Call it a slogan, nickname, tagline, or motto - Huntington Beach is Surf City, USA. But what's behind that moniker?
Whether you're analyzing it from a marketing, spiritual, political, or historical perspective, the truth is that the United States has four cities calling themselves "Surf City": Huntington Beach, Santa Cruz, Surf City (North Carolina), and Surf City (New Jersey).
Huntington Beach, also affectionately known as "HB," offers 10 miles of sandy beaches, holding more than 50 surf contests yearly, including the legendary US Open of Surfing.
HB offers some of the most consistent breaks in Southern California, including the iconic Southside and Northside Piers, where thousands of national and international champions have been crowned over the decades.
Huntington Beach is also home to the International Surfing Museum, the Surfers' Hall of Fame, and the Surfing Walk of Fame. Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, was inducted in 1994.
According to surf historians, Huntington Beach was first surfed in 1907 by Hawaiian waterman and surfing pioneer George Freeth.
Huntington Beach officially adopted the Surf City USA nickname in January 2008 after a long and tense trademark dispute between the Southern California city and Santa Cruz.
The Origin of the Name
It all started in 1927 when a Northern California newspaper coined the moniker "Surf City" for Santa Cruz.
Later, in 1991, Huntington Beach adopted the nickname "Surf City USA" to promote the city.
In 1963, Los Angeles duo Jan and Dean recorded "Surf City," a song co-written and sung by The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson.
Although the beach anthem specifies no precise location for that particular Surf City, apparently, they had Huntington Beach in mind, not Santa Cruz.
However, the Santa Cruz authorities and politicians replied, noting that surfing had been introduced in Mainland America at Santa Cruz's Steamer Lane.
The city even got support from Hillary Clinton, who visited Santa Cruz while campaigning for her husband in 2002.
"I've been told to say that not only is this the real 'Surf City,' but that only real surfers surf in Santa Cruz," said Clinton while visiting Lighthouse Point in May 1992.
Huntington Beach was quick to answer, but the controversy spread, and Surf City, New Jersey, also entered the heated debate.
Confused? The truth is that the East Coast town had its name well established since 1899.
When you thought all arguments were already on the table, a new variable enters the quarrel - Surf City, North Carolina, a small town located on Topsail Island.
Yes, it exists and has had its name on the map since the late 1940s.
But as always, where there is blood, there are media. So newspapers and TV stations started fueling the discussion, and the conflict escalated to an international level.
Which town was the real Surf City?
The Registered Trademark
In November 2004, after getting positive feedback from internet-based surveys and public inquiries, the Huntington Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau filed applications to register the "Surf City USA" trademark.
Less than two years later, the United States Patent and Trademark Office confirmed three of the first Surf City USA trademark registrations.
Not happy with the outcome, and after being prohibited from selling products with the "Surf City USA" inscription, two Santa Cruz surf shop owners sued Huntington Beach for the public use of the term "Surf City."
A surf-off ensued.
Both parties eventually reached a confidential settlement with benefits for all sides, but the wounds were never completely healed.
The Northerners still stick to the idea that they live in the spiritual home of American surfing; the Southerners are proud of their historical surfing roots.
Interestingly, today, Huntington Beach has two nicknames. It is known as Surf City USA, and since 2016, it's been officially labeled "The Soul of SoCal."
Surf City | The Timeline of an Iconic Nickname
1885: Surfing is introduced to Mainland America at the Santa Cruz river mouth;
1899: Long Beach City renamed Surf City, New Jersey;
1907: George Freeth is the first to surf Huntington Beach;
1927: A local newspaper coined the moniker "Surf City" for Santa Cruz;
1949: Surf City is an incorporated town in North Carolina;
1963: Jan and Dean record "Surf City," a song inspired by Huntington Beach;
1991: Huntington Beach adopts the nickname "Surf City USA";
2004: Huntington Beach files trademark applications for "Surf City USA";
2006: Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz reach an agreement over the use of "Surf City USA";
2016: Huntington Beach embraces a second nickname - "The Soul of SoCal";