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Surf was a sport mostly male a century ago. Since then, female athletes are conquering a deserved space in the sea, with so many achievements. There are hundreds of women making history in surf, which proves that the sea is also a place for women. Female surfers promoted significant changes in the surf worldwide, breaking paradigms and facing all kinds of prejudice with courage and audacity. Check out now 10 women surfers who made history!

Princess Ka’iulani

Without this defiant Hawaiian princess, surfing might not even exist nowadays! During the integration of Hawaii into the USA in 1898, Ka’iulani fought to preserve the history and habits of his people – in which surfing was included – while the missionaries banned Hawaiian cultural events. During her education in Britain, she was taken to the North Sea, resulting in what is believed to be the first instance of surfing in Britain.

Isabel Letham

The Australian is considered the first woman to surf standing up. When the famous surfer Duke Kahanamoku went to Australia, Isabel fell in love with surfing. Soon, on her new board made by her father, Isabel was riding waves on Sydney’s northern beaches. She moved to America and found work as a swimming instructor at the University of California. In there, she revolutionized the way swimming was taught at the time.

Margot Rittscher

In the 1930’s, even with all sexism of the time, Margot was the first female surfer in Brazil. She surfed for the first time with a wood surfboard built by her brother Thomas Rittscher. Passionate about the sea, she left New York (USA) and went to Santos (Brazil) at the age of 15.

Margo Oberg

The first professional woman surfer in the world, Margo Oberg won her first competition with 11 years old and her first world title with only 15. In 1975, when the professional competitions started, she became the first surfer to get paid. She won the World Surfing Championships in 1968, 1977, 1980, and 1981.

Lisa Anderson

A pioneer, the North American surfer revolutionized female surf collecting more than 30 trophies of the National Scholastic Surfing Association – in less than one year! – and won 4 World Champions: since 1994 to 1997. In 1995, Lisa made history becoming the first women to appear in the cover of Surfer Magazine. Anderson was responsible for creating a women’s surf shop, because there wasn’t female shorts, skin protectors or neoprene clothes.

Andrea Lopes

In 1991, Andrea was the first Brazilian to ingress in a professional surfing circuit with 17 years old. She was also the first woman who won a Tittle of World Surf League. Besides, she won the Brazilian Surfing Championships four times: in 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2006. As businesswoman, she created the first surf school managed by women in the Rio de Janeiro, the Andrea Lopes Surf School.

Sarah Gerhardt 

In 1999’s February, Sarah became the first woman to surf Mavericks’s waves, in California. It was an intense moment for surfers at all, but especially for female ones.

In an interview, Sarah talked about her life as a female surfer and the prejudice she got used to passing through: “I always got a lot of complaints like ‘You’re a girl, you can’t surf.’ When I go into big waves, all the pessimistic men are on the beach kicking dirt. Surfing big waves requires a lot of attention and focus. It always have been the kind of thing that set me free, so I could face life.”

Rochelle Ballard

Dynamic surfer originally from the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which ranked 2nd in the World Surfing Championship rankings in 2004, Rochelle is considered the first great female surfer to face a tube wave. Ballard was not the first woman to surf inside a tube wave, but the first to do so regularly. It was rare to see a woman riding the tubes in 1995. In 1999, Ballard co-founded the International Women Surfers. Ballard holds the women’s world record for scoring two perfects 10 seconds in a single heat until nowadays.

Maya Gabeira

With 33 years old, the Brazilian Maya Gabeira definelly conquered her place between the big names of surfers worldwide. Facing fears and prejudices, Maya from Rio de Janeiro became the first and only woman to enter the Guinness Book as the record holder for the biggest wave surfed in the world. She had to fight for Guinness to recognize her 20.7 meters wave record, which she only accepted after a request with 20,000 signatures and the creation of a women’s category for this competition.

Maya broke the record again in 2020, surfing the biggest wave of the year (estimated at 73.5 feet, the equivalent of 22.40 meters high, more than a seven-story building), among men and women in Nazaré (Portugal). Nevertheless, she also overcame serious accidents, such as the one in Nazaré, in 2013, when she fell off her surfboard in a big wave and lost consciousness. Rescuers needed to apply cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques to revive her.

Bethany Hamilton

Born in Hawaii, Bethany started competing early and had a promising career. But with 13 years old, in a morning surfing, while resting in the water Bethany was attacked by a tiger shark, which ripped off her left arm. Contrary to expectations, the surfer returned to surfing about a month after the incident and after two years she won her first national title, proving to be one of the most warrior surfers of all time and an inspiration to be followed.

There are two movies that tell Bethany’s story. The film “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” portrays the complete history of the surfer, from childhood to motherhood, and the “Soul Surfer” movie, which is inspired in Bethany’s history, shows the accident and the superaction of the surfer.

Hope you enjoyed knowing such beautiful stories of those amazing sea women warriors!

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The article above was edited by Nicole Leslie.

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Mariana Hummel

Casper Libero '24

Journalism student.
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