Column: The Olympics finally shine the spotlight on surfer girls

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Carissa Moore has secured a special place in the history of the sport by winning the first gold medal in women’s surfing at the Olympics. His feat did not surprise Jim Kempton, president of the California Surf Museum in Oceanside.

“There couldn’t be a more perfect person to stand up for the United States and Hawaii,” her home state, says the former editor of Surfer magazine, who is a friend of Carissa and her father.

As well as being recognized as the best surfer girl, Kempton said, “She is the epitome of the aloha spirit and what the Olympics stand for.”

The reigning quadruple world champion has competed in several amateur surfing competitions in San Diego. In 2018, Moore won the Super Girl Surf Pro competition at Oceanside. She is set to participate in the Oceanside 2021 event from September 17-19, just after her gold medal.

The only real Olympic surprise for Kempton was the early elimination of seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore of Australia.

Kempton is one of the world’s largest authorities in women’s surfing. On July 7, 2021, as if it was perfectly in sync with the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, he released “Women On Waves”, a 456-page collection about women involved in sport.

It dates back centuries – from folklore to Hawaiian royalty to women smashing the balsa ceiling.

Let’s test your female surfing IQ Are the following statements true or false?

  • The oldest surfboard ever discovered belonged to a woman.
  • Novelist Agatha Christie, born in 1890, was passionate about surfing.
  • Billionaire Doris Duke started the sport with Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku.
  • Before becoming Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean Baker regularly surfed in Malibu.
  • The first known woman to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and surf the difficult Jeffreys Bay in South Africa was native Californian Donna Matson.

If you have answered all of the above faithfully, award yourself a Gold Star.

Agatha Christie, pictured with her surfboard in Cape Town, South Africa in 1922, was one of the first British surfers to stand.

(Courtesy of the editors of “Women on the Waves”)

Kempton kicked off his surfer timeline with ancient goddesses and Hawaiian surf queens. The oldest known surfboard in the world dates back to the early 1600s. It was discovered in a cave in Kona, Hawaii, in 1905 and belonged to a woman buried there, Princess Kaneamuna.

Surfing has long been a Hawaiian tradition for women and men. In fact, a special surf spot on Waikiki was reserved specifically for the Hawaiian Queen.

“There was a huge need to have this whole facet of surfing history recognized,” said Kempton, who spent a lot of time covering women when working for Surfer magazine, of which he was editor. in the early 1980s.

Her inspiration came from an exhibition dedicated to women ten years ago at the Surf Museum. “We spent a few years researching back then.” This gave him both the idea and the framework for the book.

Kempton’s story goes far beyond the 40 giant women of surfing and their life stories. It examines discrimination, business, the promotion and growth of women’s surfing events, as well as the progress of women in other areas.

It includes nearly 800 women in its timeline and conducted 156 interviews to bring their stories to life while linking them to the achievements, eras and development of the sport, so the book doesn’t read like an encyclopedia. Kempton started his project in 2018, devoting most of his time to it during the COVID-19 lockdown.

He says he was actually helped by the pandemic because the best female surfers, so often on the competitive circuit, were at home, hovering until the trips opened up.

The first edition of the book sold out in three weeks and Kempton is already working on an update to add the results of the 2020 Olympics in the second edition.

There were a few surprises along the way. One involved Isabel Letham, an Australian icon long described as the first female surfer there. In the Sydney press archive, in an article about a lifesaving club, Kempton came across a surf photo of Isma Amor from before Letham.

It explores the explosion in popularity of surfing among young people following Hollywood surf movies and songs, triggered in 1959 by “Gidget”, and portraying a festive lifestyle and beauty stereotypes in the bath.

Despite the 1960s focus on liberation, women in the surf world were meant to be a feast for the eyes on the beach, not the waves, Kempton reports. Yet the surfers of ancient Hawaii were treated like equals.

Surfing has changed since then, thanks to persistence and the willingness of women to keep pushing and not just “I’m going to throw you a bone,” Kempton says.

The concept that women are most competitive with men on small waves has also been shattered. In 2020, the biggest wave to be ridden by a man or a woman was that of the Brazilian Maya Gabeira, who rode a 24-meter wave in Portugal. French surfer Justine DuPont is credited with making the second biggest wave of around 72 feet that same year.

The people of San Diego have played a key role in the history of women’s surfing. Faye Baird was the first surfer to hit the radar in California. She hosted a torchlight surfing demonstration on New Years Eve for the opening of the Mission Beach Ballroom in 1926.

Faye Baird, with her Ocean Beach surf pal Charlie Wright, circa 1926, was recognized as San Diego's first surfer.

Faye Baird, with her Ocean Beach surfing buddy Charlie Wright, circa 1926, was recognized as San Diego’s first surfer.

(Courtesy of the California Surf Museum)

In the early 1960s, Linda Benson of Encinitas gained a reputation as a giant in the world of women’s surfing. She was the first woman to break the gender barrier in the media when she was pictured on the cover of Surf Guide magazine in 1963.

Margo Oberg, of La Jolla, pioneered women’s big wave riding and dominated four years of world competition before graduating from high school. In her first contest at La Jolla Shores in 1963, she won the 12-year-old boys’ division – as a 10-year-old girl.

Also in the 1960s, Joyce Hoffman enjoyed a series of firsts on the surf circuit, including winning three national surfing championships in a row, as well as two back-to-back world titles, and becoming the first documented woman to ride Pipeline. She grew up in Dana Point but was based in Del Mar after being hired as the first female lifeguard in the city and state of California.

In 1966, “Billy” Riley, a female manager of a Shelter Island hotel, convinced San Diego City Council to hold a global surfing contest, putting San Diego on the map as a respected surfing site.

Barbie Baron is believed to have opened the first woman-owned surf shop in California when she opened the Offshore Surf Shop in Oceanside in 1969.

Debbie Beacham of La Jolla, in addition to winning a world title in the early 1980s, co-founded and led the organization Women’s Professional Surfers and co-produced the first all-female surf documentary, “Surfer Girl” .

Although Kempton notes that there is no special place for female surfers at the California Surf Museum, there are memorabilia and a number of famous surfboards, including the “Mona Lisa” from the museum’s collection. .

Visitors audibly gasp when they see, encased in clear plastic, the shark-bitten board ridden by 13-year-old surf star Bethany Hamilton when she lost her left arm to a tiger shark in 13 feet in Kauai, Hawaii in 2003.

Despite some of the best waves on the coast and a history of innovation and award-winning surfers (men and women), “San Diego is very undercover,” Kempton said, adding that it could be due to a lack of surf. . media living in the region.

“San Diego is the most underrated surf town in the world – it’s Rodney Dangerfield,” Kempton notes, referring to the comedian whose slogan was “I get no respect.”

Yes, but thanks to him, surfer girls are more respected.


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