Splash Back

By William Yelles
Photos by Brevin Blach

(Published in the May 2010 issue)

Surfers today have it easy compared to Faye Baird Fraser (reputed to be San Diego’s first female surfer), who in the 1920s was known to catch a wave on her 85-pound redwood plank. On one memorable adventure from North Pacific Beach to the Crystal Pier, she reportedly said, “All I could think about was dodging those pilings and it thrilled me to death.”

Fraser, who died in 2000 at age 91, is one of the many surf legends featured in the California Surf Museum exhibit “Women on Waves: Performance, Beach Fashion and Feminine Mystique in the World of Surfing.”

The exhibit traces the evolution of women’s role in the sport from ancient Hawaii through its mid-century heyday-the advent of the bikini, surf competition pioneers and pop culture icons such as “Gidget"-and into modern times.

Most of the items on display are on loan from the subjects themselves or their families.
One such item, on exhibit for the first time anywhere, is the surf board ridden by Hawaiian teen Bethany Hamilton when she was bitten by a 15-foot tiger shark in 2003; the board has a giant chunk missing from it. Hamilton lost her arm, but the accident kept her from the water for all of three weeks, turning her into a role model for young girls taking up the sport.

Organizing the show was a “great surfing community effort,” museum staffer Todd Quinn told me during a tour. “Men come through and think it’s all for women but then see it’s not the case. The history of women in the sport is just as amazing.”

The museum will be holding a gala fundraising benefit Saturday, June 5, from 5-10 p.m., with many prominent female surfers in attendance, including possibly Kathy Kohner, the 1950s inspiration for the “Gidget” character.

The California Surf Museum is located at 312 Pier View Way, Oceanside, and open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. More info: 760.721.6876,