'Face of the museum' steps down

Former director-at-large Gary Sahagen known as a dedicated worker of the International Surfing Museum.

March 14, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • Gary Sahagen at the International Surfing Museum kneels with a photo of himself dropping into a huge wave on the north side of Huntington Beach Pier. Sahagen is stepping down from his post as director-of-large of the museum, where he joined as a trustee in 2001.
Gary Sahagen at the International Surfing Museum kneels… (DON LEACH, HB Independent )

On an afternoon last week, Gary Sahagen played a role that he had watched many others play during his decade at the International Surfing Museum.

The role of visitor.

Sahagen, who joined the museum as a trustee in 2001, stepped down in January from his post as director-at-large. Before agreeing to meet at his former grounds for an interview and photo shoot, he admitted that walking through the front door might be bittersweet.

But as he led an impromptu tour around the shelves and displays, Sahagen seemed like the man in charge, even if he wasn't any longer.

In the small confines of the one-story museum at 411 Olive Ave., he couldn't go more than a few steps without telling a yarn — about the camera in the glass case that filmed the movie "The Endless Summer," about the autographed Dick Dale guitar, about the primitive wooden surfboard hung a few inches below the ceiling.


Sahagen, a veteran longboarder and chief executive of a Huntington Beach-based family business, never made a living off running the surfing museum. That's hardly apparent, though, from listening to him talk about the institution that he helped shape and promote for more than 10 years.

"Representing the museum and Surf City, it's just an honor," said Sahagen, who served as executive director and other titles over the years. "Sometimes I pinch myself and can't believe I get to do this stuff."

Early this year, Cindy Cross, a fellow member of the museum's board of directors, took over as director-at-large. According to board Chairman Brett Barnes, Cross inherited Sahagen's job title, but no one has stepped up to do the day-to-day tasks — such as leading tours and answering visitors' questions — that he did, among other things, for 40 or more hours a week.

Sahagen said he decided to step down after the museum began focusing more on retail; a year ago, the facility underwent a remodel and added space for merchandise. He preferred to run the museum as a tourist spot, rather than as a business, which ultimately led to his resignation.

Still, Sahagen and Barnes both said the split was amiable. As he prepared to step down, the director-at-large worked with other staff to make the transition smooth.

"He was the face of the museum," Barnes said. "He represented the museum well. We're happy for all the work he's done."

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