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Talkin' surf . . .

Teenager Bethany Hamilton, an inspiration to many when she returned to surfing after losing her left arm to a shark, swapped "board stories" with Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii.

Lingle told the 14-year-old Hamilton on Friday she surfed for the first time in September.

"It was something I really enjoyed, something I've wanted to do for at least 25 years or so," Lingle said.

The two spoke when Lingle thanked Hamilton for filming an anti-drug message for the state. She also autographed a copy of her recently released autobiography, "Soul Surfer," for the governor.

So long, Slats . . .

The Winnetka, Ill., house where newspaper columnist Mike Royko penned hard-edged articles on Chicago politics and life is being torn down by its owners.

The demolition began Thursday despite pleas from preservationists who say the California Craftsman home has historic value, the Chicago Tribune reported Friday.

Officials of affluent Winnetka, north of Chicago, considered the house the best example of California Craftsman design in the village.

Ownership by Royko, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who died in 1997, added to the house's significance, said David Bahlman of Landmark Preservation Council of Illinois.

The MacCarthys, who bought the house from Royko's wife, Judy, for $1.8 million earlier this year, plan to rebuild on the lot.

Cruisin' once again . . .

Penelope Cruz says she is over her breakup with Tom Cruise and is dating actor Matthew McConaughey.

The Spanish beauty, who split with the "Risky Business" star in January, and McConaughey, have been spotted together for months, but managed to keep their relationship under wraps.

"I have no problems in recognizing I have something with Matthew, because there's nothing to hide," Cruz told the Mexican newspaper Reforma. "But it is something I prefer not to talk about because it always ends up coming back against you."

McConaughey has previously dated Ashley Judd and Sandra Bullock. He met Cruz in Morocco while filming "Sahara."

Humble beginnings . . .

Former President Ford said he often walked past a vacant lot where the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy will be housed when he was a student at the University of Michigan in the 1930s.

Ford spoke to about 400 people gathered Friday in Ann Arbor for a groundbreaking ceremony for construction of the Joan and Sanford Weill Hall.

"When I came to the university in 1931, I brought a $100 check from a principal of a high school who wanted to make darn sure that I went to a school in Ann Arbor," Ford said.

"I never would have thought when I plunked that $100 down 73 years ago that I'd be involved in a ceremony of this kind. . . . But strange things happen."

The school's Institute of Public Administration was renamed the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in 1999 in honor of Ford, the nation's 38th president.