California may not be the official birthplace of surfing, but the state sure has taken to the sport like a fish to water.
From the yearly surfing competitions to the thousands of surf shops to the dozens of breakfast menu items with a surf pun in their name, the Golden State’s wave catching obsession can be found up and down the coast. But perhaps nowhere else is that love more perfectly personified than in the graceful goofiness of the Cardiff Kook statue located on the 101 in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California.
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What Is The Cardiff Kook?
For those unfamiliar: The Kook is a statue, about six feet high, encasing the figure of an impeccably-coiffed surfer dude and his board in bronze. He rides rather un-majestically atop a 6-foot pedestal, welcoming visitors and residents alike to the Southern California surf town of Cardiff-by-the-Sea.
For those who know: The Kook is both a hometown hero and a laughable icon; loved and reviled; a source of pride and confusion—and, increasingly, amusement.
When Was The Cardiff Kook Built & Who Built It?
Looking out for land sharks along the world-famous Route 101, at the entrance of the locally-famous San Elijo State Beach campground, the Kook has been riding out waves of passers-by since 2007, when he was first unveiled by the Cardiff Botanical Society after being sculpted by local artist, Matthew Antichevich.
But the wave of public opinion he’s had to ride has been even more intense.
Where Is The Cardiff Kook Located
You can find the Kook in Cardiff-By-The Sea, California just west of the Patagonia store where Chesterfield Dr meets South Coast Highway 101. You can use Google Maps to route your trip.
How The Cardiff Kook Was Received
The public’s first impression of the statute can be summed up in its name: The Cardiff Kook.
The moniker isn’t the actual name of the statue. That distinction goes to the very Aladdin-meets-Steppenwolf title of “Magic Carpet Ride.” But the Kook quickly picked up his clumsy nickname, thanks to a few unfavorable factors.
What Does Kook Mean In Surfing?
Describing a noob, poser or hack in surfing slang, the term “kook” was procured by locals who were less-than-impressed by the statue rider’s stance. His footwork was all wrong, they said, and his hands were all over the place, making him look like a goofy first-timer. The wonky stance even earned the piece an “Onion Award” from the San Diego Architectural Foundation. (In case you were wondering, that’s the opposite of an “Orchid Award,” which is, to say, not awesome.)
The derogatory description eventually doubled for the public’s opinion on the statue in general, much to the dismay of the Botanical Society, the artist, and former Deputy Mayor of Cardiff, who reportedly quipped to critics, “Why don’t you raise your own [money] and put up a statute you like.”
Still, the rider’s less-than-presentable posture, at least, could be explained.
The Kook’s final form was far from the first draft. In fact, when starting his sketches, Antichevic apparently envisioned a female wave rider, surfing an actual wave. But though the pen be mighty, it’s no match for the pocketbook, and budgetary matters, as they often do, interrupted the quest for artistic purity, mostly due to how expensive bronze is.
With the costly material so carefully considered, the size of the statue was whittled down. A lot. And the idea for the wave—which, according to the artist, would have informed the Kooky position, transforming the noob into a surfer executing a backside floater move—was scrapped entirely.
What was meant to be a magic ride then wound up looking much more like would-be wipeout, after more than three years and $120,000, adding fiscal insult to injury.
Still, as most pieces of public art will, the Kook eventually found his way into the hearts and minds of Cardiff residents. It just took a little imagination to really endear him to the public.
A Cardiff Kook History Lesson
Antichevic may have been stifled in his artistic choices for the Kook, but SoCal locals more than made up for those missed opportunities, resulting in a riotous and wonderful—if not perfectly legal—treatment of the statue.
It all started around 2009, about two years after the Kook made his splashy debut. Incensed by the statue’s cost-to-value ratio, another local artist named Eric Hardtke took matters into his own hands, crafting a cresting paper mache wave to curl around the Kook, complete with a dangling surfer in the background, poised to knock the statue off his board once and for all.
According to Hardtke, the statue itself wasn’t bad in its representation of the average surfer. People didn’t like it, he said, because it was actually too realistic, making them look way less cool than they’d hoped. His whole idea, however, was to show that something better could be made for much less, with his wave coming in closer to $400 in materials.
Regardless of the motivation, the prank gave locals a laugh, though city officials weren’t having it, and ordered the wave removed. (It now lives on a nice poinsettia farm in Southern California.) But Hardtke was just getting warmed up.
His next prank was a bit more elaborate, starting with a menacing shark fin sticking up from the sidewalk across the street. The paper mâché threat would move closer and closer to the Kook until finally, the shark itself appeared in all its 15-foot, paper mâché glory, with its fearsome jaws wrapped around the wobbly surfer.
This guerilla art lasted a bit longer—two days—before being ripped down by the city. But not before giving locals a bit of inspiration.
Notable Cardiff Kook Decorations
Today, the Cardiff Kook is nearly as well known for his ever-changing outfits as for his wacky pose.
Hardtke’s concept really took hold and really took off, with locals racing to add their own stylish spin to the statue. And the costumes are as zany as one could only hope the residents of a hippie haven by the sea would come up with.
In fact, to this day, the Kook has masqueraded as Uncle Sam, campaigned for breast cancer awareness in all-pink, surfed an elaborate Jurassic set complete with several attacking dinosaurs, battled a menacing kraken (also the name of a nearby bar), and sported a Mexican lucha libre mask, among his more adventurous outings. The statue has also been used for more political means, including protesting the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020.
Cardiff Kook Supporting Breast Cancer Research
Cardiff Kook Being Taken Away By A Pterodactyl
But more often than not, the Kook tends to keep things casual, whether he’s wearing Ugg boots, raising a sign to shout out someone’s birthday or simply rocking a Padres hat.
How To Decorate the Cardiff Kook
Larger art displays, such as the Jurassic set, require a permit from the city if artists don’t want to see their work ripped down right away. Otherwise, dressing the Kook is not technically legal, and city officials officially “pooh pooh” the idea, though concept is reportedly reveled in private, with the Kook and his kooky outfits considered a big part of Cardiff’s tourist appeal.
Indeed, the statue has increasingly starred in a number of campaigns—though, like its many flashy displays, some were more above board than others. A so-called Cardiff Kook Run event, which included the statue in its seaside route, also included an image in its marketing material that looked an awful lot like the famous wonky surfer, but without securing permission for its use from the artist or owners of the statue.
But those who like to more legally enjoy the many looks of the Cardiff Kook (or simply aren’t big on cardio) are also in luck. A Cardiff Kook calendar was commissioned for people who look to the surfing noob for daily fashion inspo. And a Cardiff Kook book is also in the works, to grace coffee tables with history and images of the less-than-graceful guy.
So despite his lack of natural talent, the Kook has still managed to flourish, showing would-be noobs everywhere that you don’t need to be cool to make a difference in this world.