Gidget the All-Powerful

Kathy Kohner, around 1957
Kathy Kohner
Kathy Kohner and Miki Dora
Kathy Kohner
Kathy Kohner, Malibu

Tubesteak Tracy was the first to notice 15-year-old Kathy Kohner as she passed by on the beach at Malibu during the summer of 1956. After a bit of obligatory heckling, Tracy shouted out, “See you around, Gidget!” Kohner was five-feet tall and weighed 95 pounds; as the better part of the Western world would soon learn, “Gidget” was a mashup of “girl” and “midget.”

Kohner learned to surf by trading peanut butter sandwiches—made herself in the kitchen of her family’s airy suburban ranch house in...

And so it was that a gushing Malibu-obsessed tomboy escorted surfing to its permanent seat at the banquet table of American pop culture.