Surfer of Kelly’s Cove at
Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California
Interview conducted by
Stephen “Woody” LaBounty
May 2, 2013
Jim Gallagher grew up as the oldest in a family of twelve children in San Francisco's Richmond District. Born during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and being part of such a large family, Jim was motivated to start working at a young age. He changed high schools twice to have better hours for jobs. As a teenager, around work and school hours, Jim began swimming, body surfing, and eventually board surfing at Baker Beach, China Beach, and Kelly’s Cove at Ocean Beach.
Mr. Gallagher has always been athletic, and the attractions of Kelly's Cove revolved around running, swimming, surfing, and the occasional game of "wall ball." He joined the San Francisco Fire Department in 1962, but kept surfing at Kelly's and other locations into the 1970s. He witnessed the social scene at Kelly's Cove grow and change, and in recent years Jim has acted as a Kelly's Cove historian, interviewing older surfers, gathering photographs, and generally documenting the history of surfing at Ocean Beach.
The interview took place in Mr. Gallagher’s house in San Francisco's Sunset District. It was recorded on a digital recorder, transcribed, and audited. Mr. Gallagher reviewed the interview and offered clarifying edits for incorporation.
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 James E. Gallagher dated May 2, 2013. Copyright is shared between James E. Gallagher 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.
Jim Gallagher “Surfer of 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
Introduction | Gallagher interview
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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