The Untold Stories of Women Surfers
Blind Spots by Beth O'Rourke
From what I’ve observed, the purportedly omniscient eye of history has been plagued by amorphous blind spots, placing women’s professional surfing squarely in the center of abject darkness. As with any marginalized (neé intentionally overlooked) cultural tribe, our past is a patchwork of anecdotes, self-referential claims, half-truths, opinions, and accidental deletions. Nevertheless, this is what we’ve got and here we are, watching as the marketed glamour of surf lifestyle churns on with an insatiable demand for fast fashion retail goods. Everyone wants a piece of this gender-scripted, undeniably white man-centric cool that was ironically invented and practiced by indigenous peoples as a form of community worship.
Accurately recording the history of modern women’s surfing is Sandy Ordille’s raison d'etre. She has acknowledged this modern chimerical beast with astonishing aplomb, probably because the true mana of surfing lives within her. Very few women rejoice in surfing the way she does, acknowledging and cultivating the intended sanctity within the early origins of the practice and evolution as a sport (for purists, claiming surfing as a sport is profane). For all fans and observers of surfing, secular and otherwise, Sandy’s humble, meticulous documentation of her own life’s history is the most wonderful sort of gift. For these reasons, I’ll always be ready to step up and amplify her voice.
Introduction from withitgirl about the Wave Whispers Series
Sandy approached withitgirl several months ago to work with our team to highlight women surfers whose narratives have been overlooked, dismissed, or just not considered. Sandy generously shared with us her personal experience and concerns about women's professional surf culture. Through our conversations, we produced a withitgirl live zoom conference with Lynne Boyer, interviewed by Sandy Ordille, including the development of the WithitWomen Wave Whispers Series. We look forward to releasing these stories in the upcoming summer months, along with some more live events.
Sandy Ordille is a radically kind, thoughtful soul, longtime badass, rocker, and one of the original pioneers of women's pro surfing. She was inducted into the 2016 Surfing Hall of Fame and the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame in 2017. Sandy's history spans far more than the surf history records account for. As soon as she took to the waves as a young girl, she was hooked and spent much of her young adult life chasing waves and breaking barriers. Now, Sandy is working to tell the stories of the powerful, rule-breaking women who made women's pro surfing possible today. Sandy is an extraordinary human being, and all of us at Withitgirl and beyond are deeply grateful for the opportunity to work with her and weave these essential narratives back into surf history.
Time Well Spent by Sandy Ordille
When community-minded women bring us together to celebrate our accomplishments.
Everybody wins! Everyone is welcome 🙏 ~Sandy Ordille 2021
I grew up on a barrier island in the East Coast region of the United States. I started surfing in the summer of 1960 on these popular molded styrofoam boards that my mom would purchase at the local drug store. These styrofoam boards were light, short, and easy to carry. They also allowed me to surf all day in the swimmers-only area because they were under the regulation length restrictions that the Lifeguards had to enforce. My big brother, Pete, who is 4 years older than me, had already started surfing, and he helped me learn the basics.
We had a group of tight-knit friends, and we all would store our surfboards at our best friend Barbie Belyea mom's garage, which was located right on the small town's best beach break. After school, we would ride our bikes home along the Boardwalk, laughing and checking the piers and jetties that framed the beautiful, sandy beaches and created the best surf spots by affecting the build-up of sand bars near them. My competitive surfing career began in 1967 when the first amateur surf organization was formed, titled Eastern Surfing Association by Cecil Lear. My mom would drive us up the Garden State Parkway on the weekends to participate in these fun-driven events where t-shirts, trophies, and prizes were the rewards for everyone. They were significant community events and continued to grow every year. At an early age, they instilled in me the necessity to bring people together on a community level.
I left home at 16 years old and moved to Satellite Beach, Florida, where I lived in an abandoned beach duplex with surf friend and mentor, MaryAnn Hayes. She became my Legal Guardian as she was the required 21 years old and agreed to it. Since there was a really nice reef break directly out the back door of the duplex, getting me to school on days of good surf was a big challenge. I held my grades up despite having the school record for the highest number of absences and graduated in 1973. Mary Ann Hayes established the first-ever custom women's board shorts start-up company called Blue Dolphin. I was her first Team member. It may seem irrelevant to outsiders, but NO OTHER WATERSPORT companies were marketing or designing athletic wear for young women in my age group in surfing.
Several years later, I operated the shop (booth) for Blue Dolphin Trunks at an Action Sports Trade Show in Long Beach. Mary Ann Hayes said she had to meet with a potential reseller and asked me to hold down the fort on the tradeshow floor. "Happy to do so," I said. Barely 3 minutes later, the new owner of Quicksilver, Bob McNight,(who had purchased the rights to Quicksilver in the United States from OG Jeff Hakman), popped up and sat down in the chair directly facing me! He said, "I own Quicksilver now, and I am going to take your company down!" You can imagine my surprise as I did not own a company, and if I did, I certainly wouldn't let a coward like him take it away from me! My reply was, "Good luck." He scampered away down the filthy carpet of Long Beach Arena, mumbling to himself words I could not, and did not want to hear. When Mary Ann Hayes returned to the booth, I told her she designs the best trunks ever for women surfers, and I worked diligently to secure her sales accounts in every country I traveled to Japan, being the most successful.
