays, Vintage and modern surfboards
Visiting the California Surf Museum is a fun way to spend time and learn more about the surfing culture. It’s conveniently located in Pier View Way in downtown Oceanside, so it’s great as a quick stop or a side trip. With 20,000 visitors each year, this museum’s already had over 600,000 guests from the time it was founded by Stuart Resor in 1986.
Not a surfer? No problem! You’ll surely enjoy touring around this surfing museum even if you don’t religiously ride the waves. The displays’ fascinating backstories will surely get you hooked and inspired.
Most of the visitors enjoy the story of Bethany Hamilton (the inspiration for the movie Soul Surfer), who lost an arm because of a shark attack. Her wetsuit and the actual board she was using that time is displayed in the museum, instilled with the enormous bite mark of the shark.
It also features the amazing story of the Big Wave Legend Eddie Aikau, the first lifeguard in Waimea Bay who’s saved more than 500 lives. Along with a display of Greg Noll’s memorabilia and his distinguished striped board shorts.
The museum’s other displays include a wide range of vintage surfboards from the 1900s and modern boards with different construction made like foam, wood, and fiberglass.
#3: Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum
- Admission fee: $3 per adult
- Location: 155 Fifth Street, Huntington Beach, CA
- Notable exhibitions: “Famers-On Both Sides of Main Street”, “History of Surfboard Wax”
- Must-see displays: Guinness World Records ‘World’s Largest Surfboard’, Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboard
If you’re looking to gain more surfing knowledge before your session, or simply looking for Guinness World Record attractions located at the main strip of Huntington Beach, you might want to check out the International Surfing Museum in California. With a mission to preserve the past and influence the future, this quaint museum is a treasure of surfing culture.
This beachside museum has a display of collectibles and memorabilia from well-known and influential people in the world of surfing like Corky Carrol and Marge Calhoun. You can also find a shrine and the original board of Duke Kahanamoku — the ‘Father of Surfing’ and also a frequent surfer of Huntington Beach.
It may be small, but you’d be surprised to know that this museum houses the ‘World’s Largest Surfboard’ and the ‘Largest Surfboard Wax’ as its main attractions. The big surfboard is hung and displayed at the parking area where tourists passing by can easily spot it. Meanwhile, the wax weighing 110 pounds is displayed safely inside the museum to prevent it from melting.
The International Surfing Museum also features rotating exhibits with different themes that surfers and non-surfers will appreciate. Its other displays include vintage surfboards, skateboards, the first electric guitar of Dick Dale, and a life-size statue of the Silver Surfer.
#4: Surfing Heritage and Culture Center
- Admission fee: Free (Donations are appreciated)
- Location: 110 Calle Iglesia San Clemente, California
- Notable exhibitions: “Celluloid History of Surfing”, “Women Making Waves”
- Must-see displays: Vintage surfboards from the 20th century
For more than 20 years, the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center or SHACC has been preserving surfing artifacts and protecting important galleries and archives of legendary surfers. This museum has a collection of all kinds of surfboards dating back to the 20th century, including stories of how they have evolved over the years. From planks, kook boxes, Malibu chips, this museum is truly a haven for surfing board enthusiasts.
Aside from the artifacts that they’ve accumulated over the years, this museum’s docents are also noteworthy. They’re beyond knowledgeable and they’re able to answer any inquiries of the visitors.
The best part about the SHACC is its free admission; however, giving monetary donations and availing memberships are deeply appreciated as support for their cause. It’s suitable for all ages, so families and students on tour are sure to have a great time learning about surfing history.
#5: Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Honolulu
- Admission fee: $24.95 per adult, $16.95 for kids
- Location: 1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu, Hawai’i
- Notable exhibitions: “Mai Kinohi Mai: Surfing in Hawai’i”, “Pow! Wow! The First Decade: From Hawai’i to the World”
- Must-see attractions: Hawaiian and Polynesian traditional crafts, royal heirlooms, oldest surfboards, surfing archives, and manuscripts
The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is the largest museum in the state of Hawai’i, but it isn’t specifically a surfing museum per se. It just features exhibits and displays to celebrate the vibrant surfing culture.
Among those exhibitions was the ‘Mai Kinohi Mai: Surfing in Hawai’i’ — an exhibit dedicated to the Polynesians, the first people to master the art of riding the waves. Because this exhibit was long-awaited, surfing enthusiasts from other states fly out to Honolulu just to witness this special event.
The said exhibit included rare photographs and manuscripts of Polynesian settlers riding the waves with their wooden boards. As well as pictures from Duke Kahanamoku’s collection, which was also donated to the museum by his wife. The oldest surfboard was also displayed at the event, and there are also Alaia-style surfboards that were believed to belong to the Royal Princess Kaiulani.
For added flair, the exhibit also featured a surfing simulation to let the visitors experience how the surfboards feel like in the water.
