September 20 is California Surfing Day—a holiday decreed by the Golden State last year, when surfing was also named the official state sport. You could spend that day catching a wave yourself, or watching the experts—or, you could hang out in a surf shop. The exhibit “Temples of Stoke: A Celebration of Surf Shop Culture” recently opened at San Clemente’s Surfing Heritage and Culture Center (SHACC), and it salutes the classic shops that played a major role in cultivating California surf culture.

After all, if there’s any location, beyond an actual ocean wave, that so embodies the surfing world, it would have to be a surf shop—the place where surfers choose their boards, chat with staffers about surfing conditions, and pick up the necessary gear (wax, suits, really cool t-shirts) that complete the lifestyle. The Orange County organization invited 22 California surf shops to install “shrines” for the exhibit: photos, memorabilia, and artifacts that illustrate each shop’s unique story, and how it played into the beach town it serves.

 

Walk through the geographically arranged exhibit and you’ll first learn about the pioneering O’Neill shops of Northern California, then see tributes to shops in Santa Barbara, Ventura, L.A. County, Orange County, and San Diego. Shops along the way include such local icons as E.T. Surf in Hermosa Beach, TK’s Froghouse in Newport Beach, and the Hobie Surf Shop, which first opened in Dana Point.

“We would not have surfing without the surf shop,” SHACC Executive Director Glenn Brumage recently told the Orange County Register. “The surf shops were the shapers who then opened their surf shops, who then sold us the trunks, who then told us where to surf, how to surf, what to surf on. It was absolutely the place you got your information.”

“I think the exhibit is amazing, there’s so many different characters that have come together,” Don Craig also told the newspaper (Craig is the legendary surfer who more recently coined the t-shirt motto “Old Guys Rule.”) “Everyone has their stories to tell. This is a fantastic representation of the whole West Coast and the culture of surfing and how it grew.”

“Temples of Stoke” will run through Oct. 29. Year round, the SHACC calendar of events includes other surf-loving exhibits, surf club meet-ups, and drive-in movie nights. To create your own in-person tour of surf shops, check out our list of Classic California Surf Shops, or take one of our beach-hugging road trips.