On a side note, I have to say Cherie Gross, who won a sanctioned Pro Tour Event at Haleiwa, gave me an excellent account at Town and Country. Mary Ann did well and sold her Blue Dolphin Company several years later. I am proud of myself that I never let that Roxy dude try to intimidate her. She was so much better at what he was trying to steal from her. To this day, Mary Ann has never known what transpired on that old Action Sports Trade Show Floor. Bob McKnight probably has no recollection. I remember it because, for me, an opportunity to support my friends and shut down the self-proclaimed "big boys" for just a second in time is time well spent.
If you feel comfortable sharing, it would be interesting to hear more about how you had to make it on your own and how you made it happen with tours and traveling and such.
I actually didn't make it on my own. I never would have been able to participate in the Tour without the love and kindness of the families of the friends I met on Tour. In particular, Lynne Boyer and Becky Benson's families, who took me in, treated me as one of their own and encouraged me to do my best. They never asked questions or pried into my family's past.
When did you start competitively surfing? What was that initial drive?
I started competing in 1966 in local events in Ocean City, New Jersey. We had a local surf club, and surfing was supported by the town founders, who would pay for the t-shirts for events and encourage all of us kids to participate. In 1967 the first amateur surfing association called Eastern Surfing Association was formed. I, and all my surf friends, would attend those events on weekends.
How did you make a living since sponsorship and prize money was minimal, if any?
I made a living first by doing ding repair in my backyard. It was sticky work with hazardous materials, so I moved on to working in restaurants. My mom got me a job in the restaurant she did the books in. I would surf in the morning before school, get a short session after school, and work at the restaurant. Later on in life, when I moved to Hawaii, I worked Food and Beverage for large convention gatherings at the 5-star resort Hotels of Hawaii. This was perfect for surfing as we didn't have to work until after 3:00 pm. I would surf all morning before going to work. It was a good-paying job, and I had a studio on the beach in Kauai. After a major Hurricane closed Kauai down, I moved to Oahu, attended the University of Hawaii Manoa, and lived on campus. I worked in the Multimedia lab in a work-study program and graduated in 1995.
What happened after you finished competing? Or why did you stop competing?
I stopped competing because it really fell apart for professional women in the early 1980s. There were very few events, only two sanctioned events in 1980 with sponsors, the total prize money for the whole year was $10,000 for the women, $208,400 for the men. It also became apparent the judges weren't paying attention during heats. I had already traveled, lived, and surfed in the foreign countries that did have events. I traveled to Australia three times, South Africa, Rio de Janeiro once, and Japan twice. Later on, in 2015, I was told by the WSL that they had no record of being in Australia! I had to laugh because I spent so much time in Australia that I had a working visa back in 1979. I'm good friends with Australian residents who know me and know I was there competing. Pam Burridge, Neville Hyman, Jan and Jo Simpson (Rip Curl employees), Lynne Boyer, who was often a travel buddy to split car and hotel rentals with.
Who was your surf posse? Women friendship within/outside of the competitive environment.
I hung out with the Hawaiians because they were the most authentic, kind people on Tour. They also surfed the best. When the winter season started in Hawaii, I would either stay with Lynne Boyers' family or at Becky Bensons' family home in Pupekea, on the North Shore. Their home was a gathering place for competitive surfers during the height of the contest season as her father, Colonel Benson, was a prolific filmmaker.
Who were some of the other woman surfer who did not compete but inspirational?
Barbie Belyea, Dianne Rynasko (RIP), Belina Willis (RIP), and Kristin Wilkinson
My childhood musician friend, Kristin Wilkinson, and I grew up surfing and playing music together. Her nickname was “Fish,” mine was “Snides.” She made a good living as a musician in Nashville, TN. We played music in the town of Ocean City, NJ. She won a Grammy (wrote the score to "All The Pretty Horses") and other awards for her music. We have kept in touch, and when I got inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame, she came to the award ceremony in Florida during the 2016 Surf Expo.
What about girl/women surfers that weren't your typical blonde and white?
Cherie Gross, of Native Hawaiian heritage, was one of the best woman surfers and won first place in The Sunkist World Cup, an IPS rated World Tour Event at Haleiwa in 1982
Why do you think the 70's woman competitive surfing has been left out?
I don't believe it's a conspiracy. I do believe there are challenges to keeping historical records accurate. This is true for many women sports, not just surfing:
One of the challenges is that much of history has been lost. (Except in the memory of those of us who are still alive and living it)
There wasn't much coverage for women in print magazines. Therefore the copyright stamp of guaranteeing safe passage of historical records through time is often not present.
