Ocean City Museum opens surfing exhibit

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Ocean City Museum business administrator Jeff McGranahan and museum volunteer Bill Heap stand near a  display that seeks to capture the early days of surfing in Ocean City. 

  Ocean City Museum business administrator Jeff McGranahan and museum volunteer Bill Heap stand near a display that seeks to capture the early days of surfing in Ocean City. OCEAN CITY — The surf board, with an orange border and a green stripe painted down the center, was cutting edge when it was purchased on Dec. 26, 1968.

The Con C.C. Rider was considered lightweight at the time, weighing in at 24 pounds. An average surfboard with current materials weighs 6 or 7 pounds, while a 9-foot longboard would weigh about 13 pounds.

The focal point of the newest exhibit at the Ocean City Historical Museum, the board is attracting attention, much to the delight of museum officials.

“We put it in a prominent location for a reason,” said Jeff McGranahan, the museum’s business administrator. “It’s right by the front door and you can see it from the atrium of the library. It has caught people’s attention and they are coming in to see it.”

Surfing, said McGranahan, is a very popular sport in Ocean City and many shore communities. While many think of surfing as modern and the museum decidedly not, surfing dates back to the post-World War II era, the 1950s and 1960s. It is now considered historical, at least in Ocean City.

“It’s been more than 50 years,” McGranahan said. The museum cannot be all about Victoriana, he said.

“We need to bring surfing into the 21st century,” he said. “Surfing is emblematic of something bigger; the evolution of surfing took place in that post war period. It came into its own during the ’60s and ’70s, and Ocean City was an important part of East Coast surfing.

“If we are indeed the Ocean City Historical Museum we need to do a better job of capturing that history,” he said.

Surfing, he said, came into its own during a particularly turbulent time in the nation’s history, and Ocean City was not immune.

“We hear about the ’60s being a tumultuous time for the nation, while Ocean City did not experience all of that tumult, it was a revolution for Ocean City as well,” he said. “We see surfing as a very important part of our history.

“The end of the Blue Laws came a bit later, but the roots of that go back to the ’60s,” he said.

Surfing, he said, is an ideal way to relate to local and visiting youth. While a school trip to the museum is a great opportunity to learn history, surfing will help them relate, put in perspective what they are learning, not to mention capture their attention, he said.

The surfboard was donated by Sam Ballam, III, who traveled to Ocean City from Wynnewood, Pa. with his birthday and Christmas money to buy the board. He paid a total of $114.26 for the board and a rack, which was purchased from Surf & Sand’s Surf ‘n Dive Shop. 

“Mr. Ballam kept all of the advertising materials and his receipts and we have them,” he said. “He bought it in 1968 and the first time it hit the waves was in 1969. The longboard era was drawing to a close by this time.”

McGranahan said museum officials had discussed the need to create a surfing display when Ballam and the board showed up one day.

“It was sort of serendipitous,” he said. “We’re really excited about it.”

The museum is looking to expand the display, he said. Those with old surfing artifacts are welcome to share them with the museum.

“My understanding is surf boards are quite collectible,” he said. “If you have anything related to surfing, whether it’s a board, a photo, an old bathing suit, anything, we would love to have it.”

Museum volunteer Bill Heap helped set up the surfing display. An interior designer by profession, Heap donated various mannequins and accessories to the museum. He searched high and low to find a wig that would properly reflect a 1969 haircut, and a period-appropriate swimsuit.

“I’m a volunteer with a passion for history, who has a particular interest in the history of fashion,” he said, particularly when it comes to Ocean City fashion. “I worked at Macy’s, I did visual merchandising.”

Heap has an eye for fashion, but since he was not yet born in 1968, he sought advice and many answered the call. Heap said he enjoyed the stories people shared of the 1960s.

He was happy with the finished product, a pair of green trunks maneuvered to look like period-appropriate board shorts.

“It’s looking more like a vignette, like he’s popping out of a photo,” said Heap.

“We want to get the youth excited,” he said. “We want to get them excited about surfing, excited about the museum. We want them to be excited to learn. We want history to come to life, and stay alive in Ocean City.

Ocean City, he noted, was founded as a Christian seashore retreat.

“From that, we still have a safe community where families love to visit, where families love to raise their children,” he said. “Everything we do, it all goes back to the community’s roots. It’s important that children understand what Ocean City is about, why it was founded.”

If it takes a surfboard in the window to capture their attention, he’s all for it.

“It’s nice to see them get away from their phones and their iPads,” he said. “You have to change it up in here once in a while, to draw people in.”

“The surfboard’s a great visual, a great way to draw people in,” he said.

The Con C.C. Rider, he said, has some history of its own. The Con Surfboard Company was started by Constantine Colbury in Santa Monica, Calif. in 1956. The C.C. Rider stands for Claude Codgen, a rising surfing star in 1968. 

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