- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2005

Paging Jan and Dean. Where, oh where is Surf City?

A pair of rival California towns are vying to bear the name of the much-coveted and near-mythical beach destination immortalized in the 1963 surf song hit of the same name, which guaranteed “two girls for every boy,” among other things.

Evocative and terse, the two-word moniker has all-American cultural oomph, not to mention considerable marketing appeal. It is no wonder that both Huntington Beach to the south and Santa Cruz to the north lay claim to the official title of “Surf City” — despite the fact that there are towns called Surf City, in New Jersey and North Carolina.

“Well, I’m a little biased about the true location of Surf City. I actually live in Huntington Beach,” Dean Torrence of the singing duo said yesterday.

He is active in the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce and has granted permission to the city to adopt the famous tune as its theme song.

Located 40 miles south of Los Angeles, Huntington Beach applied for a patent on the phrase “Surf City USA” last year and has the support in its quest for the title from the Association of Surfing Professionals, the International Surfing Association and the USA Surf Team.

But Mr. Torrence takes the high road when pressed about the name kerfuffle.

“Personally, I like to think of ‘surf city’ as a state of mind. It’s a beautiful thing. And when we recorded those tunes, the beach was our life. Surfing, parties, cars. We never realized at the time that the whole experience was unique, that it was special stuff,” said Mr. Torrence, 65, the father of two teenagers.

His singing partner, Jan Berry, died in March 2004 at 62 of natural causes in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Santa Cruz officials hope their region can ride a historical wave to the prized title. Local teenagers took up surfing on 90-pound redwood boards in the town in the 1930s, and it is home to a surfing museum.

In August, California state Sen. Joe Simitian, a Democrat, proposed a resolution declaring Santa Cruz the “true Surf City.” His resolution passed in the Senate and will be voted on in the full Legislature in January.

But the resort town, with its fine old boardwalk and amusement park about 70 miles south of San Francisco, is playing hardball. On Wednesday, savvy officials revealed they had found the “smoking gun” that proved once and for all that Santa Cruz was the real “Surf City.”

While poring through local archives in preparation for the city’s centennial in 2007, historians came across a musty article from the old San Jose Mercury Herald — dated Nov. 13, 1927 — recounting a successful vacuum-cleaner salesmen convention in Santa Cruz, described in the account as “Surf City.”

“It’s settled,” said Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin. “We now have clear evidence to support our claim to the title of Surf City long before the Jan and Dean hit.”

Ross Eric Gibson, a county historian, said he has found news references deeming Santa Cruz “the surf city” dating to 1902.

Down south, the reaction is gracious but amused.

“Oh, we’re happy for them. We’re glad they finally found some evidence on which to stake their claim. But you know, those folks in New Jersey claim they first had the name back when there were dinosaurs,” said Doug Traub, president of the Huntington Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau.

Surf City, N.J., population about 1,400, was founded in 1894. Located on a barrier island, Surf City, N.C., was chartered in 1949.

“Well, who knows?” Mr. Traub said. “We’re restoring some prehistoric wetlands near here, and maybe one of our workers will uncover some old bones or ancient wheels that spell out ‘Surf City.’ Then we’ll beat everybody.”

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