SAN CLEMENTE, CALIFORNIA — On a beautiful summer evening in Laguna Beach, the Surfing Heritage Foundation and Culture Center celebrated decades of “Women Making Waves” and honored four of surfing’s most influential ladies.
Celebrating the lives and accomplishments of Joyce Hoffman, Lisa Andersen, Stephanie Gilmore, and Rell Sunn at the annual Ohana Gala was a smashing success. The tone was set during a rousing and inspirational keynote address by Women’s IPS tour co-founder and former pro surfer, Patti Paniccia. Hoffman, Andersen and Gilmore were all in attendance, as was the late Rell Sunn’s daughter, Jan Sunn-Carreira.
“It was an incredible evening. It was really special to see not just the women being honored, but the room was filled with women who’ve all had a profound impact on the sport of surfing,” said Hoffman. “It was a very special evening and one that is probably long overdue.”
Hoffman, Andersen and Gilmore all gave heartfelt speeches to the sold-out crowd, reflecting on their respective journeys in the water. Gerry Lopez, Mr. Pipeline, offered a thoughtful reflection on his lifelong friend, Sunn, who passed away from breast cancer in 1998.
“By honoring only women this year, SHACC has sent a clear message that women have a rich history that deserves recognition,” said Paniccia. “I was grateful for the opportunity to speak to so many of surfing’s leaders and to share the cultural struggle that many professional women surfers have experienced.”
The Ohana Gala also featured both a silent and live auction. Among the most sought-after items on the block were a week at the Billabong Pipeline house and a Gerry Lopez hand-shaped Pipeliner pintail with Rell Sunn artwork by artist Phil Roberts and inspired by an Art Brewer portrait. A replicate of one of Lisa Andersen’s world title-winning Channel Islands boards, as well as a beautiful Hobie Joyce Hoffman model and a Stephanie Gilmore DHD DNA replica like the board she surfed to at the WSL Lowers contest also generated a lot of interest.
A huge thank you to Roxy, Billabong and all of our sponsors for supporting SHACC’s “Women Making Waves” Ohana Gala and making the evening such a tremendous success.
Legacy and Perspective: Women Making Waves Ohana Gala Keynote Address By Patti Paniccia
I’d like to thank the leadership at Surfing Heritage and Culture Center for honoring women tonight – Executive Director Glenn Brumage, my fellow Board of Directors members, and especially our very hard-working Gala Committee.
And Thank you to all of you here tonight because your presence is acknowledging and supporting the fact that Surfing Heritage and Culture Center is honoring women.
Later tonight, you will hear about four very special honorees.
Joyce Hoffman, four-time US Champion and the first woman who successfully marketed herself as an athlete in the 60s, and someone that I always had looked up to.
Lisa Andersen, whose surfing was so spectacular…and who, along with Roxy’s Randy Hild, created the first marketing explosion in women’s surfing.
Stephanie Gilmore who right before our very eyes is bringing women’s surfing to yet another level.
And of course, Rell Sunn, whose grace and aloha are shining examples of what surfing is all about.
When Glenn asked me to make these opening remarks, he wanted me to set the stage…sharing perspective and legacy…to help you understand the challenges of what being part of the surfing world has meant for many of us women.
Never in my day would surfing organizations have felt compelled to honor…only women. It has taken so much to get to where we are today. And many of the women here tonight paved the way.
I thought I’d frame my remarks around my three least favorite headlines about women surfers during the birth of pro surfing. And notice I’m not saying “the birth of women’s pro surfing” but rather the “the birth of pro surfing.” Because that’s what the men say when they refer to their history. They just claim the sport. So I’m claiming it too. Tonight, we’ll be talking about…the history of surfing.
On the first world tour in 1976, there were only six of us…myself, Sally Prange, Rell Sunn, Becky Benson, Jericho Poppler, and Claudia Kravitz.
Our first contest on the tour was the Women’s Chapstick Pro – held in conjunction with the Men’s Gunston 500. But two days before the event, the Chapstick sponsors asked to meet with us. “Look,” they said. “We don’t have prize money. We didn’t think you would really show up…come all the way to South Africa. So we want to propose that we hold a nationwide raffle that will provide prize money. And the winner will get his choice of having a personal date with whichever one of you he desires.” We said no. And they came up with a mere pittance in total prize money – all prize money combined – about $1,000, which was only half of minimum required for a women’s event to be sanctioned by IPS.
My first least favorite quote was a question posed to the six of us while on tour. We had been surfing up a storm around the world, the likes of which some of those countries had never seen. And journalists were clamoring to interview us. We thought “This is great. Because it will bring sponsors.” And then we heard the first question out of the mouth of the first journalist to interview us. He was from a mainstream magazine, and he asked, “Have you ever surfed naked?”
