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WithitWomen Inspiration | Joey Hamasaki

Photo via Richard Graham

The time I spent researching and learning about Joey Hamasaki in order to curate and produce another historical article based around her was time well spent. I love diving even deeper into the history of surfing than I already have... especially when it’s focused around inspirational women showing us “the way.” It was also a very interesting experience reaching out to those who knew her personally and had different views and information on Hamasaki herself. Through writing this piece, I have gained knowledge, experience, and a new perspective of what it means to be a woman in the surf world. ~ Kylie Tatarsky, Oct 2021

Photo via Ron Stoner

Joey Hamasaki is “one of the greatest female surfers that ever lived.” If you’re born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, surrounded by some of the most famous surf breaks on the planet, it’s highly doubtful the influence of surf culture won’t weave its way into your life at some point or another. For Joey Hamasaki, that said influence from surfing created her life. And, not only did it shape her into one of the most highly admired surfers to have ever crossed-stepped across a board, let alone a stand-out “Japanese-American woman role model”, but it helped pave a path for a type of surfing that we, women of the waves, constantly refer back to for inspiration.

Photo via Ron Stoner

Joey Hamasaki was born in 1946 in Hawaii and picked up surfing around the age of 10. You could find her dominating the line-up in Waikiki before she was even a teenager. In 1963, at the age of 17, Joey moved to Dana Point, California, and made a name for herself in the new, unfamiliar waters of SoCal. She quickly became a regular at Doheny. Her transition to the mainland quite possibly could have been the best move Joey ever made in her “game of life”; in 1964, in the Makaha International and in 1966, in the World Surfing Championship contest, she took second place. From there, Joey she only went up. She was rated second in the 1966 and '67 United States Surfing Association’s final ratings, and 1965, '66, and '67 Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Awards. Some of Joey’s greatest achievements were her double wins in the 1966 Malibu Invitational and 1967 East Coast Surfing Championships.

“She was quiet, private, and ran solo...Elegant, competitive, precise, and powerful.”

Photo via Clarence Maki and Ron Stoner

All the legends knew her. I spoke personally with Jim Kempton, former editor in chief of SURFER Magazine, president of California Surf Museum, and author of Women On Waves, who, when asked about information on Hamasaki, responded, “She was quiet, private, and ran solo for all the reasons mentioned above. But man, she had the chops. Elegant, competitive, precise, and powerful.

Photo via Ron Stoner

Even famous surf documentary and film director Bruce Brown focused some of his filming around the captivating, wonderful style of Joey Hamasaki. Check out this video of Hamasaki filmed and produced by Bruce Brown, Bill Yerkes, Eric Blum, and Lowell Blum. In Women On Waves, Kempton wrote, “Wardy Surfboards introduced the Joey Hamasaki signature model in 1966, one of the earliest boards endorsed by a woman.” At the time, having a board curated around you and your signature style, particularly as a woman, was a badge of honor in surfing, and a direct testament to how important Hamasaki was, and still is, to surfers of the world. Hamasaki also glassed boards for manufacturers such as Hobie and Weber in Southern California.

A parting word from Women On Waves describes who Hamasaki truly was in her peak time period. “...this small, shy whisper-voiced Hawaiian powerhouse might have been the best female of her era.” In 1973, Hamasaki made the move back to Honolulu, Hawaii, where she still resides now, probably still surfing circles in the line-up around the kids these days. Similar to that of Rell Sunn, the impact this legacy has on how we perceive what it means to be a part of the surf culture in our world is immeasurable. Luckily, we still have this legend living among us today.

Photo via History of Women’s Surfing
Photo via David Darling


Writer’s Note: Some of my fondest sessions have been on my dad’s old Dewey Weber. They’re excellent boards; great for stalling and trimming on knee to waist-high days. Wow, are they heavy! But, surely one of the most traditional, fun logs I have ever ridden.

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.

Additional information and Links:

History of Women Surfing Website

Women on Waves by Jim Kempton (please check with your local bookstore)

The Fantastic Plastic Machine: Info

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