Women On Waves, the California Surf Museum’s 2010 special exhibit, is an exciting exploration into the many aspects of feminine wave-riding. From the Hawaiian surfing Queens to the freshly crowned champions of the women’s pro tour, Women On Waves celebrates more than 300 years of women’s standout performances in surfing.
At the same time Women On Waves chronicles the captivating beach fashions women endured or created, the milestones they accomplished and the often-overlooked influence feminine mystique has had on wave-riding. The exhibit’s compilation of swimwear not only traces the styles in women’s attire, but documents the evolution of freedom and achievement attained over the last century as well.
Although no exhibition can provide a complete history, Women On Waves attempts to document the highlights of women’s contributions to surf culture — but from a feminine perspective that delights both men and women alike. We hope you enjoy the
1700s to 1940s PRE-CONTACT to POST-WAR Death, Resurrection and Expansion for the Sport of Queens Surfing experienced a vital flowering in ancient Hawaii, and then a rapid decline after discovery and dominance by the new European culture. At the turn of the century it had a dramatic rebirth and during the first decades of the 20th Century it caught the world’s attention. Caught in the evolving mores and taboos of the Victorian age, it spelled emancipation for the bold and sinfulness for the pious. The beach was society’s frontier and wave-riding the definition of freedom itself.
The care-free Hawaiian culture was an intoxicating elixir to western women yearning to break free from constricting corsets and stifling status quo. It unleashed a powerful yet easy opportunity to expand athleticism, adventure and attitude in a new exciting way. Swimsuits went from wool to wow, and despite the resistance of society’s conservatives, surfing was irresistible. If a women’s place was in the home, the audacious women of this era found themselves most at home in the inviting waves of San Onofre and Waikiki.
1940s to 1950s A NEW RISING SWELL Testing the Waters in an Era of Transition World War II brought unprecedented change to American society. Millions of women who had joined the workforce for the first time discovered talents and confidence they had never known previously. Like their male counterparts, women serving in the military passed through the California shores and on to Hawaii on their way to and from the Pacific Theater of war. They saw the beach, touched the surf and felt the magic. While beach attire was still modest, style and sassy were bursting at the seams.
Equal opportunity was still not on the radar but smart, self- assured women seized prospects where they could. Whether in film roles, signature swimsuit lines, stunt work, tandem competition or sheer power surfing, the plucky 40s and 50s women took full advantage of the growing chance to experience their emerging newfound freedom — and the surfing culture afforded them more than most. The seeds of aspiration were blowing in the wind as a bold, self-confident set of females explored the changing moral codes and pushed the envelope of acceptable behavior while demanding surfboards that revolutionized the surfing world. A new rising swell was sweeping into the country’s landscape. In the coming decade it would transform the culture of surfing – and of America itself. And these trailblazing women wave riders would pave the way.
The Sixties SURFING EXPLODES From Balsa to Space-age, the 60s were a Decade of Mega-change No decade in the 20th Century experienced more change than the 1960s. The decade opened with Sandra Dee’s “Gidget” and exited with Jane Fonda’s “Barbarella.” Annette and Frankie were replaced by Sonny and Cher. True Romance became Free Love. In the burgeoning music field, chart-topping songs went from “Where the Boys Are,” a smarmy, yearning ballad by Connie Francis’ to “Proud Mary” a feisty power-rocker by Tina Turner. Everywhere the walls were falling and the times were changing. For women, surfing not only followed suit, it often led the way. Ten-foot 50- pound balsa logs were transformed into five foot slivers of glass. In swimsuits, ‘one piece prudish’ gave way to ‘two too tiny.’ Linda Benson rode Waimea, Joyce Hoffman surfed the Pipeline, and fifteen year old Margo Oberg surfed big Sunset. Gidget got a movie made that changed the world forever by exposing it to the thrill of riding waves. As the world turned upside down in the tumultuous upheaval of the sixties, surfing rode the cutting edge of a cultural sea change in society. And women, for the first time, were a driving force.
1970s and 80s BRAVE NEW WORLD Professionalism Goes Feminine, and Visionaries Bust Down the Door The feminine revolution that swept America in the 1970s had surfing’s women at its forefront. For the first time women organized themselves for their own benefit — demanding their own voice, own place, and equal opportunity. While strides were made in many areas of America’s daily life, sports in general and surfing in particular remained the domain of the male- dominated elite. As women became pros they learned both the joy and frustration of making money from a previous labor of love. By the 80s beach attire had once again turned a new page with high-cut styles, signifying the palpable confidence now apparent in women’s wave-riding. More importantly, a new generation of talented, assertive, highly competitive young ladies were entering the scene, buoyed by the progress their 70s counterparts had blazed. The mass culture of women in surfing had yet to join these visionaries newly-earned freedom, but the door had been busted down. The feminine mystique had been unveiled and the genie was not going back in the bottle. For some men it was future shock. For women, it was a brave new world.
1990 to 2010 Breaking the Barriers New Century, New Choices, New Benchmarks The last two decades have been a powerful testimony to how far women’s surfing has come. In the cusp of the new millennium, new choices have unlocked and new benchmarks have been set. In the 90s a charismatic new surfer rose to the top of the competitive field and set an example of performance, style and feminine mystic. Beachwear for women finally took on a more functional design while creating a fashion-forward look that is all its own. This ethic spawned an explosion in active young female participants who suddenly saw the chance to enter a cool beach lifestyle where girls just want to have fun. At the same time, as the new leaders of the Associated Surfing Professionals became seasoned veterans, they built a foundation for the next generation — becoming role models as well as icons.
Throughout the new millennium, barriers have continued to be broken. Women paddled into huge waves and were towed into even bigger ones. One star has even learned to excel using just one arm. Performance, style and feminine mystique has finally reached its first destination. History foretells a remarkable journey; the future portends more greatness to come.