Rell Sunn jumped in with that answer, and god bless her for it because I was so stunned, I really didn’t know what to say. She said “NO. THAT’S STUPID. It would be too scratchy. It would just chafe you and it would hurt.” The journalist used her quote, but omitted the part about his question being stupid.
My second least favorite quote was from a newspaper article about another one of our contests. The reporter noted that the women surfers had caused “a wave of excitement” on tour … “BUT women are still traditionally tied to hearth and home. And the women surfers must go back to their husbands again, to the lonely hot stove and the children.” A woman wrote that article. It evidenced a presumption held by many people at the time as to where women belonged, and it certainly was not in the ocean.
It’s easy to see why it was always so much more difficult for women to find sponsorship compared to men…not only for our contests but for us as individuals.
WISA, Women’s International Surfing Association, did a great job finding contest sponsors. WISA was California-based and the WISA leaders held their own pro contest in September 1975 at Malibu. It was the first pro event that was comprised only of women and I was honored to be invited to surf in it. They awarded real money, had excellent judges, and showed the surfing world what women could do. Margo Oberg won.
Can I ask those of you who were the founders of WISA to please stand up? Thank you.
In Hawai’i, we had formed a similar group…the Hawai’i Women’s Surfing Hui, whose leaders included many Hawai’i women who aren’t here tonight, such as Linda McCrery, Rell Sunn, Jeannie Chesser, Sally Prange, Lynne Boyer, Laola Lake, Claudia Nuuhiwa, Becky Benson and more.
I was Pro Competition Director for the Hui, and rather than hold our own contests, we opted to work directly with Fred Hemmings because he was the one major surf contest organizer at the time, running more events than anyone.
For the Men’s Smirnoff Pro in the early 1970s, held in Hawaii’s big waves on the North Shore, Fred had invited one woman and one woman only to compete against the men – Laura Blears. Now, Laura was an excellent surfer and she was not afraid of big waves. She was a charger, and I liked her. But there were no criteria in those days to decide how to issue invitations. Even for the men, it was just word of mouth or reputation. And Laura’s name was very well known. She also had a photo shoot scheduled for Playboy Magazine. At a Hui meeting, the women suggested, “Maybe one of us could open a dialogue with Fred.” And somehow, I was chosen.
Over the next couple years, I worked with Fred to create a rating system to determine who would receive invitations to his contests. Fred agreed that the Hui would get some, and we instituted a ranking system to determine how to distribute them in a fair and consistent manner. Fred then did the same for WISA. And also through the Hui, I began to run an open qualifying contest so that the top placers could receive invitations as well.
Our first event was an Expression Session in March 1975. And that leads to my third quote. Expression Sessions had been held by men in the past to attract photographers; top surfers would surf in heats, but the heats weren’t judged. There were no winners or losers, like in a regular contest. The photographers would get their shots and the surfers would get exposure. We anticipated that it would help us garner the attention of the surf magazines and attract sponsors.
We chose Rocky Point on the North Shore. If you’ve surfed Rockys, you know that it breaks so close to shore that it’s very easy for photographers to shoot. We wanted to make it easy. But hardly any showed up and certainly none of the A-listers. In their defense, they told me, “The magazines won’t buy photos of women so we can’t afford to spend time and film money shooting you.”
The Honolulu Star Bulletin ran an article about the Expression Session that included a photo, the caption of which read: “Girls like Patti Paniccia and Sally Prange…are seeking to change the image that women surfers are curiosities… endowed with too many male hormones.” That is so wrong on so many levels.
The only sponsor that reached out to me was a company called CandyPants. They made edible underwear. I think they were cinnamon-flavored. CandyPants wanted the women to show up wearing CandyPants as part of a Waikiki sidewalk display. And I kept wondering what they expected us to say on that sidewalk….and we joked among ourselves…“Excuse me Mister and Mrs. Waikiki Visitor from Iowa. Hungry?”
That’s how it often was for us. If we didn’t stand up for ourselves, we would get squished, ignored, insulted. If we did, the reaction we often received was, “Wow, she’s kind of a bruiser.” Or worse.
We…all of us together…women and men….must work hard to not allow the history of surfing to continue to be swallowed up by the perspective of one gender. And funny thing…it’s still happening. Here’s an example.
In 1976, when Fred Hemmings formed International Professional Surfing, which laid the foundation for the first world pro tour and was the precursor to today’s WSL, he said to me, “I’ve just asked Randy Rarick to head up a men’s division. Why don’t you join us and run a woman’s division?” Since we’d already been working together on contest criteria and invitations, it was really just a matter of formalizing my work under this newly created entity – IPS. I said “yes.” I made $100/month. Neither Fred, Randy or I made much money; it was a labor of love.
