“Killer Cute” is the latest History of Surfing post, and it talks about the 1990s Roxy-led push to get more girls in the water—but mostly into the sassy new lavender-and-baby-blue surf gear that was flooding the casual-wear market. New Yorker writer Susan Orlean noted during this period that surfing had always been “the embodiment of everything cool and wild and free,” and “to be a girl surfer [today] is even cooler, wilder, and more modern than being a guy surfer.” Which wasn’t not-true at the time, thanks to Keala Kennelly, Rochelle Ballard, Lisa Andersen and a few others. But the Roxy Girl marketing push felt pervy, more than a little underhanded in the way it used surfing as a distraction while the company did a full Calvin Klein sexification of underaged beach girls. “It was empowerment by way of Lolita,” I wrote in HOS, “strained through a hundred marketing meetings, and topped with a plastic lei.”
Meanwhile, 1993 WCT world champ Pauline Menczer couldn’t get a sponsor. Not tall enough. Not enough cheekbone. Too many freckles. There’s a lot to love about Pauline, not the least of which is how she’d rail against an unfair beauty standard, then turn around and win the contest and have a raging great time at the banquet. I very much enjoyed making this video of her.
For good measure, I also made this one of ’64 world champ Phyllis O’Donell, who was kind of the Pauline Menczer of her time. Both women are 5′ 2″, both are Australian, neither made much of a living from the sport (O’Donell was a driving instructor when she won the title), and they even kind of looked alike. The O’Donell edit is too short (a ridiculous lack of footage, given her stature), but I’ll point out that, like Midget Farrelly, she went from winning it all in 1964 to making the world title finals in ’68, thus neatly bridging the shortboard revolution. The big difference was that Phyllis was 31 years old in ’68 (Midget was a mere 24), and her dark bob haircut was going proudly grey. Hell of a transition, going from long- to shortboards at that age, and her third-place finish in ’68 was in a way just as big an achievement as her win four years earlier.
Anyway, cheers to Pauline and Phyllis and every other girl, then and now, who surfs on their own terms.
Thanks, everyone, and see you next week.