Artist Gary Hughes connects Rehoboth Beach and San Diego

Through volunteers, Surfgimp Foundation’s southern California connection remains strong
September 15, 2023

Story Location:
San Diego International Airport
3225 North Harbor Drive
San Diego, CA 92101
United States

About two-and-a-half years ago – March 2021 – Rehoboth Beach and the Rehoboth Art League partnered to have a sculpture by artist Gary Hughes installed in the lobby of city hall. It’s called “Bus Stop” and features three almost-life-sized sculptures with bags waiting. Coincidentally, or not, there is a DART bus stop right outside city hall doors on Rehoboth Avenue.

Almost immediately, I recognized the exaggerated form of the sculptures. I knew I had seen them before, but I couldn't place them.

Fast forward to September 2022. I was in San Diego International Airport and came across the reason I knew I had seen the sculptures before. Near the far exit area of the airport’s arrivals section is another sculpture by Hughes. “At the Gate” features seven resin-and-fiberglass people instead of the three in Rehoboth. However, three of the passengers are the same.

Hughes, who died in 2016, has a connection to Rehoboth Beach – he and his wife Ellen moved to the city in 2013 – and his work has been on the Rehoboth Art League campus for years.

I was curious if Hughes had a similar connection to San Diego, so I reached out to RAL Executive Director Sara Gunter. She put me in touch with Ellen, who serves RAL’s board of trustees.

Ellen said Hughes won the commission at the airport as part of a national competition.

“He was quite surprised, as his [sculpture] was the only out-of-state artist chosen,” said Ellen. “He drove the sculptures out from his studio in Bethesda, Md., and supervised the installation. I hope you were photographed with the sculpture – a very popular thing to do.”

Unfortunately, I was not photographed with the sculpture. Although, I probably should have been. After the cross-country flight that necessitated me leaving my home at 4:30 a.m., I would have fit right in with the funny-looking subjects, but I was in the long-flight haze. That’s probably also why it didn’t occur to me to take a picture of Rehoboth Beach’s Paul and Cindy Lovett, who were literally at the bottom of the escalator in the airport the morning I arrived. Cindy said they were waiting for family to pick them up before heading to Alaska.

Surfgimp Foundation

The reason I was in the San Diego airport in 2022, and again last weekend, was to volunteer at the annual U.S. Open Adaptive Surfing Championships in Oceanside, Calif. The competition brings about 100 athletes from across the globe. There are various levels of disabilities, which means some of the competitors need people in the water to help when they fall off their boards.

Depending on family or professional commitments, about a dozen people from this area volunteer at the competition each year. I’ve had the good fortune of helping out a few times.

The reason people from Delaware fly all the way to California to help is to honor of Milton resident, quadriplegic and adaptive athlete Jay Liesener. Many of the same people traveling to California helped Leisener surf the waters of Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and California.

Liesener, who died in November 2017, went by the self-appointed moniker Surfgimp. A charity, Surfgimp Foundation, was formed in Liesener’s name to support individuals with disabilities who want to live an active lifestyle – equipment and travel for these individuals is expensive. Some of those grant recipients participate in the surfing competition, but a lot of them don’t. However, if the grant recipients at the surfing competition are any indication, they’re all grateful for the support.

Surfgimp Foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year is its annual Winter Bash, which is the Saturday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January. This year, that’s Saturday, Jan. 13. 

Joke of the Week:

This year’s fall equinox – Saturday, Sept. 23 – will happen before my next column. With all the crazy weather that’s taken place over the past few weeks, especially the heat, it’s hard to believe that fall is almost here. But it is, so here’s a fall-themed joke.

Q: What do the leaves say before they hibernate?

A: Rake me up when September ends.


Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the correct day for Surfgimp Foundation's annual Winter Bash.

  • Chris Flood has lived in or visited family in Delaware his whole life. He grew up in Maine, but a block of scrapple was always in the freezer of his parents’ house during his childhood. Contact him at

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