China Beach: Surfing During Vietnam

by The Editors on June 14, 2017

On Saturday June 10, 2017 the California Surf Museum opened an extensive, beautifully curated new exhibit titled China Beach: Surfing During the Vietnam War and the Healing Power of Wave-riding in Oceanside, California.

“The purpose of this exhibit is to portray the little-known but fascinating story of surfing in the combat zones of Vietnam,” says California Surf Museum President and exhibit curator Jim Kempton. “It explores the unique surfing experience of the era, what it meant to those veterans, and how they were able to use surfing as a healing mechanism both during the war and after they returned.”

The exhibit will be on display until February 2018. If you’re in Oside, it’s definitely worth checking out. The California Surf Museum is located at 312 Pier View Way, in Oceanside, California. For the official word form the California Surf Museum, follow the jump.

The official Grand Opening of the California Surf Museum’s newest exhibit, China Beach: Surfing During the Vietnam War and the Healing Power of Wave-riding, is Saturday, June 10, from 1-4 p.m. Admission is free. There will be a welcome by City of Oceanside Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery, a blessing from Vietnam veteran chaplain Lowell Grimaud, a speech from retired Brigadier General Homer Johnstone who surfed in Vietnam, as well as comments from several other veterans, as part of the emotionally-charged remembrance of our servicemen who experienced the healing power of surfing. There will be a social hour from noon-1 p.m.

This exhibit highlights the surfing experience during the conflict in Vietnam at R&R spots in Vietnam (such as the famous China Beach), the perspective of surfers serving “in-country,” those back home, and the veterans returning to the surf after their tour of duty.

“The purpose of this exhibit is to portray the little-known but fascinating story of surfing in the combat zones of Vietnam,” says California Surf Museum President and exhibit curator Jim Kempton. “It explores the unique surfing experience of the era, what it meant to those veterans, and how they were able to use surfing as a healing mechanism both during the war and after they returned.”

Along with honoring these individuals who fought and surfed there, the exhibit explores the many interesting topics related to surfing during the Vietnam War: how surfers got their boards to Vietnam, the perspective of surfers on the home front, how Hollywood films depicted surfing during the conflict, and the waves of Vietnam themselves.

Recreations of the famous surf icons are part of the exhibit as well. “There is a life-size replica of the China Beach Surf Club building, a lifeguard tower, and surfboards that were used during the era,” says Bill Schildge, one of the key members of the exhibit installation team. “We have a huge map that depicts all the surf spots which no doubt every veteran will be interested in seeing.”

While the famous China Beach television drama is included in the overall story, the remarkable experience is mostly told in the words of the veterans themselves. Soldiers, nurses, Australian allies, lifeguards and everyday surfers recall intriguing connections
between surfing and the Vietnam War.

“We want to show our appreciation and support for their service,” says CSM historian Jane Schmauss, who was one of the co-founders of the museum more than 30 years ago. “It’s a surf exhibit that honors our service men and women for their sacrifices and celebrates the values and ideals of America.”

We have some very special commemorative pins from our partners in the Department of Defense which will be awarded to any Vietnam veterans who come to see the exhibit. If you know of men and women who served there, please put out the word so they may be honored for their service.

This exhibit, scheduled to be on display to February 2018, has received much media coverage. Click here to see the article in the May issue of American Way, the onboard magazine of American Airlines. Click here to see the article in Lonely Planet. Media will be in attendance at the Grand Opening.

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