Arne Jin An Wong
Surfer and Artist from Kelly’s Cove at
Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California
Interview conducted by
Stephen “Woody” LaBounty
April 26, 2013
Arne Jin An Wong was interviewed as part of the Tales from Kelly’s Cove initiative not only because of his forty years of experience as a surfer in the area, but also for his role in organizing the popular Kelly’s Cove reunions beginning in 2004.
Born in 1950, Mr. Wong belonged to one of the first Chinese-American families to move to San Francisco’s Richmond District neighborhood. His father, a cook, became a real estate agent and facilitated sales of homes in the neighborhood to other families seeking to leave Chinatown in the 1950s and 1960s. Arne attended public schools in San Francisco from elementary school through college. As an adult, he lived in Hawaii and Southern California, surfing and working as a professional animator, before moving back to San Francisco in the early 2000s. He still surfs at Ocean Beach and teaches surfing to younger generations.
The interview took place in a fairly noisy café on Clement Street close to Mr. Wong’s Richmond District home in San Francisco. It was recorded on a digital recorder, transcribed, audited, and lightly edited for clarity before being given to Mr. Wong for review and further editing.
Kelly's Cove has been a retreat for fitness-oriented San Franciscans from at least the 1940s. Tucked under the famous Cliff House restaurant, the curve of sand at the north end of Ocean Beach became a meeting place for cold-water swimmers, runners, and practitioners of calisthenics who used rocky outcrops and a nearby iron pier to exercise. After World War II, Kelly's Cove became an early body and board surfing spot. A dedication to physical development in a natural environment kept company with a companionable party atmosphere. One Kelly's bodysurfer, Jack O'Neill, opened a surf shop at the beach in 1952, and developed the first commercially available wetsuit in response to the frigid water of Ocean Beach. The O'Neill Company is now a leader in beach lifestyle sportswear and sells the majority of the world's wetsuits.
Beyond the roots of surf technology and commerce, Kelly's Cove visitors reflected and developed a California surfing ethos with roots in Polynesian culture as well as alternative and counterculture movements developing in postwar San Francisco.
Western Neighborhoods Project launched Tales from Kelly’s Cove to bring about a greater public understanding of the role a cold-water cove in San Francisco had in creating the world's view of surfing, and by association, California life.
Western Neighborhoods Project (WNP) is a California nonprofit organization formed in 1999 to preserve and share the history of western San Francisco. In 2013, WNP initiated the Tales from Kelly’s Cove project to collect and share the oral histories of men and women who have frequented the northernmost corner of San Francisco's Ocean Beach, an early surfing and community gathering spot. The primary objective of Tales from Kelly’s Cove is to increase public awareness of the area's nascent role in the history of California's surfing, fitness, and counterculture movements. More information on the project, photographs, and other Kelly’s Cove interviews can be found on this website.
This project was made possible with support from Cal Humanities, an independent non-profit state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more information, visit www.calhum.org. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent those of Cal Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Oral history is a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events. Firsthand historical information is collected through recorded interviews between a subject and interviewer. The recordings are transcribed, edited for clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee for a final edit. The recordings and corrected manuscripts for the Tales from Kelly’s Cove interviews are held at Western Neighborhoods Project and other research collections for review and scholarly use. More on oral history principles and best practices can be found on the website of the Oral History Association: www.oralhistory.org
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement between Western Neighborhoods Project and Arne Jin An Wong dated April 26, 2013. Copyright is shared between Arne Jin An Wong and Western Neighborhoods Project. The manuscript is available for research purposes. Excerpts up to 1000 words from this interview may be quoted for publication without seeking permission as long as the use is non-commercial and properly cited. Requests for permission to quote should be sent to Western Neighborhoods Project.
Arne Jin An Wong “Surfer and Artist from Kelly’s Cove at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California” conducted by Stephen “Woody” LaBounty, Western Neighborhoods Project, San Francisco, California, 2013.
The digital recording files and transcript of this interview are available for research use at the Western Neighborhoods Project office. A copy of the transcript has also been deposited at the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library.
Stephen “Woody” LaBounty
Western Neighborhoods Project
San Francisco, California
This project was made possible with support from Cal Humanities, an independent non-profit state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more information, visit www.calhum.org.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this Web site do not necessarily represent those of Cal Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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