Surfing Newport Beach Surfing Newport Beach


Today Newport Beach is considered the uncrowned jewel of the fabulous Orange County Gold Coast, the glamour and glitz center of the West Coast. But the Newport Beach you’re going to find in this book is quite different. It’s the Newport Beach before World War II—a lively, lusty, beach resort where rum runners openly docked and unloaded their illegal brew, where drinking, gambling and dancing paid the bills. It was a city that was hell on wheels from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and then it went into hibernation the rest of the year except for a brief awakening during Easter vacation. It was a city where every weekend during the summer there was some aquatic event which included wave riding, but not the kind you think of today. Aquaboarding was the “common man’s” way to tackle the ocean, standing on an aquaplane board, holding on to an attached rope and being pulled by a boat—an early ancestor of water skiing.

Back then surfboards were big and heavy; the most famous surfer of the age, Duke Kahanamoku, rode the waves of Newport Bay in a canoe, and when he could he borrowed an actual surfboard from his friend Felix Modjeski, grandson of famous Polish actress Madame Helena Modjeska, who owned a beach cottage nearby. Eventually Duke and some of his friends brought their own surfboards to Corona del Mar and left them at the Sparr Bathhouse (the boards were too heavy to carry back and forth) starting what would become one of the first surf clubs in the United States—the Corona del Mar Surf Club. It was this club that initiated the first surf contest on the mainland—the Pacific Coast Surfboard Championship in 1928, but even then canoes were featured in the main events!

Paul & Claudine Burnett at book launch, Aug. 2013

Paul & Claudine Burnett at book launch, Aug. 2013

The surf changed as the bay changed. In the 1920’s an 800-foot cement jetty was constructed off the rocks at Corona del Mar. It was a body surfer’s treat. You could get into a wave at the end of the jetty on the channel side, ride in next to the jetty for an 800-foot long adventure, climb up a chain ladder, run out on the jetty and do the same thing all over again all day long. Unfortunately, it was difficult for boaters to get through the channel due to sandbars and the waves. Alas, a new jetty, completed in 1936, destroyed the perpetual surf at Corona del Mar.

Surfing also changed with innovations to surfboard construction. With these newer, lighter boards more people were drawn to Newport and Corona del Mar (across the bay from Newport) to enjoy the fabulous surf of the 1920’s and 30’s.

Aug. 21, 2013

The audience at Sherman Library and Gardens.

It was in Newport Beach that the phenomena of Southern California surfing took on the persona it has today. That may be why so many surf manufacturers such as Quiksilver, Volcom and Hurley made their homes here—they wanted to be close to the roots of their trade.

Read about the Great Rescue of 1926 by Duke Kahanamoku and others, the rum runners of Balboa and the evolution of Newport Bay.  Pioneering surfers such as George Freeth, Tom Blake, the Vultee brothers and Pete Peterson helped make a name for the city in surf culture.  Authors Claudine Burnett and her surfer husband, Paul, have delved deeply into the past sharing stories that will give readers never-before-revealed facts not only about surfing but Newport Beach and Corona del Mar history as well.



Order online from:


arcadia.history press logo



Also at Barnes & Noble bookstores