A Last Wave to Natalie
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Natalie Kotsch wasn’t a surfing champion, famed board shaper or surf artist. Nor did she have a line of surf wear named after her. She didn’t even surf. But, she was a giant in the world of surfing, who left a lasting legacy for surfers and all who love the beach and ocean - the International Surfing Museum.
Located in Huntington Beach (411 Olive Avenue) in the heart of “Surf City,” the International Surfing Museum, established in 1987, is the labor of love that Natalie created with grass roots support from the surfing community.
The museum was needed, she thought, as a way to honor and remember surfing’s evolution and achievements and the surfing legends who made the sport what it is today. Now Natalie, who passed away on February 20, 2014, is a surfing legend herself.
A Canadian who moved to Huntington Beach in 1976 and became a realtor, Natalie was enamored with the beach and surfing culture from the start, relishing the warm SoCal weather and welcoming vibe.
Finding out that the city didn’t have a place to showcase surfing memorabilia or to safeguard its heritage, she set about to make the surfing museum a reality, explaining, “I founded this museum to preserve what used to be.”
Visitors to the museum can see rare photos of legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku.
Dick Dale’s 1954 California electric guitar is here and a Jan and Dean gold record, along with countless mementos, surf trophies, historic surfboards…
and the Bolex camera that Bruce Brown used to film The Endless Summer, the 1966 surf movie that put surfing on the map.
Over the years the museum has staged exhibits showcasing surfers, board shapers, artists, musicians, and even board wax itself – the exhibit “Wax On! History of Surfboard Wax” featured over 1,000 bars of surfboard wax.
All of this is thanks to Natalie’s tireless efforts.
SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel remember Natalie as one of those people who could light up a room with their smile. This was certainly true of Natalie, who never seemed to run out of energy and was always ready to lend her support to civic projects in her beloved adopted city.
In recognition of her work, Huntington Beach named Natalie Citizen of the Year in 1991 and in 1998 she was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame. Then, in 2013, Huntington Beach gave Natalie its highest honor, a Key to City. In presenting the award, Mayor Connie Boardman said, “This is a very special woman who has donated thousands and thousands of hours to the City.”
Surf artist Dave Reynolds, who has served as the surfing museum’s artistic director, knew Natalie well and told SurfWriter Girls about how he first met her.
“I had heard about the new surfing museum in 1988 and had this wild thought that the museum might like to display some of my work. I called and soon after met with Natalie. She really liked what I was doing and put my art on public display for the first time.”
Museum Director Cindy Cross said, “Natalie’s passion drives me and the memory of her wonderful, throaty laugh and dazzling smile sustains me. I will love and miss her every day of my life.”
Even when health issues conspired to slow Natalie down in recent years, she still kept going and attended as many surfing museum and community events as she could.
When Natalie received the Key to the City she said, “This is really something to cherish.” The same can be said about her.
Natalie Kotsch will be cherished by all who were fortunate enough to know her and by anyone who steps inside the International Surfing Museum to celebrate the spirit of surfing.
A memorial service honoring Natalie’s life is being held March 8, 2014, at noon at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort. There will be a “paddle out” at 10 a.m. at the Huntington Beach Pier.
If you would like to post your comment or memory of Natalie below, it will appear in our SurfWriter Girls blog the next day.