It was a jarring note to begin a year of celebrating surfing — an image of a shark with its mouth wide open, looking set to devour a board like the one it was painted on.
But if it garnered attention for a cause, mission accomplished.
Tuesday morning at Duke's by the Huntington Beach Pier, the Rotary Club of Huntington Beach kicked off its Surfboards on Parade campaign with the first of 25 boards that will be displayed around town in the coming months to help fight skin cancer. Each board features the work of a different shaper and artist, and first up was a piece by Tim Stamps and the painter Wyland.
From the introductory comments by Daemon Clark, the director of Wyland Galleries, an onlooker could sense that the surfboard unveiled at Duke's would not be a generic tribute to surfing and the ocean.
"For this piece, he wanted to do something a little outside of the norm," Clark said before a group of Rotarians removed the black cloth from the board in the corner of the dining area. "He wanted to do something that commanded your attention, just like we need now attention for skin cancer victims."
Then the cloth fell, and viewers found themselves staring into the gaping mouth of a great white instead of admiring a lush beach scene. The fish jutted vertically out of the water in front of a blood-red sky and sunset, its head reared back and yawning like Jaws after a meal.
Musician Junie Bomba accompanied the unveiling with a series of notes on a conch shell, and the audience, possibly perplexed, paused a few seconds before breaking into applause. As cameras clicked and media closed in, some in the crowd speculated that the shark's cavernous throat occupied the spot on the board where a surfer's foot might rest.
Stamps, who had sent the shaped board to Wyland without any idea what the painter might come up with, saw the finished work for the first time along with the other guests. So what did he think?
"It's really cool," the Long Beach resident said between posing for pictures in front of the board. "It's the first time I've seen it. I think it's his normal type of style, but it's cool — it's new, and it's a whole new event that's going on. When it came off, I was pretty stoked."
"I'm always surprised when I see an artist's work. You never know. And it looks good. I think it matches everything. You can read a lot into a shark, you know. It's pretty awesome."
OK, then, one possible reading?
"He's taking a bite out of skin cancer. That's what I think it means, anyway."
The Wyland-Stamps board sounded the opening note for Surfboards on Parade, a nearly yearlong event that will raise funds for the Hoag Family Cancer Institute as well as Rotary, the International Surfing Museum and the Huntington Beach Art Center. Future boards will go on view at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, Shorebreak Hotel and other locations; Mayor Pro Tem Joe Shaw announced Tuesday that City Hall will also play host to one.
Surfboards on Parade commemorates the 100th anniversary of surfing coming to Huntington Beach in 1914, when Hawaiian George Freeth visited the newly dedicated pier to demonstrate the then-obscure sport. Surfer Peter "PT" Townend, who was among the speakers Tuesday, paid tribute to the pioneer in his remarks.
"Right out here, the train stopped with George Freeth 100 years ago, and he went out here — I don't know if it was a day like today, because it's a beautiful day, right?" he said, gesturing out the window to the shore. "It might have been like that. But he went out there and rode the first waves, and that was the first surfer."
One contributor who didn't make the celebration at Duke's was Wyland, who was busy working on art shows in Hawaii, Clark said. It's not the first time the artist, whose full name is Robert Wyland, has left a mark on Surf City. In the late 1970s, he created a mural at the now-defunct nightclub the Golden Bear, and he supports ocean conservation through the nonprofit Wyland Foundation.
Clark, though, could vouch for the shark's meaning.
"He wanted, really, people to see the board," he said. "He wanted it to be bold, to really command attention for the cause of what this is all about," Clark said. "And that's what he thought — what would capture your attention or get your attention more than that kind of scene?
"Because he really wants people to look for and be aware of skin cancer, looking at their bodies and being aware of what their needs are, and he feels that that demands attention just like cancer demands attention."