surfer woman

It would be a controversy to say who was the first surfer woman in the world, but we can talk about the first female surfers recorded in history.

Surfing is believed to have taken hold in New Guinea and then spreaded to Hawaii.

The earliest recorded surfer women was the mythical Kelea. Kelea was born of royalty in Maui, Hawaii. It is believed she out-surfed riders of both genders.

Her name was Keleanohoanaapiapi, but her short name was Kelea, and the story about her being kidnapped is compared with Helen of Troy.

There are many stories about Kelea as the first surfer woman, but we choose to believe this one:

Kelea was a beautiful princess of Maui who loved surfing more than anything. Some say she told her brother that she would never marry a man, only her surfboard! The Hawaiian Gods told Kelea that she would find the love of her life only in the ocean.

The King of Oahu was searching desperately for a bride. He sent his cousin, Kalamakua on an expedition to find one among the Hawaiian Alii (royalty).

After finding no worthy princess on the Big Island, Kalamakua continued his expedition onto Maui. One day he came up on Hookipa Beach, Kelea’s most treasured surf break. Kelea was surfing and impressed Kalamakua very much. She approached the foreign canoes while out on her surfboard. Seeing the mastery she showed over the waves, they challenged her to surf their canoes into shore. She successfully surfed them back and forth several times. On the last attempt, a squall came in and the expedition took the opportunity to wisk Kelea away to Oahu.

Kelea’s brother sent out a search party, but never found her.

Kalamakua took Kelea back to Oahu to meet his brother. They were married and Kelea had three children. Eventually Kelea divorced the king and went to live with his brother, whom she was really in love with.

A few centuries later in the mid-late 1800s, Thrum’s Hawaiian Annual reported that women in ancient Hawaii surfed in equal numbers and frequently better than men.

The first registered surfer women in competition were:

1- Isabel Letham (1899-1995)

It is believed, there is some controversy in this regard, that this swimming instructor was the first surfer woman to get on a Hawaiian surfboard. It was with the great Duke Kahanamoku in 1915 at Freshwater Beach, Sydney.

When Isabel Letham died in 1995, his ashes were scattered by surfers in the sea off Freshwater Beach.

first surfer woman
Photo from Enciclopedia of Surfing in Surfer Rule Magazine

2- Mary Ann Hawkins (1919-1993)

Mary was one of the most outstanding surfers in the 1930s, she won the Pacific Coast Women’s Surfboard Championships several years in a row (1938, 1939 and 1940). A true legend of modern surfing who was described as “the figure and appearance of a movie star and grace personified in the water.”

first surfer woman
Photo found in Surfer Rule Magazine

3- Marge Calhoun (1926-)

Surf woman and surf mother, matriarch of the Calhoun surf family. This Californian who started in the world of surfing in Malibu in 1955, worked as a stunt double in the 50s and 60s and appeared in films related to the world of surfing such as Bud Browne’s films, surf filmmaker of the late 50s, as well as in the compilation video “Surfing the 50’s”. She also appeared in the broadcast documentary “Surfing for live” (1999) and in “Girl in the curl: A Century of women in surfing.”
In 1958 she won the Makaha International and in 2003 she was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surf Walk of Fame.

surfer woman
Photo from Surfer Rule Magazine

4- Margo Oberg (1953-):

She was the first woman to dedicate herself to surfing professionally, winning many championships throughout her career. She was unofficially crowned in 1976 and 1977 as the “Women’s World Champion.”

surfer woman
Photo found in Surfer Rule Magazine

Hope you have enjoyed this compilation of stories I found about the first surfer woman and also the first surfer women that got into competition!

Have a happy weekend and good waves! 🌊




Kelea Foundation

Surfer Rule Magazine


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