Living by the ocean can be transformative. For Betty Pembroke Heldreich Winstedt, who first learned to surf when she moved from the mainland U.S. to Waikiki in the 1950s at the age of 41, riding the legendary aquamarine waves became her passion. But surfing would become more than a hobby; Winstedt was a pioneer and champion in a sport that saw few women take to the waves.

Published last year, the previously untold story shines a spotlight on Winstedt and shows her incredible zest for life. Based on Oahu, Durand, an award-winning surfer herself, has devoted the past few years to writing Winstedt’s unique personal story. “Wave Woman” takes readers back in time to the early days of modern surfing and immerses them into Oahu’s vibrant and fun surf community over a half-century ago.

A multifaceted individual, Winstedt was considered a “go-getter” by her friends and family and had already accomplished a great deal before she arrived in Hawaii. Known for her limitless drive, spontaneity and perseverance, she had succeeded in learning to fly an airplane, was an athletic swimmer (and had trained for the 1938 Olympics), eloped after a brief courtship and had two children before settling on Oahu.

“Wave Woman” features colorful descriptions of Winstedt’s relocation from the mainland to Hawaii as a young mother and chronicles how she embarked upon a new life while falling in love with surfing. As one of a few women who surfed on Oahu during that era, Winstedt attracted a great deal of attention as she learned to surf larger waves at Makaha (situated on the west coast of Oahu), and became more proficient in the sport. With natural athleticism, Winstedt participated in tournaments, won prizes and traveled for surfing competitions in Peru. Winstedt also surfed with some legendary greats, including Duke Kahanamoku, Buffalo Keaulana, Peter Cole and Jim Arness (a family friend known for his longtime role on the TV series “Gunsmoke”).

Eventually, circumstances shifted for Winstedt, although she remained self-sufficient: She divorced, remarried and embarked on a new career path in dentistry while continuing to nurture her art, which included writing haiku poems, sculpting and making pottery. Surrounded by her hobbies, friends, and family, she created a full, happy life on the island for herself and her two daughters.

Over the years, the author recalls that her mother continually encouraged her to keep careful notes of their surfing adventures, as she correctly predicted that surfing would become an incredibly popular sport that crosses all demographics.

In 2015, four years after Winstedt passed away at the age of 98, Durand decided to write a book about her mother’s achievements, as she felt Winstedt’s story of bold resilience was important to share. Although as a teenager she was not as diligent with her note-taking (as her mother had suggested years ago), Durand was committed to recreating Winstedt’s adventures on the page, she said.

“I wanted to write something about her amazing life as an inspiration for women and for men to show what’s possible when you are willing to pursue a dream,” she said. “It’s never too late to get out of your comfort zone and work for what you want.”

Durand spent a great deal of time researching the details of the book and interviewed a number of relatives and friends who helped her recreate a vivid and accurate picture of the era and fill in some crucial pieces about her mother’s life. She also worked with three editors during the process. Still, Durand was convinced that there were questions about her mother’s life that were destined to go unanswered.

She explained, “Even though we were confidants and best friends, there were still so many questions I never asked my mother and there were quite a few family mysteries that were too late to uncover.”

However, serendipity played a role while Durand was researching the book. As luck would have it, as she was searching for old family photos in the garage of her family beach home in Makaha, Hawaii, she discovered a box tucked away on a shelf. This hidden box turned out to be filled with exactly what she needed — letters, photos and other precious items that once belonged to her mother, including Winstedt’s journal.

These papers and documents proved to be valuable for Durand to accurately shape the story and fill in some missing information. Several of her mother’s poems in the box are also featured in the book.

All this enabled her to share the story of her mother’s extraordinary life and her deep love of surfing. “At the time I found the box, I was grasping and kicking myself for not asking more questions when my mother was alive. … When I found that box, I realized I discovered a treasure trove of information that was going to help me finish the book and be able to give a more accurate, substantial description of her philosophy and her general outlook on life. I felt very blessed to have found that.”

Durand says that as she continued to write the book, she often wondered, along the way, if she was on the right path. “But during this process,” she said, “I found that if I needed someone, they would appear. … So the story really unfolded, and the universe was with me all the way.”

Durand wasn’t expecting that her book would lead to some good surprises, including reconnecting with old friends, and being interviewed on-camera for a forthcoming surfing documentary. In addition, as this article is being written, Durand, who recently turned 80 and has two adult daughters of her own, is optimistic that she will soon be working with a production company to create a film version of the book, which is something she hadn’t imagined when she set out to write her mother’s story.

Durand explained, “During this project, I’ve learned a lot about myself, interestingly enough, and the similarities between me and my mother … and especially what has motivated me through my life.”

She added that she hopes the book shares Winstedt’s enduring enthusiasm and reveals lessons for everyone who reads it. She says, “I like to think about my mother’s belief that it’s okay to make mistakes in life — you just need to get yourself out of them and move on. She was a lifelong learner with a thirst for knowledge and she was always ready to try something new.”

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