“Listen, Gidget,” he said with a big smirk, “there are other things than surf-riding, praise the Lord.”
“Are there? Well, you can eat them raw.…Bite it,” I said, and headed for the surf.
So the real-life Gidget (actual name: Kathy Kohner) was saltier than the sanitized Hollywood film version (1959) that starred Sandra Dee as a hyperactive beach bunny. Or at least that’s the version of Gidget that appears in her father’s fictionalized biography. If Gidget/Kohner was assertive and had attitude, then we can place her alongside the other counterculture rebels that found their way to the waves in the 1950s. And as surf scholars have pointed out, it’s probably no coincidence that “Gidget”and Jack Kerouac’s Beatnik bible “On the Road”both appeared in 1957. Rebellion was in the air.
Salty or saccharine, Gidget’s appearance on the California scene signaled the arrival of surfing as a force in popular culture. But did the real-life Gidget/Kohner ever surf Rincon Point? Spoiler alert: probably not. But some of her group did. Among them, surf legend Mickey Muñoz (b. 1937) was a good friend of Kohner’s and part of the influential Malibu surf crew of the 1950s. Muñoz himself first surfed Rincon early in the decade and made it to the Point regularly thereafter before (he says today) it got “way too crowded.” Present at the creation of the Gidget myth, Muñoz even appeared in the film wearing a wig and bikini as a surf double for Sandra Dee.
Clearly by 1958 the cultural influence of “Gidget” (500,000 copies sold) had reached the Point. We know this from Rincon visitor Jason Lumley’s surf scrapbook, which captured the growing popularity of the new sport while recording for the uninitiated some of its insider slang, including Gidget’s salty “bite it” invective above.
So, no, Gidget did not surf Rincon, but plenty of women were surfing the Point even before the pint-sized icon rode any waves of her own down south. Early women surfers at Rincon included Margaret Kesson (wife of Ken Kesson) and musicologist Margo Halsted. Both were recorded for posterity in Lumley’s scrapbook, with Halsted given the nom de surf of “Mondo’s Margo.” Everyone had a nickname. And before Margaret and Margo was the original, Ventura’s own, “Mondo’s Mary” – in real life, Mary Monks (1919-2009), a diminutive (4 foot 9 inches) and fearless surfer who rode the Rincon Point waves and those of all the other area beaches beginning in 1955 at the tender age of 36.
Mary was given her nickname by early Ventura surfer Jack Cantrell (1928-2012) for her prowess at the beach break between Rincon and Ventura. Monks also surfed Rincon Point, C Street, Pitas and Malibu, first catching the surfing bug in Hawaii.
Today of course many women can be found taking charge in the Rincon waves. One particular fan of the Queen of the Coast is Mary Osborne, a veteran competitive surfer who now runs local summer surf camps, focusing particularly on training girls. Osborne coaches a new generation of young women surfers to feel comfortable in a sport that long dripped testosterone.
Osborne’s favorite spot is Rincon Point and the only place for years that she surfed: “Rincon is so magical and calming, it’s always been a special place for me,” she said. Osborne learned the sport there, first by watching and learning, waiting her turn to enter the lineup.
From Mondo’s Mary to Mary Osborne, the spark lit by the rare early women wave-riders and rebels of the 1950s burns brightly today, even if Gidget herself never surfed Rincon Point.