OCEAN CITY -- Everybody thought it was a great idea: a statue to honor surfers, inspired by a young local surfer who died of cancer two years ago.
Then the picture of the nearly completed bronze statue arrived. The surfer was naked. No shorts. No swimsuit. Just a muscular man and his surfboard and nature, on a larger-than-life scale.
And the project, endorsed by the City Council, embraced by local surfers, caught an unexpected wave of opposition.
"There's no naked surfing allowed in Ocean City," says Lois Popp of the local Downtown Association.
"Other than Senior Week, spring break, the end of the summer -- I've never seen anybody surfing naked in Ocean City," agrees City Councilman Jim Mathias. "We've been scorned sometimes as being a town where anything goes, and that's not the case. . . . We're notcomfortable with that on public property."
"It tends to be painful," said state champion surfer Rick Pairo of nude surfing. "When the latest picture came, that was a surprise," says Mr. Pairo, one of the project's organizers and a friend of Mike Chester, the surfer whose death catalyzed the statue project.
Even the sculptor is surprised: He never considered clothing it, hesays, because he wants the work to be a classical bronze artwork in the style of Michelangelo.
"I'm a classicist," says Edmond Shumpert, the California artist commissioned to do the statue.
The difficulty apparently arose because the sculptor and project organizers never discussed the work's clothing, or lack thereof.
Mr. Pairo said that surfer Martin Furst and an unidentified donor approached Mr. Shumpert, a surfer whose statues have been bought by Huntington Beach, a California town famous for surfing.
The sculptor, who drives a rebuilt 1933 Plymouth speedster with a nude statuette of his wife as a hood ornament, says he's flexible. He has been working on the statue on the installment plan: The surfers have been raising money since Mr. Shumpert began working about nine months ago, and they're about two-thirds of the way toward the $60,000 total cost.
The preliminary sketches are open to interpretation: Mr. Pairo points to a line that could be shorts; Mr. Shumpert says that he never intended to clothe it and that the photo of his Huntington Beach statue, titled 'The Ultimate Challenge," shows a surfer who is clearly not wearing shorts.
But city officials, who have agreed in principle to donate land in Ocean City to erect the statue, say that they agreed thinking the statue would be clothed.
"It was a miscommunication between us and the sculptor," said Mr. Pairo. "We have every intention of making the sculpture fit a family image town like Ocean City."
"I think most people here would be in agreement that it should have a pair of trunks on," said Mark Pugh, a surfer and co-owner of K-Coast Surf and Volley Centers.
City officials are not closed-minded, Mr. Mathias said. "If you want to compare this to Michelangelo's David, I need to hear that from the creator. If the statue is clothed -- or properly defended -- the mayor and council will stand by its decision."
When Mr. Furst returns from a trip to Hawaii later this month, he'll talk to the sculptor. The issue will remain unresolved until the surfersask for a specific site.
Mr. Shumpert says he'll clothe the statue -- if he must: "It's like the body's a story: Who's going to take out the middle chapters? It breaks up the flow. . . . You put the damn shorts in there, it's like saying to Beethoven, 'Oboe, you're out' and splicing in some elevator music in his symphony."
But . . .
"If it comes right down to it, I'll have to put some shorts on it."