In those days, the surf films often only featured men; if women were afforded footage, it was often referenced by a sexual, not athletic accomplishment.
Much of the handwritten records of old contest results have disappeared or been altered to adhere to the false claims of people of great wealth but little integrity.
The first pro tour, International Professional Surfers, was started by the Hawaiians, Randy Rarrick and Fred Hemmings. They enlisted the help of Patti Pannicia to oversee the women's division, and she did a good job. Unfortunately, they weren't paying her a living wage, so she made a wise decision to accept a job offer from CNN and then later attend Law School.
In 1982 the Aussies took over, changed the name to ASP or Association of Surfing Professionals, and moved the headquarters to Huntington Beach, CA. This was long before the digital age, and the judging criteria were chaotic at best. Records regarding women's events were not saved in safe places.
Do you have a favorite wave or break?
My favorite wave is at the WindanSea in La Jolla, CA. When I first started surfing at the WindanSea, women were not permitted to cross the parking lot to paddle out. So, I paddled up from Big Rock, north to WindanSea. I built my range by staking a claim and never backing down from a late takeoff or a wave everyone else had deemed unworthy. In other words, surf circles around the boys. Keep my mouth shut and never stop pushing myself.
The person who stepped up and assisted me as a coach and provided me with custom, handcrafted surfboards was/is Bill Barnfield. At the time, he was working with Jack Shipley of Lightning Bolt, putting together a team of women surfers to represent/model their new line of women's swimsuits and casual athletic wear. This was before Roxy, Billabong, Volcom. Until that time, I was wearing custom women's board shorts designed by Mary Ann Hayes, who owned and operated a small start-up company called Blue Dolphin. She personally designed and handcrafted each pair of trunks that shipped out the door of her small shop in Encinitas, on Highway 101, near The Self Realization site above Swamis.
What books or authors have been influential in my life?
I read Jack Kerouac, Rachael Carson's "Silent Spring," and anything by Gloria Steinem or Martin Luther King.
Tell us about your Music career and playing in bands.
I played a 1971 Fender Stratocaster with Marshall tube amp, 1971 Martin steel 6 string acoustic guitar, 1939 Metal Body Dobro with resonator, a Rickenbacker lap steel guitar with Fender amp, Handcrafted 6 string Dulcimer, Harmonicas ( keys D, A, G, E, B, E-flat).
I was a member of the all-female band called Avant Garage- an early 1990’s featured original songs written by Kate Beck and me. We also played many cover tunes in our sets. Which played at the following venues in Southern California; The Bacchanal, Clairemont, CA, The BellyUp- Solana Beach, CA, The Flame- Hillcrest, San Diego, The Troupedor- Los Angeles, and San Diego Pride Festival at Balboa Park. The music industry was not very welcoming to all-female bands. We did all our own promotions and made very little money. We usually were paid by the number of tickets we sold in advance and at the door. Since we were performing, it wasn't easy to count people paying at the door. Often the pay was meager and the nights very late.
I enjoyed being a part of the band and playing live gigs but quickly realized I’d rather be on the road touring to surf contests rather than playing late night gigs in smoke filled bars. I believe we blazed a trail for women after us, and it brings us great joy to see women being able to make a living off of being successful musicians posting on social media instead of having to work late at night in bars.
Mama's homemade Eggplant Parm.
Some of Sandy’s Surfing Records:
2016 Surfing Hall of Fame Inductee ECSHOF.
2017 New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame Inductee.
1967-Turkey Trot, 2nd place
Polar Bear, 3rd place
Spring Fling, 2nd place
1967- Eastern Surfing Association sanctioned Belmar Beach, N.J.
1977-Gunston 500 in Durbin South Africa. 3rd place
1977-Rio Apradore at Copacabana Beach. 4th place
1978- Stubbies Classic, Burleigh Heads, Australia
1978- Bells Beach Classic
1978- Coke SurfAbout Narrabeen, Australia
1979-Bells Beach Easter Classic
1979- Chiba, Japan w Bobby Owens, Mark Richards
1981-Hampton Classic, Long Island, New York, USA
1981- Instinct U.S. Pro Malibu, CA USA
1981- Arena Surfsports San Clemente, CA
1981 Offshore Masters Sunset Beach, HI
1981- Sunkist World Cup Haleiwa, HI
Attended San Diego Mesa College 1974-76, Dropped out to go on Pro Surf Tour. IPS- !977.
Attended University of Hawaii Manoa 1992-1995 Degree in Communications. Graduated suma-cum-laude. 1995
Additional Photo Credits/ Description:
A photo of my brother Pete, (on left playing my 1971 Martin D-28 six-string, and me, on right playing my Fender Stratocaster. Circa 1980’s not sure of the exact date. The photo was taken by Shelly Ordille my brother's wife.
Bonnie Raitt and Sandy Ordille. Bonnie came to Kauai after we were hit with a devastating Hurricane Iniki in 1992 to do a fundraiser.
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