So imagine my surprise when recently a group of men were named “The Founders of Pro Surfing” at the Founders’ Cup Contest at the Surf Ranch. Not founders of “men’s pro surfing,” but founders of “pro surfing.” And one of the men said to me, “A few of us took a poll and it was unanimous. You and the rest of the women are not really founders because you weren’t there in the beginning. We know that because you weren’t at our meetings.”
I don’t assume that anyone’s motives in overlooking women’s roles in surfing history are necessarily based in hostility or even purposefulness. But I say to you now….what I said to him… THEY weren’t at MY meetings.”
And they weren’t at WISA’s meetings. They weren’t at the Hui’s meetings. And they weren’t at Debbie Beachum’s side when she struggled to find contest sponsors to reinvigorate the tour the following decade, in the 1980s.
It’s easy to make assumptions based on one’s view…but the view from one’s own armchair can by myopic at times. And now…not ten years after all of what I’ve been describing…not twenty years…or even thirty years later…but after almost a half of a century, that slap felt to me, and to other women, some of them here tonight, like the 1970s all over again.
When I look at some of the contest media, I often see events listed as (for example) the Margaret River Pro and the Margaret River Women’s Pro. Will we do this at the 2020 Olympics as well? Because I don’t recall the Olympic Committee awarding Gold Medals for the Giant Slalom and the Women’s Giant Slalom. I’ve saved so many screenshots like that from all of the surfing apps and websites. These aren’t just words. They reflect a mentality that has been with us for decades – one that does not exist in most other sports today. It serves to further institutionalize the notion that men’s participation is the norm, and women’s participation is a deviation of the norm – a side item. And this circular mentality perpetuates itself.
There should be no mainstreaming of one gender over the other. It’s as if the writers and editors don’t even notice themselves doing it. But many of the women notice it.
So, if I may offer this constructively – not just to us here tonight, but to the surfing world in general.
I’d like to suggest that many of surfing’s self-proclaimed historians refresh their perspectives. Check their assumptions. Reevaluate what others may have told you. Or what you might have read or thought at the time. Because we were largely ignored back then. And in today’s climate, ask yourself “How are women still not regularly included in the history of surfing and the founding of pro surfing?
We were small in numbers but we were a vital part of it that cannot and should not be ignored or minimized.
We were there. We were struggling ten times harder and getting there a whole lot slower…through no fault of our own…because as said by a federal court in the leading Title IX case on women’s sports in response to universities not offering as many sports scholarships to women, claiming. “There’s just no interest. There aren’t as many women applicants so it’s not fair to the men to split our scholarship money equally,” the court said “Interest and ability rarely develop in a vacuum. They evolve as a function of opportunity and experience.” In other words, to do otherwise just perpetuates the status quo. It’s that old cliché…build it and they will come. Support it …nurture it…and it will grow.
There are so many more women in the water today…and they are watching and listening to how our history is being told. To the surfing industry, I say…the women are your consumers. Don’t cut them out. Don’t take their money and then spend half as much compared to the men when you sponsor women surfers and their contests. Because that’s what most of our companies have done – not all, but most. And if my daughters and their friends are any indication…this generation won’t stand for it anyway.
History wears the face of those who write it. So I challenge you tonight to take this refreshed perspective home. There is a rich history here…but it’s been largely obscured by the vacuum created by the perspectives and experiences of those who influenced surfing…those who wrote about it…those who photographed it…those who sponsored it.
To the women, I say “Use your voice…whatever platform you have to speak up…and encourage other women to have confidence to do the same.
Whatever may have been said or done in the past…is the past. We can’t change that. But we can make this a new beginning. And the true measure of our acceptance will be what happens from here forward…to our history and to our future.
I want to close by sharing something someone whom I didn’t know once said to me in the water while surfing big waves on the North Shore, where I spent most of my youth and serious surfing years. And I still hear his words today. Just as a big set was coming in, he looked at me and pointed to the channel saying in the nicest and most sincere way, “Better paddle girly. You’re right in the lineup.” Oh, I paddled all right. Straight to the peak of the biggest wave of the incoming set. I broke my favorite board on that wave.
And some of you may have seen what has turned into a popular photo of me…walking down the beach holding both pieces of the board – one under each arm. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. Because I will never forget the sheer determination and drive his remark gave me.
And you know what, that’s just one story of hundreds …that many of these women here have experienced. So talk to them tonight…and ask them to tell you a story or two.
I toast our honorees…and I also toast all the surfer women here, and those individuals, those companies and organizations who came tonight to acknowledge women. I toast you with the Hawaiian word…IMUA. It means to move forward. Move forward with fortitude and dignity.
Let’s focus now on honoring and appreciating our honorees and their contributions to our sport. It’s going to be a spectacular night for all of us.
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