SI Vault
Gilbert Rogin
October 18, 1965
Once a sport enjoyed by a mere handful of thrill-seeking nuts, surfing has become the province of a mass of middle-class nuts who like to perform on small waves. Queen of these hot-doggers is Joyce Hoffman, who wins laughing at sea (right) and smiles when she collects her trophies (above)
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 18, 1965

An Odd Sport And An Unusual Champion

Once a sport enjoyed by a mere handful of thrill-seeking nuts, surfing has become the province of a mass of middle-class nuts who like to perform on small waves. Queen of these hot-doggers is Joyce Hoffman, who wins laughing at sea (right) and smiles when she collects her trophies (above)

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Surfer has the larger circulation of the two magazines: 90,000. It carries ads for Hang-Ten surf wear, runs fiction in which the hero either rides a monster wave to his death or miraculously survives and, in a house ad, offers a two-by-two-and-a-half-foot mural, for only $1, entitled the Ultimate Journey, which depicts a guy riding this 75-foot wave.

Joyce maintained an A-average at San Clemente High School. "She's not that smart," says Walter. "She was in there all night with the covers over her head and a flashlight. She got so shook when she didn't get a good grade." "My dad doesn't give me any money for A's," says Joyce. "It's horrible! I didn't love any of my classes or anything. English seminar was my favorite, but I thought all those famous old novels were kind of boring. They're all so philosophical. I don't want to be a brain. I want to be the best surfer."

She is. "Joyce could compete successfully against most of the men," says LeRoy Grannis."When she has a good day, the other girls are just along for the ride." Surfer magazine named her Woman Surfer of the Year for 1964, and she is the only surfer, male or female, to have ever won five consecutive USSA contests. In fact, she has won all but three of the last 17 she has entered.

Although surfing is not really suited to competition, contests have proliferated. In 1964 the USSA sanctioned four; this year it is sanctioning nine. The ancient Hawaiians, who named the game, were thought to have held contests in which the idea was to ride waves for distance. Today surfers are judged primarily on their choice of waves, what they do on a wave, when they do it and how well they do it. Only functional maneuvers—such as turning, nose riding and stalling—count, and waves are ridden just as far as they are worth riding. Stunts like standing on one's head and 360� spinners are considered merely ornamental, and therefore worthless.

The surfers paddle out six or so at a time for 12- or 15-minute periods, and the judges score each ride on a point system, as in diving. The number of waves ridden is also a factor—the more the better—which is where Joyce's training pays off. Furthermore, while most girls surf in a fairly sedate fashion, Joyce moves around a lot, trimming her board and turning frequently to get the most out of a wave. She is also the only girl who consistently rides the nose, a feat that greatly enhances her score.

Joyce doesn't hang out with her competitors. "They think I think I'm above them," she says. "But I can't go up and talk to people. I'm a real loner. I'm shy. I never say 'hi.' I've never needed friends. I'm very self-sufficient. The other girls are always trying to get me to go to parties, drink, smoke. It's not worth my explaining it to them. It's better for me if they think I think I'm above them. It helps me psych them out. In the contests I'm always ready way ahead of time. I always have three or four bars of wax. They never have any. They're so disorganized. I drink orange juice and honey beforehand. I'm sure they think it's screwdrivers. I try and fool them. I say, 'Gee, this surf looks pretty good.' Of course, it's lousy. They're biting their nails. The worse the surf, the better I do. They always give the girls the worst surf—early in the morning, when the tide's wrong, or late in the afternoon, after it's blown out. Why waste good surf on girls? Ninety-nine percent of the surf in contests is horrible. But if you can surf a yukky beach break, you can surf anything. That's why it's ideal in front of my house."

The other day Joyce stood on her front porch, sipping Tiger's Milk and watching a great horde of surfers sitting on their boards upon the swells. "They're sheep," she said. "They're beautiful. You pay $50,000 for a house and there's 50 million idiots out there ruining it for you. You'd think in your own front yard you could have a wave to yourself. Up north they're really horrible to girls. They're friendlier down here—they sometimes give you waves. At Malibu it's dog eat dog—shoving, kicking. They're really yuks." When she is asked what advice she has for a youngster who wants to take up surfing, Joyce says, "Don't. There'll be more room."

One of the reasons there are however many surfers there are is the foam surfboard. Before World War II the surfboard was simply a heavy plank, solid or hollow. In those days there were 400 active surfers in southern California, and the sport consisted essentially of standing on a board in a rather stately posture and riding the wave toward the beach, like Venus coming ashore on her half shell. A lot of poetry was written in a largely unsuccessful attempt to describe the sensation. In the late '40s a board made of fiber-glassed balsa was developed. It was lighter, more buoyant and much more maneuverable. It also opened up a great many new surfing beaches, because it could be ridden in beach breaks, which are more common in southern California than point or reef surf. It was not until 1956, however, with the advent of the fiber-glassed polyurethane foam board, that surfing caught on. The foam boards, which generally weigh less than 35 pounds, require almost no maintenance—unlike the balsa boards, which became waterlogged if the "glass" was ruptured—are easier to ride because of an improved shape and are much simpler to manufacture in quantity. Mass-produced foam boards, which are called pop-outs, cost $60 to $130; custom boards run from $120 to $190, depending on size and ornamentation.

Grubby Clark, who has gotten rich in the foam boom, has, in symbolic gratitude, decorated his house with abstract bas-reliefs carved out of pure foam.

Along with the balsa and foam boards, the new style of wave riding evolved—hot-dogging. The board could be readily turned (by some, with practice), and so it could be ridden back and forth along the breaking wave, instead of merely straight in, and various stunts, such as hanging ten, could be performed (by a few, with a lot of practice).

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7