by Corky Carroll
With all of the hoopla going on during the recent U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach there was a lot of talk about different “pioneers” of surfing. Most of the time these discussions don’t mention the women who forged the way and opened the doors for the current flock of “equal pay” lady wave shredders. So, today, in the wake of the big event and dust laid back down, I thought I would reminisce a bit about the girls who lead the way in the early days of what is termed the “modern era” of surfing, starting in the 1950’s with the change to lightweight balsawood and then foam boards. I started surfing in the mid 1950’s, so this is where my first-hand knowledge would begin. I have touched on this in the past, but it seems a good time to revisit and update.
To preface this, I should add that the release of the movie “Gidget,” in 1959, had a huge impact on not only womens surfing but also surfing in general. Gidget was a girl named Kathy Kohner whose father wrote the book about her surfing experiences with the Malibu crew in the mid 1950’s. This would have been Tubesteak Tracey, Mickey Dora, Mickey Munoz and others. Just the sheer impact that the movie had on surfing would have to put Kathy up there with the most influential surf girls of the period, and beyond.
The Calhoun girls from Laguna Beach are legendary. Marge Calhoun was the Makaha International Surfing Champion in 1958 and remained involved in surfing competition as one of the leading judges well into the 1970’s. Her daughters, Candy and Robin, were both excellent surfers as well. Candy was United States Champion and won many events in the early 1960’s, also being one of the great water-people.
Linda Benson burst onto the scene winning the Makaha event and the first West Coast Championship at Huntington Beach in 1959 at the age of 15. She also stunt doubled for Sandra Dee in the Gidget movie. Over the next decade Linda went on to win just about everything there was to win as well as being named the Top Womens Surfer in the World by SURFER magazines first reader poll for the year 1963. She is still surfing today, looks pretty much the same as she did in 1959 and is one of the coolest and most fun people to share a lineup with. I love Linda. She currently makes a device called a “rail grabber,” a little handle to make it easier to carry a longboard for those with shorter arms.
The next big time womens surf star was the great Joyce Hoffman. Joyce, known as “Boo” to family and friends, totally dominated the girls competition scene for many years in the mid 1960’s. She is the daughter of famous early big wave surfer Walter Hoffman, known as “the Godfather” in surfing circles. The family company, Hoffman Fabrics, produces almost all of the fabric for the leading surfing manufacturers in the United States. Joyce learned to surf in an environment surrounded by the great surfers of that era, Phil Edwards, Hobie Alter, the Harrison family, her uncle “Flippy” Hoffman, Munoz and others.
On the heels of Joyce Hoffman came the amazing Margo Godfrey. Margo got recognition by winning the “Menehune” contest in La Jolla at the age of 11. She beat all the boys. By 15 she was World Champ. What was notable about Margo, other than her incredible competition record, was that fact that she was probably the first girl surfer to actually surf similar to the men as far as style and function of moves went. Another great girl surfer of that era that also was along those lines was Joey Hamasaki. But Margo was ahead of her time for sure. She still looked feminine, yet if you saw her from a distance and didn’t see that she was a girl it would have been easy to mistake her for one of the top men surfers as far as he style and presence on a wave. She ripped like no other girl had done before her and set the style and tone for those who followed.
That would take us pretty much through the 1960’s. I would like to continue this next week a look at a few more of the great female influences on surfing going forward, stay tuned!