Linda Benson started surfing at Moonlight Beach when she was 11 years old, waiting for the boys to lose a board so that she could paddle it back out to them. By the age of 15, she had become the youngest contestant ever to enter the International Championship at Makaha and went on to become the first woman to ride Waimea, when she borrowed a board from the shortest guy she could find (Benson only just tops five feet) and caught a couple of waves. In a sport that 50 years ago was almost totally dominated by men, Benson won the first US Championship at Huntington Beach, in 1959, and held onto it through much of the 1960s, setting the record for the number of wins by a woman at that event. During the next decade, she won over 20 first place surfing titles. One thing that women surfers have over the men—they make prettier surfing doubles, and Benson was much in demand for movies like the Beach Party films and Gidget Goes Hawaiian. In 2009, she finally got to play herself, in The Women and the Waves. Benson says that when she first got into the water, she was always “chasing after the guys.” Aware that even in the 21st century many women still preferred to be taught in an all-female environment, Benson started her popular surfHER school in 2003, only winding it down four years later when she wanted to concentrate full-time on her latest project: designing the kind of gadget that would make it easier to transport unwieldy surfboards without incurring the sort of hip damage her own doctor was beginning to warn her about. She is pictured above demonstrating her newly launched “Rail Grabber.” An immediate hit, Benson’s unique invention has made it even more possible for this pioneering female surfer to live up to her lifelong motto: “Enjoy the journey, love the ride.”
The dedication at the front of Legendary Locals reads: “to all the extraordinary people of Encinitas who never even realized what legends they are: I hope this book goes some way to convincing them.”
Linda Benson is one such legend. When she came along to my book launch at the Old Schoolhouse the crowds seemed to part, much I imagine as the waves must do when she launches herself upon the ocean. Everyone looked in awe at this truly cool, diminutive woman.
I was amongst them. As far as extreme sports go, I’m as likely to hang a ten as skip on the moon, but I still regard Linda Benson as an inspiration, and became just another awestruck groupie in my heroine’s presence, even as my shaky hand signed her copy of my book.
It seems odd, now that we’re firmly entrenched in the 21st century, that women were ever considered inferior to men. But Linda’s talent and tenacity have proved otherwise.
I often muse on this quote by Charlotte Whitton: “Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” Does that mean that Linda had to work four times as hard just to be equal? And even more to be a winner?
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