It Started With A Girl Called Eve…


Story by Emma-Jane Eeles

‘Those who don’t preserve their history end up with their stories told incorrectly or not told at all. It’s incumbent upon all of us to know women’s surfing history and tell it whenever we can’ – Mary Mills. (The Inspire Initiative)

And so the story begins. Working as a cartoon editor for Disney Productions, a young woman, Eve Fletcher, is enjoying a day at the beach. It is the mid 1950’s in California and it is on that day that Eve ran into the most famous surfer lady of the time Marge Calhoun. Eve remembers asking Marge who had her surfboard with her ‘How do you do this?’ ‘You just paddle and then stand up’ Marge answered.

In 1958, having formed a friendship through their love of the sea and surfing, Eve and Marge flew to the island of Oahu in Hawaii for a month long surfari. They hired a panel truck and set off in search of waves. They surfed all over the island which caused quite a stir with the locals. During that month long surfari Marge entered and win the prestigious Makaha International Surfing Championship.

At that same time on Oahu there was a woman by the name of Anona Napoleon, the daughter of a celebrated Hawaiian surfing family who’s background originated with the ancient Hawaiian tradition of canoe racing. Anona, after years of surfing, sadly had an accident while diving during the year of 1960 and was temporarily paralysed. Through sheer determination she had recovered by the following year and was crowned the winner of the women’s division in the 1961 Makaha International Surfing Championship.

These 3 women truly were the pioneering force in women’s surfing through the 1950’s and into the early 1960’s. They followed the noble tradition of Duke Kahanamoku and that of the ancient Polynesian Hawaiians. But it was to be in 1959 that women’s surfing was to come to the forefront and receive international fame and this was to happen through one young surfer girl Kathy Kohner, better known as Gidget. Kathys father, Frederick Kohner wrote the novel ‘Gidget – The little girl with big ideas’.

Following the books release in 1957 came the movie in 1959 which is what made Gidget truly famous. Gidget follows the story of a young girl growing up in the surf culture of Malibu in the 1950’s. Gidget discovers surfing and love (in that order) during one transitive summer. Her love of surfing and the aloha spirit of the time is evident throughout the film. So, where are they now?

Eve Fletcher is now 87 years old and still hits the water whenever she can. She is one of the oldest women still surfing. ‘I plan to surf til I drop. You are never too old to be stoked!’

Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman is aged 72 and is a petite and healthy woman still living in California. Kathy still surfs annually to benefit a cancer charity and is an inductee into the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach. As for Marge and Anona, well Marge continued to surf well into her 60’s but eventually stepped away from surfing and sold her boards to younger girls to carry on her legacy and love for the art and sport of surfing. Anona at 75 years old has now been surfing for over 50 years on Oahu. She spends her time with her 5 sons, 12 grandchildren and her husband ‘Nappy’.

For each of us ladies who today grace the sea in modern day surfing, we must remember and honour the history of women’s surfing and those who pioneered it. It is because of the strength, bravery and passion of these women amongst others that we are blessed to call ourselves women of the waves and follow in the ancient tradition of surfing.

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