Joe Surf: Bolton to 'Ft. Knox of Surfing'

February 08, 2012|By Joe Haakenson

It was a natural fit, really, when you think about it.

Bolton Colburn recently was named executive director of the Surfing Heritage Foundation, in charge of running the foundation's museum and raising its profile in the museum world.

Colburn, 56, came to the SHF after 23 years at the Laguna Art Museum, where his most popular exhibition was produced in conjunction with the publication of a book by the same name: "Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing."


That was 10 years ago, but it really put him on a direct path to the SHF.

"The premise of 'Surf Culture' was to look at the intersection of the arts and surfing," Colburn said. "I certainly think it's an aspect of what we'll take a look at here. There's other things we'll be looking at as well, whether that's environmental or technological or related fields like skateboarding. There's a whole world of related activities we'll be looking at and dealing with."

The foundation's museum is located in San Clemente, but Colburn hasn't ruled out moving it, all in an effort to become a major force in the museum world. Colburn is thinking big.

"The bottom line is to engage more people," Colburn said. "The Surfing Heritage Foundation has done some wonderful things in terms of collections and getting people involved within the industry.

"What I'm interested in is broadening their reach and being able to touch people that aren't necessarily so involved within the surfing industry. And that's a big goal."

An old-school surfer might call Colburn a sellout — just another in a long line of those who have jumped on the surf culture bandwagon for a profit. The surf industry is a billion-dollar business, headed by surf apparel, so why not museums?

But Colburn has some surf cred, himself an American Surfing Assn. champion back in 1977; the ASA being the predecessor to the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. He still surfs regularly today, at Salt Creek and Trestles, with his two sons, ages 16 and 12.

"One of the things that keeps me in the water are my two sons," he said.

He was born in Carmel, moved to San Diego during his teen years and graduated from UC San Diego. He now lives in the Laguna Audubon community of Aliso Viejo.

So Colburn is all about SoCal and the surf lifestyle. Combined with his experience and knowledge in the museum world, the only question now is: What took him so long to join SHF?

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