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California Surf Museum Recognizes Vietnam War’s China Beach Surf Club

A photo of China Beach on display at the California Surf Museum in this undat...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: A photo of China Beach on display at the California Surf Museum in this undated photo.

An exhibit commemorating Vietnam's China Beach Surf Club opens this weekend at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside. China Beach is where U.S. troops found a way to continue their love of surfing during the depths of the Vietnam War.

It took two years to collect the artifacts and compile the narratives for this very California story set in Vietnam.

Bruce Blandy was in the Navy in 1969, stationed near the border with North Vietnam. He fashioned his own surf boards from supplies used to repair river craft.

Reported by Katie Schoolov

“Especially for Vietnam veterans," he said. "We feel … especially when we came back, we feel a little under appreciated. So this is part of the history of Vietnam.”

Many of the veterans who helped compile the surf exhibit did not realize there were other troops, surfing along the coast of Vietnam. Many of them did not know there was surfing at China Beach — probably the most famous place for surfing in Vietnam — where wounded troops were sent to recover and others for brief recreation.

Rick Matthews was drafted in 1969. He grew up on the California coast. He surfed only once in Vietnam.

Photo caption:

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Surfboards at the California Surf Museum shown in this undated photo.

“It was getting back in the water again, that helped bridge that gap from the surreal experience that was war and the life you had left behind,” he said.

Many of the soldiers continued to surf after they came home, using it as a kind of therapy.

The California Surf Museum officially opens the exhibit at 1 p.m., Saturday with a ceremony. The exhibit is part of the official celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Veterans who attend will receive a pin from the Department of Defense.

The Oceanside exhibit commemorates the troops who found a way to keep surfing as an outlet during the Vietnam War.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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