Throughout my life, I have preferred reading fictional stories. I’d turn my nose up against anything that was not, for lack of a better word, “made-up”. However, in late August of last year, I attended a small panel held at Smiley’s Saloon in Bolinas, California for a signing of Jim Kempton’s Women On Waves. Here, I was given a book signed by Kempton himself. I cracked it open, curious about where my own passion for surfing had originated from. As Sandy’s Band strummed melodic tunes on their guitars in the background, I became entranced in a wonderful world of surfing's background, and quickly realized just how wrong I had been about historical writing.
Women On Waves is a beautifully curated depiction of the impact of women on surf culture. Kempton writes a rich, comprehensive, journal-like book that combines all aspects of a good story. He writes of specific names and places that allow the reader to fully visualize what they’re reading. Kempton takes the dense, often complicated, history of our world’s surf archives, specifically concentrated on women, and transforms them into an informative, yet artistic, collection of stories that pleases even the most fiction-oriented readers.
The way the book is organized is quite interesting; rather than long, complex chapters, Kempton writes a specific account of one woman but allows said account to fluidly move into a different one, about a different surfer. Two of my favorite portions of this book were the excerpts on surfers Quincy Davis and Rell Sunn (big surprise!). Both surfers hold a dear place in my heart; these are two women I particularly look up to.
Davis is from the town I’m originally from - Montauk, NY - I grew up idolizing both her and her surfing. She rips! Then, in 2018, when she opened her retail shop, Quincy, my fandom grew, as she showed me that it is possible to be an entrepreneur and a professional surfer, all at the same time. Every summer with friends, I run into town between surf sessions and pop into her shop to say hi or buy a bikini.
As for Sunn, it's no secret that I've had an affinity for her for many years, either. I wrote a historical piece on her life in late 2020. While I did not have the opportunity to use the information found in Women on Waves because it was not yet published, it was an enthralling experience reading everything Kempton had collected on Sunn in his book. It was interesting to compare what I too had found through my research on Sunn and included in my piece, and more importantly, to see what I had missed.
Some things that particularly sparked my interest while reading Kempton’s book include, but are not limited to:
PAT FASSIO, born just 5 years after women gained the right to vote, was one of the two women allowed to surf with the Santa Cruz club members in 1941. She used to borrow other members’ boards to surf Cowells. (pg 42) Cowells will forever be one of my favorite logging spots; it is an inspiring feeling knowing that I've surfed the same waves my surfing ancestors rode.
JOYCE HOFFMAN had many large achievements in her lifetime. She was the first woman to ride Hobie’s only women’s signature log model, which happened to be her own. She also won two back-to-back World Titles, and three National Surfing Championships in a row. This was "unprecedented". (pg 80) I will forever be in awe of Hoffman’s effect on the world of surf culture, both for women and for men. If there’s one person I have learned the most about over the years I have researched women in surf history, it’s Joyce Hoffman.
LAURA POWERS, resin and airbrush artist, who also happened to win the 1973 United States Surfing Federation Championships in Malibu, took to boards to find her way in the world of surfing. She made a name for herself not only in California but also in Hawaii. At one point, she owned her own business painting on boards rode predominantly by women. (pg 151) Art, to me, is one of the most powerful ways to express yourself and things that are meaningful to you. It is understood by all languages, regardless of origin. To combine the power of art with the force of women in surf history is something else, completely.
BLUE CRUSH was the first surf film to star an all woman lead cast. It was the most influential surf movie of the decade, as it not only inspired girls to get out and surf, but also demanded recognition for women in the surf world. (pg 248) Blue Crush is, and forever will be, one of my favorite movies. I remember the first time I watched it. I was with my best friend, and we looked at each other with a knowing look that said, "That’ll be us, one day".
In 2016, ORNELLA PELIZZARI took a break from competitive surfing to consider what surfing truly meant to her. To Pelizzari, “the essence of surfing gets lost and wears out over the years.” (Pg 418) I think that this was one of the most powerful quotes I had read in Kempton’s entire book. It’s important to remember not only the physical strength one is required to have to surf competitively, but more importantly, the mental side of it, too. At one point in time, surfing was portrayed in the media as something laid back and mellow, but as time has gone on, this career path gets extremely demanding and exhausting for athletes.
Kempton’s book allowed me to dive deeper into surf history than ever before. After reading the book, I did a little bit of research on other books and media surrounding women in surf culture. What I found was quite interesting; it seemed that much of the information that surrounded the women pioneers of surfing had only begun to come out in the past ten years or so. Pieces of media found earlier than that were focused mainly on professional male surfers, and how they had come about. Only now are women receiving the recognition they deserve. It’s about time–women run this joint!
My last article for WithitGirl was on woman’s surfing legend Joey Hamasaki. It includes information from Women on Waves. I worked in direct contact with Kempton on getting the information I needed in order to form my piece. He was wonderful to speak with, and it was an honor to talk with the former editor-in-chief of Surfer magazine. I have gained so much from talking with Jim Kempton and reading his book. Learning about the women who have paved the path for other girls in the surf world is a powerful feeling and one I never would have felt had I never encountered Jim Kempton’s Women on Waves.
Kylie is a high school student living in California. She spends her summers on Long Island, where she is originally from. In her free time, you can find her making jewelry, surfing, writing poetry, or passing time with her loved ones.
Women on Waves, a Cultural History of Surfing From Ancient Goddesses and Hawaiian Queens to Malibu Movie Stars and Millennial Champions published by Pegasus Books
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