updated 9/12/2005 5:07:26 AM ET 2005-09-12T09:07:26

Brah, the suits are acting like groms!

(Translation from surf slang: My friend, government officials are acting like children!)

For about 15 years, Santa Cruz in the north and Huntington Beach in the south have both called themselves “Surf City.” But late last year Huntington Beach made a legal move to trademark the name “Surf City USA” after the 1963 Jan and Dean hit.

Santa Cruz refused to be snaked.

The city filed objections. And strumming his guitar on a local cable access channel, Mayor Mike Rotkin publicly taunted Huntington Beach, musically challenging them to a surf-off: “Let’s have a contest bring your sticks, but leave your lawyers with their trademark tricks.”

Now, the state is involved.

State Sen. Joe Simitian proposed a resolution declaring that since Santa Cruz “is well known around the world as a center of a precious, but hard to define ‘surf culture”’ it should be designated by the state Legislature as “Surf City USA.”

The resolution was approved by a committee, despite objections from Huntington Beach’s Sen. John Campbell who harkened back to the original lyrics.

“I’ve done some research,” he said. “Neither city has ‘two girls for every boy,’ so neither should be Surf City.”

Doug Traub, president and chief executive officer of the Huntington Beach Conference and Visitor’s Bureau, said the resolution was totally uncool.

“We’re talking about an attempt to strip a business of its intellectual property which it obtained in good faith and this is a clear interference in our business relationships,” he said.

Traub notes that his community is only seeking the specific “Surf City USA” trademark so it can market itself as “Huntington Beach Surf City USA.” It’s not, he stressed, asking for the simple “Surf City” which is already used by dozens of businesses in both cities — from Surf City Produce in Santa Cruz to Surf City Instruments in Huntington Beach.

Dean Torrence, who wrote and sang the song in the first place, said he’s backing his hometown — Huntington Beach — in this debate.

“I co-wrote the song and I’m really loaning the song and song title to Huntington Beach,” he said. “I’m not loaning it to Santa Cruz. Sure, Santa Cruz is cool, but it’s not Surf City, USA. I’ve been there, I went to the beach, and I didn’t see anyone surfing.”

Rocky cliffs vs. sandy beaches
In fact, surfers in Santa Cruz rarely paddle out from the beach. Instead, surfers there scramble, in their wetsuits, down narrow staircases and trails built into the rocky cliffs and then jump — with their boards — into the water.

In this liberal community, about 100 miles south of San Francisco, the sandy beaches are separated by steep escarpments, and the surf spots are at a series of points including the world famous “Steamer Lane.” Paddling in the cold waters of the Monterey Bay (temperatures hover in the mid-50s), Santa Cruz surfers look back to shore and see redwoods in the distance.

Huntington Beach, 400 miles to the south and in the heart of politically conservative Orange County, is edged by about eight miles of wide, classic, sandy beach lined with bike paths and walkways. Surfers can hit the water just about anywhere, although the legendary pier certainly has the cleanest and most reliable break. The city itself, with a population of 190,000, is almost four times as big as Santa Cruz, with an average family household income exceeding $100,000, twice that of Santa Cruz.

The water in Huntington Beach, surfers will be quick to point out, is usually about 10 degrees warmer than in Santa Cruz. But the waves, which break on the beach, are simply smaller than the Northern California swells which can grow monstrous in the winter.

'Silly argument?'
Both cities have major surf industry companies, dozens of surfing contests, surf statues and lots of sunshine.

“This is a silly argument,” says Ben Marcus, an author and former editor of “Surfer” magazine. “Why not just call it Surf City North and Surf City South?”

Silly, yes. But nothing new.

In 1907, real estate and railroad magnate Henry Huntington, the founder of Huntington Beach, hired Hawaiian surfer George Freeth to come give demonstrations of the ancient Polynesian sport as a promotion for the Redondo-Los Angeles Railway. Freeth thus earned the title of “The First Man to Surf in California.” The title was contested, however, by residents in Santa Cruz who said that in 1885, three Hawaiian princes visiting Santa Cruz rode waves at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River on boards shaped from local redwood.

How to settle the dispute, once and for all? The surfers themselves have an idea.

They’re planning a competition between man-and-woman teams from each city. The trophy will go on display in the winning team’s City Council chambers for the year they win, and they’ll get a free year’s supply of Surf City Coffee (from Santa Cruz) for their council meetings.

To the east
Not even entering the fray are Surf City, N.C., and Surf City, N.J.

“We’re not Surf City USA, we have never claimed to be Surf City USA. We are Surf City, N.C., and that’s all we’re worried about,” said Patty Arnold, the city clerk there.

The mayor of New Jersey’s Surf City, Leonard Connors, just laughed.

“We were founded in 1690,” he said. “California wasn’t even a state. There’s no doubt whatsover, the real Surf City USA is right here on the East Coast.”

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