Without warning, in the summer of 1982 a frightened teenager named Frieda Zamba flew out of tiny Flagler Beach, Fla., with her little Florida surfboards and her outrageous Florida bag of tricks and descended upon unsuspecting California like a simmering tropical storm disguised as a slight breeze. Hurricane Zamba. Too small to be picked up by West Coast radar until it was too late to stop her.
The world's top professional women surfers were gathered at Solana Beach, awaiting the start of the Mazda Surf Sports event. Most of them were California girls—smiling their confident California smiles, singing their smug California surf songs, riding their big California boards on their big California waves and attentive to their grace and femininity in their California way.
All of which made them sitting ducks for the 17-year-old Zamba, an unknown from a surfing nowhereland. The West Coast had always gotten the respect; the East Coast got yawns. But that was B.Z.: Before Zamba.
The rap against Florida was its puny, three-to-four-foot waves, less than half the size of the California and Hawaii and Australia surf the pros regarded as the real thing. Mutt waves. No pedigree. Never showed up in beach-blanket movies. Never produced a world champ. B.Z.
No one at the Mazda suspected that Zamba was about to blow them all away, single-handedly radicalize women's pro surfing and go on to win an incredible three consecutive world championships in 1985, '86 and '87.
At the time, Zamba remembers, she was more worried about her first airplane trip than she was about the contest. When her coach and mentor, Flea Shaw, saw her off at Orlando International Airport, Zamba turned to him and moaned, "I'm going to crash and die and I'm never going to get to do anything fun again."
He laughed at her then. She laughs now. Sitting on the sea-gull-gray carpet in her gray-and-rose Flagler Beach living room, Zamba leans back and rests her wiry 5'3", deeply-tanned, 22-year-old blonde self against her gigantic German shepherd, Max. She scratches Max behind the ears and runs her hand over his gleaming jaws. "My baby," she says. "I've been afraid of the dark since I was a little girl. Max protects me."
Sunlight floods the room. Zamba's three huge world championship trophies and a bunch of small awards overflow the bookshelves and spill over onto the stone hearth. The glass breakfront displays the artifacts from Zamba's June wedding to Flea—FLEA and FRIEDA glasses, FLEA & FRIEDA napkins, a champagne bottle, their china pattern.
Half a block from the house, the Florida miniwaves on which Zamba polished her startling natural skills are waiting for her. They won't have to wait long. Since Zamba discovered surfing in her 12th summer, she has logged so much time in the water, it's a wonder she doesn't breathe through gills.
"As a kid," she says, "I was a real grommet, a little tomboy. Surfing was totally for boys. I was the only girl surfer who really stayed with it. I didn't know what they were doing. I was just going, 'Gosh, that looked hot. I gotta try that.' "