The Coast News Group
Hansen skateboard models, from left, L.J. Richards and Linda Benson with their Hansen Model Skateboards and Hansen Surfboards and Skateboards owner Don Hansen. Photo courtesy of Benson collection

Waterspot: The lifetime achievements of Linda Benson

Linda Benson began surfing at Moonlight Beach in 1954, after serving her apprenticeship on those hard canvas surf mats, rented, in this case by local merchant Frank Hipsley. According to Linda, “We would ride in on our knees and we were fearless on those things.”

Mats became of little use or interest, however, after her older brother arrived home with a surfboard. According to Linda, “ I followed him and his friends to the beach and watched them from the cliff. I had never paid much attention to surfboards before, but from then on, I realized that was what I wanted to do.”

The population of Encinitas had just reached 5,000 and most everyone in town knew each other, especially close were young Linda Benson and the half a dozen surfers in the water each day. Initially she merely stood in knee-deep water, retrieving boards after a surfer wiped out. Then, a wave of destiny broke that would forever change her life. “Someone asked if I wanted to try their board. I forever have that vision stamped in my memory of seeing the water moving around me as I rode all the way into shore. It was like Pandora’s box had been opened.

“Most of the surfers were also lifeguards like Fred Ashley, Fred Wilkins and John Elwell. They surfed and played Hawaiian music over the speakers. I started borrowing their boards, but I was small and couldn’t carry them to the beach on my own. Finally, my dad let me buy a used board made by Buzzy Bent. That board was waterlogged and Wayne Land reshaped behind the lifeguard tower where he and some of the others worked on surfboards.”

Another the young surfer in town was future U.S. Champion Rusty Miller. According to Benson, “I remember one time when we couldn’t get out past the waves, and we sat together in the seaweed on shore, crying. That winter Rusty and I began surfing Swami’s. I was scared to death of the eelgrass so Rusty would retrieve my board after I lost it.  Then, one time I lost my board, looked around for him and he just shook his head as if to say, ‘No more; you’re on your own.’ He later told me that I didn’t have anything to worry about until the waves were so big they blocked out the sun.”

By age 15 she Linda was surfing Oahu’s North Shore where she rode everything, including the big-wave spot, Waimea Bay. Her close friend and mentor John Elwell was attending a Mormon camp on Oahu along with Tom Keck. They put me in touch with Bob and Patty Driver, who were staying on the North Shore and let me stay with them. Bob would soon help Don Hansen start Hansen Surfboards.

After winning what was then the most prestigious surfing contest in the world, The Makaha International Surfing Championships, Linda returned home to Encinitas and resumed her surfing career. Her first surfboard sponsor was Hobie, but she soon switched brands in favor of the new kid in town, Hansen, who put her on his team and eventually had a Hansen Skateboard Model designed with her name on it. In time Linda became nearly a part of the Hansen family, once driving with them to the East Coast to help promote their surfboard line.

Years later, when Hansen was a well-established name and Linda had become an airline stewardess, a show called “The Wonderful World of Bill Byrd,” did a story on Linda. After a brief introduction, they followed her into Hansen’s Surfboards to meet Don and get a tour of the place. From there Linda returned to Swami’s where she paddled out and made it clear in her polite way, that she was still No. 1.