Santa Cruz County History - Recreation & Sports

Harry Mayo--Santa Cruz Surf Pioneer

[Sherrie Murphy interviewed Harry Mayo on December 10, 1995; the interview appeared in Ocean Life Magazine (OLM), Winter 1996 issue].

Harry Mayo was born in Pacific Grove, California in November of 1923. When he was two years old his family moved to Santa Cruz, and at the age of 13 he became one of Santa Cruz' first local surfers. In wood shop class at Mission Hill Junior High he and his friends made their first surfboards, or paddleboards as they were called in the '30s. They cost about $13 to make.

Photo of teenage Harry Mayo, surfing
Photo of teenage Harry Mayo, surfing at Cowells

During my interview with Harry I gained a new perspective on surfing. As he described life without wetsuits or leashes, I realized how much we take these luxuries for granted in the '90s. When he talked about the lack of crowds in the water I wished the clock could be turned back 60 years.

Nevertheless, times change and fortunately Harry is here to tell us about the good ol' days.


Can you describe what it was like surfing in Santa Cruz in the 1930s and '40s?


A group of us started surfing in 1936, and started a formal surf club in 1938. We started by keeping our boards in a barn behind Buster Steward's house about one block up Bay Avenue from West Cliff Drive. In 1938 the Junior Chamber of Commerce helped us to build a board-house. We kept our boards right down there on the beach. This was down at the foot of where the Dream Inn is now.
Santa Cruz Surfing Club, June 1941
Santa Cruz Surfing Club, June 1941

Left to right: Don "Bosco" Patterson, Harry "Little Harry" Murray, Rich Thompson, Alex Hokamp, Blake "Tom Blake" Turner, Bill Grace, Dave "Buster" Steward, Fred Hunt, Harry Mayo, Alex "Pinky" Pedemonte, Tommy "Butter Cup" Roussel.


What kind of equipment did you use?


We made our own paddleboards, there were no commercial boardmakers at that time. They were called paddleboards because they paddled very nicely; they stayed on top of the water. They paddled better than the boards that you see now. We called them paddleboards but that's what we surfed on.

Inside they had a hollow construction with ribs going across either notches or holes in the ribs. You needed this because they all leaked and you had a drain plug in order to drain them. We made them in a shop at school. Most of them were made out of redwood sides that could be bent a little bit, a pine nose and tail block, and three-ply tops and bottoms of plywood. We made some odd-ball ones at Mission Junior High.

June 1941, carrying the boards back to the board house
Photo of a group of surfers carrying
the boards back to the board house, June 1941.
Photo taken by Ed Weber

Then when we were at Santa Cruz High there were some guys that came over from San Jose State (originally from Southern California) and they brought over some boards that were better and we started making them like that.



>>Part 2

Text copyright 1996 Ocean Life Magazine. Reproduced by permission of Ocean Life Magazine, Sherrie Murphy, and Harry Mayo. Photographs courtesy of Harry Mayo.

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