Woodies on the Wharf 2024

Classic cars with a surfer twist

By Neal Kearney
July 3, 2024

It’s generally agreed upon within the classic car collecting community, that cars over 100 year and older should fall into the antique class, while the coolest classic cars are old enough to have enough historical interest to be collectable and worth the upkeep and preservation. Their owners are known for the lengths they’ll go to keep their treasured relics of the past looking tricked out and pristine.

There’s a wide range of these vintage cars: Jaguars, Aston Martins, Ferrari Enzos…the list goes on and on. However, there’s nothing cooler than a shiny candy paint “woodie” with a few vintage surfboards strapped to the roof

Last weekend, the Santa Cruz Woodie Club held their 28th annual “Woodies on the Wharf” car show on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, providing admirers of pretty things quite a treat. Over one hundred of the painstakingly preserved surf chariots sparkled and gleamed in all their glory as spellbound spectators studied their forms as their proud owners looked on.


What you got under that hood? Photo- Boots

For Santa Cruz Woodie Club President Jim Vickery, seeing the collection of unique rides getting so much fanfare was a thrill. “We put this event on in conjunction with the city, and it’s always very popular,” he professed. We’ve been so lucky that in all 28 years we’ve put it on, the weather has been clear and warm. We’ve got cars coming from all over the Western United States. In fact, this year we have 139 vehicles. It’s such a great gathering.”

Woodies are wood-bodied automobiles that gained popularity in the 1930’s and 40’s. The first of which that was mass produced was the 1929 Ford Model A. Some were produced as variants to sedans and convertibles, but generally, most were what would be later referred to as “station wagons”.

Festive locals. Photo-Kearney

While their passenger compartment was made entirely from wood, their hood, front bumper, and rails, were composed of steel. This style caught on, and soon other manufacturers jumped in the fray; including Chrysler, Chevrolet, Plymouth, and Buick. During the 1940’s, the spacious cars began to be called station wagons. Their sizable passenger compartments came in handy while freighting people to and from train stations, making them popular with taxi drivers.

As one might imagine, these wooden materials did not age well. For pieces of machinery hurtling through space at such high speeds, their natural wagon bodies had fatal, and predictable problems such as splintering, rot, and moisture damage. By 1950, manufacturers and consumers alike realized that building cars out of wood wasn’t the brightest idea. From thereafter, the wood on most wagons was merely pasted on, in the form of wood-grain decals.

Clean. Photo- Boots

As woodies faded in popularity, one fringe group of society decided to adopt these vehicles as their own—surfers. Surfers have been unfairly looked upon down upon as an unusual tribe with reckless courage yet limited intellect. While the former statement checks out, the latter is the one generally undeserved. These surfers were plenty clever when they claimed woodies as their own, effectively killing two hefty birds with one stone.

“For most young surfers in the 1960’s, the most difficult thing they faced was affording a vehicle to get to the surf,” remembers Vickers. “The second hardest thing was finding one that could get your board down to the beach in.”

“Back then, these cars were 20 years old,” he continued, pointing to the scores of inert vestiges of yesteryear as they twinkled on the wooden wharf like exotic gems. “No one was taking care of them. Nobody was taking care of the wood. They were selling for cheap, so the surfers started picking them up. You could put the boards inside, or up on top. That’s what started the woodie trend in the surfing world and it was an instance of perfect timing.”

Sleek. Photo- Kearney

Not only did these surfers get the woodies for a steal, they relished the space the cars provided; just enough room to fit as many boards, bros, and babes in as possible. Sounds like a good time to me!

As surfing grew, this association with woodies would become woven into the fabric of the culture. There they remain, as symbols for the days of surfing over work, the thriftiness and eccentric nature of surfers, of good times passed. Woodie owners take great pride in their cherished roles as custodians of this bygone era and relish sharing with the public the feelings of nostalgia and fun their rides evoke. Owners, such as the ones gathered at on the wharf on Saturday, help to keep this spirit alive by maintaining, cherishing, and showing off their storied surf-mobiles whenever they can.

Kathy Lloyd, seated backseat, and her brood. Photo- Kearney

One such proud owner was Kathy Lloyd, who brought her red 1951 Ford Country Squire, complete with a 302 engine, with her down to the waters edge, joined by her family. It was there that I found all four of them as they took a respite from the warm late-June sunshine. From the backseat, Lloyd explained how she came across her beloved station wagon.

“I actually saw this car for the first time here, at this show,” she revealed.

“We were here with friends and I just really liked it. I’d always wanted a Ford “Shoebox”, a ’51, because that’s the year that I was born. I had to get him (points to her husband in the front seat), keen on of the idea of buying it. It took me two years, but I finally got it. We’ve also got a ’55 T-Bird that’s a lot of fun too, but this one’s got more room, and it’s just  such a great driving car.”

Longtime woodie fan and photographer, Howard “Boots” McGhee, was on hand to snap some images of the classic cars. For someone like himself, who’s snapped thousands and thousands of photos throughout the years, getting a sweet shot of a woodie involves looking for that one unique angle that can compliment the originality of the vehicles themselves.

“The Woodies on the Wharf is a staple to Santa Cruz. Actually, one of the largest gathering of woodies anywhere. I wandered around, up and down the rows of wooden cars, leaving my wife Carm to guide our Parkinson’s afflicted neighbor to traverse the uneven asphalt. For events such as this, I’m looking to find the angle not typically noticed. It could be a refection in a hubcap, a face that stands out, a discussion between motorhead friends, or simply, some fine woodwork on a great looking ride.”

The procession. Photo- Kearney

Whether it’s cargo is a family of four or a stack of sandy single-fins, woodies remain, to this day, a classy way to enjoy a trip to the beach. As their owners get along in age, events like Woodies On The Wharf offer surf rats from the ’60’s a chance to relive the stoke of that bygone era.


“All of us guys down here, who were teenagers back in the 1960’s, have settled down and made good lives for themselves. Good careers, happy families— the whole thing. Now, they’re purchasing these cars and fixin’ em up. They are coming back to the beach”

Talkin’ shop. Photo- Kearney

To find out more about Woodies on the Wharf and the Santa Cruz Woodie club, be sure to check out www.santacruzwoodies.com!