Words by Ben Mondy || Cover image: WSL/Poullenot
As women’s surfing continues to push the boundaries in the water, and the sports world at large gets dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, it’s worth reminding ourselves that unlike some other sports (London 2012 was the first time women competed in all sports at the Olympics), surfing has a long and proud history of female stand-outs, dating as far back as the ancient Hawaiians.
And while today’s slick WSL webcasts beam the Top 17’s exploits to our devices from around the world, guaranteeing a global sport gets the global audience it merits, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the exploits of a couple of rippers of yesteryear, who helped blaze the trail.
The 27 world titles this half dozen have amassed between them is easy to quantify.
The number of busted down doors required along the way, less so.
Frieda Zamba was the youngest female to win a pro tour contest and the youngest surfing world champion ever at 19.
She won her first three titles in succession from 1984 to 1986 before capturing her fourth in 1988, equaling the then record of Mark Richards.
In her prime Zamba crossed the performance chasm that separated male and female surfers and for that alone is regarded by many as the greatest female surfer ever.
The goofyfooter was known for her attention to fitness and training, which translated into one of the most powerful and progressive techniques of any woman, in any era.
She now lives in Costa Rica and a survey of her recent Youtube clips sees her ripping as hard as ever. In fact on that evidence she wouldn’t look out of place on the CT right now which, given she is now 52, is remarkable.
“In her prime Zamba crossed the performance chasm that separated male and female surfers and for that alone is regarded by many as the greatest female surfer ever”
Wendy Botha won four world titles, the first under her native South African flag, the rest after she had emigrated to Australia during the apartheid era.
Botha bought a new mix of femininity and power to women’s surfing and was well known for her prowess in solid waves.
Botha caused a major stir in the surfing world, and a minor one in mainstream Australia, when she posed nude for Australian Playboy in 1992.
That however was a distraction from what one of the most successful careers in surfing of all time. Botha had a supersmooth style and a fierce competitive instinct that came with growing up and competing against boys.
She also may have won more world titles if a series of knee injuries hadn’t forced her retirement at just 27.
“No one has ever dominated women surfing as Layne did, and it’s doubtful anyone will ever again”