Women’s surfing goes back to the mists of ancient Hawaii, to the queens of history and myth who showed their nobility with their skill sliding he’e nalu. Women’s competitive surfing has a shorter history, but one no less filled with myth and legend.
On Friday, November 11, Roxy threw a nice little shindig at the Pikake Pavilion at Waimea Falls to commemorate 50 years of women’s competitive surfing which began in 1955, at the Makaha International Championships.
This was the day before the opening ceremony for the Op Pro/Roxy Pro at Haleiwa, on Veteran’s Day, appropriately, a day when the North Shore had a bit of surf, Pipe was breaking, Chun’s was too big and the bodyboarders were going kamikaze near the dive rock at Waimea Bay.
The North Shore is an early to party, early to rise sort of place, especially when a waiting period is starting so the Roxy party got started around 6:00. Waimea Falls is a great place to throw a party and the entrance to the Pikake Pavilion was lined with an exhibit by Surfing Heritage Foundation curator Barry Haun detailing 500 Years of Women’s Surfing and 50 Years of Women’s Competitive Surfing.
This party celebrated the 50th Anniversary of women’s competitive surfing, going back to the winter of 1955 when a Californian with a Hawaiian name, Ethel Kukea, won the first women’s championship at the Makaha International.
The party looked and felt a little bit like the final scene of A League of Their Own, where the founding players of the All American Girls Baseball League gather together at Cooperstown, many decades after their playing days. Women surfers in their 60s mingled with women surfers in their 20s and there was a lot of leis, love and aloha in the air.
The party started with a blessing by kahu Butch Helemano, chanting Hawaiian songs to a ring of women surfers from Margo Oberg to Kassia Meador. As that circle broke up, a line of two dozen hula dancers – including the daughters of Pipe Master Derek Ho and Sunset veteran Karen Gallagher – walked in with their hands on their hips and took the stage to perform.
The prayer circle and the hula line were replaced by the chow line, as right around 200 hungry surfer/guests lined up for first-rate grinds.
Roxy threw a nice party: Free drinks, choke puu puus, plenty for everyone, no big lines and big smiles all around. For dessert, they had a chocolate fountain right out of Willie Wonka for dipping pieces of pineapple and other stuffs.
After dinner, Roxy president Randy Hild took the stage, thanked everyone for coming and thanked 50 years of women surfers for giving him a fun job that let him come to Hawaii and throw big parties. Hild handed off the microphone to longtime surf-contest announced David Stanfield, who went over a brief history of women surfers, mentioning Isabel Letham – a figure from the early 20th Century who became Australia’s first surfer when she tandemed with Duke Kahanamoku. Stansfield went through his history and got to the present, going around the room to thank the likes of Sandy Ordille, Claudia France and Betty Depolito. Those women rose to cheers at their seats, then sat back down and kept grinding as Stanfield saved the best for last.
In order, and to increasing applause, Stansfield brought to the stage the biggest collection of women’s surfing champions ever assembled in one room: Linda Benson, Blanche Benson, Laura Blears, Margo Oberg, Becky Benson, Lynne, Jericho, Patty Panicca, Debbie Beacham, Jeannie Chesser, Pauline Menczer, Lisa Andersen, Layne Beachley, Sofia Mulanovich.
When it was all said, there was a kick line of champions representing 50 years of women kicking okole in the surf. They posed for photos. They hugged, they kissed, they mugged, they threw shakas and peace signs as the aquarazzi clicked away. Then all but Linda Benson and Lisa Andersen left the stage, leaving those few to say a few syllables. Linda Benson was “so overwhelmed” and “honored to be up here on this stage.” Lisa Andersen felt likewise and pointed out a few names and faces that Stansfield had missed: Jodie Cooper, Frieda Zamba, Pam Burridge and the Smith twins: “I got my butt kicked by everybody.”
And then Lisa and Linda left the stage and the Rolling Stones came on the PA and three generations of women champions boogied into the night, dancing with themselves.