The women of surfing

Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Hi there!
I have been thinking about writing this post for some time now. Lately I realized how many of us enjoy surfing, but don't really know about the history behind it, me included. The roots of the practice we now call surfing have really ancient origins and they supposedly have born in the ancient kingdoms of Hawaii.

I won't post an article about the surf history - it would take too much space, time and knowledge (which I don't really have, especially the last-named). But I think it is important, especially for us girls, to learn more about the first female pioneers who made this sport possible for us in terms of legitimization, accessibility and as a break of many gender role barriers.
When we think about surfer girls, we mostly tend to relate them to the bikini chick stereotype. But we need to know that before they become sex symbols, they were role models for the future generations of female athletes.

I did a little research and today I'd like to share with you some info about (some of) the women who set the example and led the way to the female surf scene we know now.

Marge Calhoun
Born in Hollywood in 1924, Marge spent her early childhood at the beach. When she grew up she became a competitive diver and swimmer and worked part-time as a stuntwoman. She even trained for the 1940 Olympic Games when they were cancelled due to World War II. But it is just in the mid-1950s that she discovered the surf, when her husband Tom Calhoun offered her a new, lightweight board made by his friend, Joe Quigg. She learnt the basics of surfing in Malib├╣ and in 1958 took her board to a trip to Hawaii, where she spontaneously decided to enter the Makaha International Contest. She won and from that day on she's been considered the first women's surfing champion. In 1961 she co-founded the United States Surfing Association and became the organization's first woman to judge women's contests.

Linda Benson
Linda Benson was born in 1944 in Encinitas, where she was raised and started surfing at the age of 11. At that time she'd wait on the beach watching her brother and his friends surfing. If one of them would lose a board, then she'd paddle it back out to him.
Her father let her buy an old balsa board for $20. At 5'2" and 105 pounds, Linda proved she was the gutsy and talented athlete that would dominate women's competitive surfing for over 10 years.
In 1959 at the age of 15, Linda was the youngest contestant ever at the Makaha International Championship. She won. And just days later she became the first woman to ride the big surf Waimea Bay when she borrowed a board from the shortest guy surfing with her.
Benson competed for 10 years and then left surfing for other 10. In 1979 she began to surf again and continues to surf today. At 71 years of age, Linda Benson still rocks.

Margo Oberg
Born Margo Godfrey in 1953, she was the first female professional surfer in the world. When she was five she moved with her family from Pennsylvania to San Diego beachfront community of La Jolla and began surfing at age 10. Two years later she was ready for competition and in 1969 she became the sport’s first woman to earn a paycheck, a cool $150 for winning the Santa Cruz Pro-Am. After a few years of retirement due to a “disappointing” second back at the 1970 World Championship contest, she came back in the surf scene in 1975 when Lightning Bolt offered her a lucrative contract, something unimagined in women’s surfing until then. During her time off she had improved her style and excelled in waves up to 15 feet. She became the first multiple-time winner of world surfing championships.

Sarah Gerhardt
Born in Washington in 1974, she learnt to surf in the late 80s in California, where she soon started chasing for bigger waves. In the winter of 1995-96, Sarah dated big-wave veteran Ken Bradshaw who was also coaching her and shaping her boards. On Thanksgiving day, he took her out to ride 20-foot waves at Waimea Bay. The two split and two years later she married Malibu surfer Mike Gerhardt. The couple relocated to Santa Cruz and there she was introduced to Maverick's. The first couple of times she paddled out but didn't take any wave. But then on February 26, 1999 she paddled into one of the 25-feet waves and became the first woman to surf Maverick's. Earlier in 1994 bodyboarder Sara Lucas had caught a 15-foot left there, but Sarah cemented the collapse of the gender barrier in this spot and led the way to other brave big-wave riders such as Keala Kennelly and Maya Gabeira.

I hope this was a chance to get to know a little more about the female pioneers of surfing. Next time I get in the water I'm sure I'll be thinking about these amazing women, instead of the current cover girl/surfer chick ;)
Who are the women that inspired you more in your life?

Pics: 1&2 via, 3. by Ron Church, 4. by John Severson, 5. by Jeff Divine, 6. by Greg MacGillivray, 7. by Elizabeth Pepin Silva, 8. by Don Montgomery

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