Queen of The Waves

FROM THE WITHIGIRL ARCHIVES Story by Jody Franklin

In the beginning, and for many decades to follow, wahine surfers had a difficult time gaining prominence in the sport. Surfing was originally thought of as a male activity unsuitable for women, who were supposed to be ladylike. But as the women's movement gained prominence, particularly in the 1950s, more and more women came to enjoy the sport.

Linda Benson did much to pave the way for women in surfing. She began riding at age 11 off the Encinitas coast in Southern California, and at 15 she became surfing's youngest champion when she won the International Championship at Makaha. Today she is still considered the top woman surfer of all time and was immortalized as Gidget's surfing double in the movie.


One of the earliest women surfers from California was Mary Ann Hawkins. She was the first of a long line that stretched through the 1960s to Marge Calhoun and her daughters, and also to Benson herself.


The first Australian to ride a surfboard was a woman: Isabel Letham rode tandem with Duke Kahanamoku when the Duke introduced Australians to board riding at Freshwater in 1915. In the early 1960s, Australians Phyllis O'Donnell and Gail Couper were influential in women's surfing.

After winning the 1965 U.S. Surfboard Championships, Joyce Hoffman was world champion in 1966-67 and was honored as one of the original eight inductees into the International Surfing Hall of Fame. Joyce and Joey Hamisaki, from Hawaii, were probably the first internationally recognized female surfers.

With 1968 came Margo Godfrey, who surfed with a "tomboyish" style. In 1975, professional contests began and Godfrey became the first professional woman surfer.

She won the W.I.S.A. Hang Ten Championships at Malibu to become the first all women's international pro.

By the time she was 14, Rella Sunn was competing in surf meets and won her first of many contests when she was 16. Rella helped organize the Women's Surfing Hui and the Women's Professional Surfing Association. In 1975 she founded the women's professional tour and ranked first in the International Professional Surfing ratings briefly in 1982. Rella had many affectionate nicknames, among them the "Queen of Makaha" and "Surfing's Sunny Ambassador". Surfing Magazine called her the "Gracious Lady of Surfing."​​​​​​​​​​​​


All of these notable ladies helped prove to the surfing world that women can ride waves too, drawing different lines and contributing their own unique grace to the dance.

Queen of The Waves credits:

1. Photo by Liz Pepin. The photo has been identified as, L to R: Joyce Hoffman, Debbie Hull, Linda Davoli, Mary Setterholm, Candi Woodward, Shannon Aikman, and Margo Oberg.

2. Photo by Liz Pepin: Mardo Oberg

3. Photo by Liz Pepin: Joyce Hoffman and Linda Benson


Jody Franklin was a frequent contributor to withitgirl.


© 2000-2021 withitgirl. All rights reserved. We appreciate your feedback!