ENCINITAS — Ridicule meets affection at the Cardiff-by-the-Sea landmark that’s come to be known as “The Cardiff Kook.”
The bronze sculpture depicting a surfing boy elicited howls of outrage when first unveiled in 2007 on South Coast Highway 101.
Surfers said the stance and hands were all wrong. The boy looked silly. It offended their sense of what it meant to be a cool surfer shredding waves with proper form.
But over time, the mockery of what was officially named “Magic Carpet Ride” morphed into a form of local enjoyment and even pride.
The Kook has worn pink for breast-cancer awareness and been dressed as everything from Zorro to Vincent Van Gogh to Alice in Wonderland. He’s survived the tentacles of a kraken and the talons of a pterodactyl, represented sports rivalries and political stances, issued wedding and prom proposals, had an annual run named after him and calendars sold in his honor.
Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear said, “I love the Cardiff Kook. Original art pieces in any community help define that community. I love that it gets dressed up in creative costumes and that everyone seems to respect the necessary boundaries: Don’t damage it; be whimsical; understand that the decorations are pop-up art and won’t be there for long.”
Blakespear said her “absolute favorite” decoration was “a big shark that appeared to be eating the entire statue. And the artists hinted that something was to come by putting shark fins nearby in the days preceding. It was really cool.”
While “kook” typically refers to an eccentric person, it’s also a slang name that surfers apply to a wannabe or dorky surfer.
Meghan Phalen, who has lived in Encinitas — including Cardiff — for many years and surfs, remembers seeing “Magic Carpet Ride” for the first time. “There was a lot of hype surrounding the unveiling of the sculpture,” Phalen said. “At first sight, I thought it looked more like a tribute to Michael Jackson’s dance moves in ‘Thriller.’”
But something about the sculpture grew on Phalen and other residents. She said, “Over time, the sculpture became a vehicle for birthday celebrations and community events. Clearly, the community chose to embrace their inner kook. The lesson here is that there’s a kook underneath us all. Just own it!”
As an example, Phalen mentioned the UGG boots she wears over her wetsuit in winter. “Gotta own it,” she reiterated with a smile.
Matthew Antichevich, who lives in Hemet and teaches in the art department of Mt. San Jacinto College, received a $92,000 commission from the Cardiff Botanical Society to create the sculpture. The city of Encinitas funded the installation of “Magic Carpet Ride” for an additional $30,000.
The sculpture is located on the west side of Highway 101 at Chesterfield Drive, with the San Elijo State Beach campground forming the background.
According to various sources, the botanical society ultimately wanted the statue to be of a boy learning to surf. The idea of a female surfer was floated but rejected.
The sculpture’s model was Kevin Holldber, a family friend of Antichevich who learned to surf at the very beach the statue stands before. Interestingly, Antichevich also learned to surf in Cardiff as a child.
While it is technically illegal to dress up the statue — and some pranksters have received letters warning them of vandalism charges should they choose to continue such behavior — the city does not generally police the sculpture or apply a very heavy hand when it comes to the Kook’s costumes.
The sculpture has been damaged and repaired as a result of the seemingly endless decorations, however. Parts of the bronze surf spray by the boy’s surfboard have been broken before by people using them to climb onto the sculpture, while the granite base has been marred by tape and scratched by wires.
Attention, apparently, can take its toll.
But the statue has brought attention to the Cardiff area in a way that’s unique and mostly playful, highlighting residents’ creative expression.
As Blakespear said, “The city’s pro-art culture is a key part of the Encinitas identity, and the Kook is a central part of that.”