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Catalina Classic Statue Unveiled Ahead of 2023 Race

Aug 26, 2023 08:53AM ● By Sofie Jones

Thursday's dedication of the Catalina Classic sculpture. Photo credit: Evelyn Schmitt.

Although this year’s Catalina Classic paddleboard race doesn’t begin until Sunday, the festivities kicked off on Thursday afternoon with a ribbon-cutting at the new Catalina Classic commemorative statue in downtown Manhattan Beach. The celebration drew generations of past competitors, as well as city administrators and fans of the annual 32-mile prone-paddleboarding race from the shore of Catalina Island to the Manhattan Beach Pier.

The 17-foot tall bronze statue – which sits just southeast of the Pier and runs adjacent to the South Parking Lot – honors all those who have competed in the Classic since its inception in 1955. It also celebrates the race’s rich history and its impact on the sport of paddleboarding, according to president of the South Bay Boardriders Club (SBBC) Tom Horton.

In his speech, Horton thanked all those involved in this multi-year collaboration between the South Bay Boardriders Club and Manhattan Beach City Council, including the community donors who made the statue possible. “This is a dream come true,” he said.

Statue Honors Catalina Classic History

The Catalina Classic has a long history in the South Bay. As executive director of the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce in the mid-1950s, Cliff Webster organized the first race in hopes that spectators would drum up business in the still-developing town. Working with Lifeguard Bob Hogan, Webster ran the race for five years. In 1960, however, it went on a twenty-year hiatus following pier construction and Webster’s death.

The Classic was revived in 1982 by lifeguards Buddy Bohn and Gibby Gibson and has remained one of the most difficult and widely known paddle boarding races in the world since then.

Bohn – who will compete for the 42nd time this weekend – credited the tight-knit local paddleboarding community for keeping the tradition alive and motivating him to participate each year. “It’s a family,” he said.

Horton echoed this, saying, “It’s the camaraderie that keeps me coming back for more.” When local painter Tim Ritter mentioned the idea of erecting a Catalina Classic statue to Horton, he remembers being both skeptical and excited. “That idea stuck with me for the longest time,” he said. “But how do you do that?”

Horton, along with members of the Boardriders Club and others involved with the Classic, started brainstorming and asked sculptor Chris Burela to design it. Burela, a former resident of Hermosa Beach and himself a member of the Surfer Walk of Fame, said he shared Horton’s excitement but remained skeptical about the feasibility of it actually happening. “I thought it was a long shot,” Burela admitted laughing during Thursday’s ceremony, citing the long and drawn out bureaucratic processes that often accompany public art projects.

In just a few short years, however, organizers swiftly raised over $130,000 and amassed supporters in both the South Bay and beyond. Once the Manhattan Beach City Council approved the project and its final design, Burela partnered with the Hesperia foundry, Heritage Bronze, to construct the massive statue with its three figures.

(Photo credit: Evelyn Schmitt)

The community’s support of the statue has continued through to its unveiling, SBBC treasurer and the ceremony’s emcee Ed McKeegan said afterward. The event’s high turnout is just one example of how the community has come out to support the project, he added.

Now in its permanent location in the sand, the statue will welcome competitors as they finish the Classic on Sunday. McKeegan hopes it will also inspire the next generation of racers.

In the meantime, he looks forward to watching locals and visitors alike interact with the statue. To those wondering if this includes climbing, McKeegan says “Absolutely,” adding “This was made for climbing.”

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