Surfing Madonna – Encinitas, California - Atlas Obscura
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Surfing Madonna

What began as an illegal art installation has become a symbol for unity, ocean awareness, and coastline preservation.  


On April 22, 2011 (Good Friday/Earth Day), Mark Patterson and Bob Nichols, two longtime friends, impersonated construction workers and installed an unsanctioned work of art beneath a bridge near the entrance to Moonlight Beach, the local surf spot. Patterson created the 10-foot-by-10-foot mosaic to bring awareness to ocean life and coastline preservation.

Unfortunately, the Surfing Madonna was deemed illegal graffiti because of its unauthorized installation and was thus slated for removal. Patterson came forward as the artist behind the work and was fined $500 and ordered to pay the $6,000 removal fee, though he was allowed to keep the piece.

But public outcry and local support led officials to decide to reinstall the mosaic. It was relocated across the street from its original spot at Leucadia Pizzeria, where the proud Madonna still hangs ten today.

Since its original installation, subsequent removal, and re-installation, the Surfing Madonna now stands as a proud symbol of the community and raises annual awareness for various ocean-related causes. The Surfing Madonna Foundation, working as a 501c3 non-profit, has donated annually in excess of $120,000 and initiated surfing programs for kids with disabilities, wounded veteran surf camps, ocean mammal rescue equipment for local lifeguards, floating wheelchairs, and many other ocean-focused initiatives.

Know Before You Go

Grab a burrito from Filiberto's, sip some suds, hit Moonlight beach for some beach volleyball and check out the Surfing Madonna and all that she surfs for!

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