Why Gidget Ruined Surfing

About five years ago at a surf festival, I met Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, a.k.a. Gidget, the diminutive female surf icon of the 1950s.

Gidget’s parents fled Europe, fleeing Hitler. It’s truly amazing, then, that Gidget’s father, Frederick Kohner, hadn’t been speaking English as a first language for that long when he wrote a book about his daughter’s surfing and on-shore experiences with Malibu surf locals.

The book launched a Gidget franchise of memorabilia, corny Hollywood surf-centric films and television shows.

Although I found Zuckerman very friendly when I met her, I partly blame her for causing the first wave of Hollywood surf exploitation.

Can this first wave be somehow traced to how crowded my local break has become?

I doubt it. Yes, the Gidget craze launched surfing into the mainstream, but if her life hadn’t been documented, someone else’s would have.

The Hollywoodification of surfing would have eventually happened one way or the other.

Were Miki Dora and other iconic Malibu surfers hypocrites for blaming Hollywood on ruining their beloved break while acting as surfing stunt doubles in Hollywood flicks during the 1950s and 60s?

Of course, but I don’t blame them.

I just wished that in the 21st century, surfing would go back under the radar; of course, this isn’t likely to happen.

I truly feel that I was drawn to surfing by a divine kick in the ass, or to be more holy and less irreverent, you could call it divine inspiration. I had a dream one night that I was surfing. The cut-backs felt so real. I knew I was destined to surf.

But how many people have been drawn to surfing as a result of the plethora of car and insurance commercials that exploit surfing?

Commercials using surfing aren’t just centered in coast areas; you’ll find them on the TV in Iowa, Ohio and Kansas.

There is an insecure small part of me that hopes that people don’t think I got into surfing because it’s perceived as cool by media conglomerates.

Surfing is a spiritual endeavor. I do wish that there were millions less surfers in the water. My home break seems to be infested with many surfers who are only out in the water because that’s the thing to do.

Gidget: Did you have any preconception of what your dad’s book would lead to?

Probably not. As much as I think it’s cool to be counter culture and resent Gidget for dropping the first nuclear bomb on surfing, she meant no harm.

And it’s not like surfing remained popular till present day; surfing fell out of vogue in the 60s and 70s…surfers in that era were once again the true outcasts.

I truly wish surfing was an activity for pariahs. I wish there were no surfing lawyers and doctors and stock brokers. How validated I would feel if surfing were still equated with being a beach bum. The challenge is to be spiritually strong and recognize that despite how crowded the lineups can get, I must be grateful for having this experience. Even in crowded surf, to be floating and bobbing in the ocean and then experiencing the ultimate: yoga with a wave.

Yoga means Divine Union and that’s indeed what I feel and what Gidget must have felt flowing and dancing with a translucent green wave of energy that just traveled thousands of miles offering up this gracious gift.

If Gidget’s dad hadn’t written about it, cynical surfers would certainly be blaming someone else. Gidget: I forgive you.

Postscript: Ending at the end of February 2011, the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, for a full year, has exhibited Women on Water. It features an exhibit on Gidget but it’s the only part of the collection that even media is not allowed to photograph because of copyright issues.

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