Lauren Hill – 5 Unsung Water Women

Lauren. Photo: Owen

Lauren is a journalist, podcaster and the author of She Surfs.

“I’m interested in the ways that surfing impacts in our lives and livelihoods in meaningful ways. So I’ve come as this short list thinking about women who are unsung, and wrongfully so, because they contributed in major ways to opening up opportunities for women’s surfing as a culture to grow. So, this is really a list of the underappreciated women who used their own surfing lives to empower others in the process, whether overtly or inadvertently, in the enduring spirit of aloha that centres the core of our culture”. 

1. Princess Ka’iulani

“Princess Ka’iulani, a half-Hawaiian, half-Scottish waterwoman, served as a brave liason between the cultures she bridged and helped to keep the tradition of surfing alive amidst the radical changes of European colonization. As the U.S. posed to annex Hawaii in 1898, it was the Princess’ courage and poise that stalled the efforts to steal Hawaiian political sovereignty. 

Princess Ka’iulani, only 17 at the time, opened the hearts and minds of the American public, as well as politicians, to the plight of the Hawaiian people. She is reputed to have taken surfing to England, where she rode waves in the English Channel and may have been the first woman to stand up surf in England. Despite her early death at age 23, Princess Ka’iulani’s noble legacy of speaking truth to power is undeniable”. 

2. Joyce Hoffman

“The legitimization of an official World Championship in 1964 allowed for the birth of commercial surf stars. Joyce Hoffman, who won in 1966, was a dynamic, powerful, and stylish surfer who garnered big-name sponsors and featured on the cover of Life Magazine. Hoffman was the first woman to ride the cataclysmic waves of Pipeline, and she dominated competitive surfing through the mid- to late-sixties with an obsessive, competitive drive. Surfers of her era were considered wild and free-spirited, not necessarily serious athletes. Hoffman’s commitment, clean-cut presentation, and calculated approach made for an accessible and iconic image”. 

3. Gwyn Haslock

“In England, women’s contest surfing can be traced to one dominant figure: Gwyn Haslock.  As the sole female competitor, she entered the British National Championships in 1966 – and inspired the establishment of a Ladies National Championship in 1969, which she won. Haslock went on to victory at four consecutive British Ladies Surfing Championships (’70-’74) and the English Surfing Championships as late as 1990. On at least one occasion, after winning a heat, Gwyn was asked by a ruthless photographer to hand her surfboard off to a more ‘glamorous’ beach goer who was then photographed with Gwyn’s board for the glossy media depiction of women’s surfing”. 

4. Jericho Poppler

I think this is the most underappreciated photo in women’s surf history. Before researching for my book, I’d never seen it before” – Lauren

“In 1975, in response to subpar prize purses, a small group—including professional surfers Jericho Poppler, Mary Setterholm, and Mary Lou Drummy—founded the Women’s International Surfing Association (WISA) to address the sport’s gender inequities, because, as Setterholm asserted: “Waves treat everyone equally; men and women are on the same terms as far as nature is concerned.” WISA held stand-alone events, like the Hang Ten Women’s International Professional Surfing Championships. 

Californian Jericho Poppler, ranked second in the world in 1979, is a fluid, powerful surfer and one of the original pros. She contributed to shifting media representations of women’s surfing toward a focus on ability and the obvious – positive — differences between men’s and women’s surfing. In the 80s, she became a founding member of the Surfrider Foundation, helping to solidify the imperative link between surfing and environmentalism”. 

5. Pauline Menczer 

“Women’s surfing radically bolstered the struggling surf industry in the 1990s by expanding the market, and in doing so helped pay the bills that kept the companies afloat, and kept male surfers sponsored and earning more at ASP events.

And yet, at the same time, 1993 World Champ Pauline Menczer and others had to sit on a French beach as the hooter sounded to protest the ASP sending them out in virtually unrideable windslop (again) to decide who might break even on their trip to this stop of the tour. Pauline Menzcer was part of the resistance: “I remember lots of times just boycotting, so many times I’d go to Serena (Brooke), ‘Right, just don’t go out.’  The men’s had been cancelled for the day because the conditions were that shit, and that’s when they’d run our heats. But you’d have one girl who’d be gutless and shit themselves that they were going to start the heat.” In 1994, after Pauline won her World Title, she headed to a tradeshow in the US to campaign for a sponsor. Not only did the champion of the world not pick one up, but nobody even knew who she was.

Besides her civil disobedience, Pauline has one of the most inspiring victory stories in all of surfing”.