Women Surfing Legends: Iconic Surfers Who Changed the Sport Forever

Head to your local lineup, and you’ll see women ripping right alongside men. Although, for decades, surfing was known as a male-dominated sport. It took years of legendary female surfers breaking down barriers to pave the way for future generations.

Today, the competitive and free surfing worlds attract more women than ever. Learn more about iconic women surfers from the past and present, and how they have changed the sport through their dedication, pioneering spirit, and sheer love for the sport.

Queen of Makaha: Rell Sunn’s Legacy of Aloha

Rell Sunn

The queen of Makaha was born in 1950 on the famed surfing Mecca of the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Her given name was Rell Sunn, and she started surfing as a grom at just 4 years old.

At the time, Sunn was arguably the most motivated female surfer, selling her belongings and raising funds to compete around the globe. She proved that women can not only compete in surfing, but they can win.

Sunn played an integral role in starting the Women’s Professional Surfing Association and is now in many halls of fame, including the International Surfing Hall of Fame and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame. Her legacy remains alive and well in Hawaiian and international surf culture.

Joyce Hoffman: A Trailblazing Champion in Women’s Surfing

American and Makaha International champion Joyce Hoffman

Joyce Hoffman was an iconic female surfer, voted the world’s best woman surfer in 1966 at 19. Hoffman held numerous championships and won legendary events, like the Makaha International and U.S. Championships, making her one of the first female international surfing all-stars.

As the first woman to surf pipeline, Hoffman blazed the way for female surfers who are now testing their limits at some of the world’s most dangerous waves. In 1994, The Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame named Joyce Hoffman the Woman of the Year, yet she continues to influence the sport today.

The Gidget Phenomenon: Kathy Kohner Zuckerman’s Surfing Story

Kathy Kohner Zuckerman received the year’s surfing walk of fame award.

The Gidget phenomenon transformed female surfing in the 1950s and beyond. The phrase “Gidget phenomenon” is a nod to the popularity of the fictional surfer girl who starred in movies, television, and books throughout the ’50s.

However, Gidget wasn’t entirely fictional. The character was inspired by Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, an influential young surfer during the era. Zuckerman was born in 1941 and grew up in Southern California. Her brother was an avid surfer, and she quickly joined him in the water.

The novel’s success (written by Zuckerman’s mom) and the media surrounding Gidget challenged gender roles and contributed to the rapid growth of surf and beach culture in the 1960s. Gidget remains a household name throughout the surfing world to this day. Zuckerman was named the Surfing Walk of Fame’s 2011 Woman of the Year, proving her and her character’s continuing influence.

Wendy Botha: Dominating the International Surfing Scene

International surfer Wendy Both

Wendy Botha is a female surfer who dominated the world of international surfing throughout the 1980s. The South African was born in 1962, and by 1987, she had won her first ASP World Tour Championship. She went on to win championships in 1989, 1991, and 1992. It’s no surprise she remains one of the best female surfers of all time.

Botha’s influence on female surfing includes her achievements and proof that women can succeed in professional surfing. Her dominance continues to inspire female surfers around the globe.

Layne Beachley: A Record-Breaking Career in Women’s Surfing

Australian world champion surfer Layne Beachley

Layne Beachley is another household name among surfing families in Australia and around the world. She was the dominant force in women’s surfing throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, paving the way for her generation and future ones.

Beachley won seven World Surfing Championships and proved that female surfers can break records and perform maneuvers just as powerful and jaw-dropping as the guys.

Sofia Mulanovich: Peru’s First World Surfing Champion

World’s first female surfing champion Sofia Mulanovich

Peru was put on the map as a legendary surf destination when Peruvian female surfer Sofia Mulanovich began winning championships. Mulanovich inspired generations of female surfers across South America and the globe when she became the first South American woman to win the World Surfing Championships.

Mulanovich’s influence spans beyond her role as a South American female surfing icon. She continues to fight for environmental and social causes that affect the ocean and the South American communities, including the prevention of development on Peru’s best surfing beaches.

Bethany Hamilton: Resilience and Triumph in the Face of Adversity

Inspirational Bethany Hamilton

Bethany Hamilton quickly became a symbol of determination and resilience after losing her arm in a shark attack at the age of 13. At such a young age, she showed that adversity can not hold her back from success in surfing and beyond.

The movie about Hamilton’s remarkable story, “Soul Surfer,” quickly made her a household name and continues to inspire young women around the globe. Hamilton can still be seen dominating local Hawaiian lineups and international surf competitions.

The Rise of Women’s Big Wave Surfing: Mavericks and Beyond

Women have faced limitations in lineups around the globe, but that never stopped those dedicated to the thrill of surfing.

A recent advancement in the sport for females is the rise of women’s big wave surfing. The iconic Mavericks big wave surf spot in Northern California now regularly sees women in the lineup, cruising down 25- to 60-foot-tall faces. This year’s women’s big wave surfing took a leap forward when women were awarded the same prize money as men in numerous categories at the Mavericks Surf Awards.

Women’s big wave surfing continues to break down gender barriers and serve as a symbol of women’s empowerment.

Surfing Around the Globe

Women are now surfing the world’s best waves around the globe. At Hollow Tree’s Resort in Indonesia’s Mentawai Islands, we welcome all female rippers to enjoy our world-class waves.

Mentawai’s top surfing resort – Hollow Tree’s Resort

Our guests have access to more than 10 incredible waves just a short walk, boat ride, or drive from the resort. Whether you’re seeking one of the world’s best barreling right-handers or a beginner-friendly beach break, we have waves suitable for professional female surfers and groms alike.