#6: Haleiwa Surf Museum / North Shore Surfing Museum
- Admission fee: Free
- Location: 66-250 Kamehameha Highway, North Shore Oahu, Hawai’i
- Notable exhibitions: N/A
- Must-see displays: Motorized surfboard, photographs of Leroy Grannis
Visiting the Haleiwa Surf Museum is a must when you’re in North Shore Oahu. This quirky museum’s got a laidback setting, and though it seems the museum has no designated opening hours and days, it’s worth coming back again in case you missed it the first time.
Haleiwa means ‘House of the Frigate Bird’ in Hawaiian. This surfing museum is small, but it is packed with tons of surfing memorabilia and cool artifacts. Its walls are lined up with surf books and posters, including photographs of world champions taken by the Godfather of Surfing Photography himself, Leroy Grannis.
The Haleiwa Surf museum has vintage surfboards from the 1900s, along with the redwood surfboard that’s popular among the Polynesian settlers in the 1930s. It also houses must-see displays like the motorized surfboard and the first-ever snowboard. Best part? It’s free, so you can visit it every time you’re in the area!
#7: Australian National Surfing Museum
- Admission fee: $12 per adult, $8 for students, pensioners, and children under 16, $25 for family
- Location: 77 Beach Road, Torquay Victoria
- Notable exhibitions: “Australian Surfing Hall of Fame”, “Waves and Wheels”, “Live Surfboard Shaping”
- Must-see attractions: Bells Trophies, In-house theatre, Volkswagen Kombi vans
With 30,000 kilometers of shoreline and over 10,000 beaches, Australia is a surfing paradise. That’s why it’s no wonder this country houses the largest surfing museum in the world — the Australian National Surfing Museum.
ANSM celebrates the great contribution of Australia to the surfing culture and its rich heritage. It’s got stories, artifacts, and memorabilia dating back to 100 years ago. The museum also has a collection of 150+ surfboards from the biggest slabs used by early settlers to the modern ones we have today.
In collaboration with Google Arts and Culture, the ANSM features different exhibits such as the ‘Waves and Wheels’ that recognize the contribution of the youth movement in surf adventure. The exhibition displays the camper vans, surf wagons, and different mobiles used in chasing waves and living the surfer lifestyle.
For its main attractions, the ANSM features the Surfing Hall of Fame that shows tribute to legendary Australian surfers with their biographies and achievements. It also features the most iconic trophies from different surfing events around the globe.
#8: Surf World Gold Coast
- Admission fee: $10 per adult, $5 for kids, $20 for family
- Location: 1st Floor, 35 Tomewin St., Currumbin, Queensland
- Notable exhibitions: “The Best of MTVz”, “Burleigh Surf: Craft”
- Must-see attractions: Australia’s largest collection of surfboards, Ukulele display
If you’re in Queensland, you might want to check out the Surf World Gold Coast — the only surfing museum in this region.
The Surf World Gold Coast gives you a glimpse of the past with its largest collection of surfboards from the 1930s. Even people who are not fans of surfing will find this place fascinating because of its rich surfing heritage and stories. They can take a look at the permanent exhibits featuring photos, memorabilia, album covers, and surf movies from different surfing eras.
You can also take a quick stop at this museum’s gift shop to purchase surfing books and photographs, as well as local artists’ crafts and beach-themed gifts.
#9: Museum of British Surfing (Braunton)
- Admission fee: £2 per adult, £1.50 for concessions, free for kids
- Location: Caen Street Car Park, Braunton, Devon
- Notable exhibitions: “The First Wave”
- Must-see attractions: First-ever surfing movie from 1929
Finally, we have the award-winning Museum of British Surfing in Braunton. It’s a quaint surfing museum that displays a large collection of wetsuits and surfboards from 100 years ago, along with different memorabilia showcasing the rich surfing culture of Great Britain.
Here you’ll find the first surf film from 1929, and a short video of Andrew Cotton ‘Big Wave Surfer’ surfing the most outrageous wave. Kids will also love their visit because they can have a feel of the surfboards, play pinball, and take surfing quizzes.
Inside the museum, there’s a also gift shop where you can buy books, unique surfing souvenirs, and themed ornaments.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are children allowed inside surfing museums?
Most museums offer kid-friendly, interactive activities to encourage and influence the younger generation to explore surfing culture. However, you should take note that some museums require an age limit where children under 16 cannot enter their premises.
Q: How long can you stay inside surfing museums?
Typically, touring inside a regular-sized surfing museum won’t take more than a few hours. If it’s free admission, a surfing museum has no time limitation for visits. For paid admissions, they only allow specific hours per day.
G’day, my name is Rach Taylor and I’m the proud Founder of Surf Hungry. I am a former Australian Olympic athlete and Australian representative surf sports athlete. I’ve worked in the surf industry and lived at many of Australia’s best surf spots, sparking a life-long love of the ocean and a passion for surf sports which also rubbed off on my two young sons! I am also lucky to spend a lot of ocean-time in my favorite second home, Indonesia. In addition to SurfHungry I have founded several other websites in my areas of passion, namely coffee and rock climbing, and am also a regular rowing content contributor.