By Laylan Connelly
The Orange County Register
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A spotlight will be put on female surfers and artists at the “Women of Surfing: Art & History” exhibit opening Saturday, July 22, at the Huntington Beach Art Center, with an event that will draw dozens of female surf influencers from around the world to showcase their work and tell their stories.
The Orange County Register
There are the surfers girls who changed the culture — including a petite boy-crazed teen who sought out waves in Malibu and whose escapades captivated a worldwide audience; and the females decades ago who more quietly-yet-tirelessly changed the sport by breaking barriers in and out of the water.
There’s the 18-year-old water photographer who bobs for hours at heavy surf breaks in Australia to get just the right shot; and there’s one of the first women photographers, now in her 50s, to capture images using waterproof housing to protect her camera. Both are fans of each other’s work and are about to meet for the first time.
And there’s the female pro surfer — one of the best in the world — who out of the water has a lesser-known talent and passion for art inspired by her love for the ocean.
A spotlight will be put on female surfers and artists at the “Women of Surfing: Art & History” exhibit opening Saturday, July 22, at the Huntington Beach Art Center, with an event that will draw dozens of female surf influencers from around the world to showcase their work and tell their stories.
The installation, on display through Sept. 2, is the second in a three-part series the Art Center is doing to celebrate the contribution of women in the art world.
“For the surfing industry, the women artists are really under-recognized,” said exhibit curator Phil Roberts, a 40-year surf artist who lives in Costa Mesa. “There’s so many of them who are extremely gifted. … Just to have them all together in this large of a setting is a powerful statement. A lot of the men artists I know, successful surf artists, would not have made the cut in this show because the quality of the work here is at such a high level.”
Special guests for the opening event will include San Clemente’s Mary Lou McGinnis Drummy, who last year earned a spot at the Surfing Walk of Fame. She is the co-founder of the Women’s International Surfing Association and helped push the inclusion of women into the pro circuit.
Joining her will be Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman. Also known as “Gidget,” Kohner-Zuckerman was the inspiration for the fictional title character of the 1957 surf novel “Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas.” In the 1950s, she had no idea her beach days hanging out with surfer boys would be the inspiration for her father’s book, which in turn became a television series and movies based on the surfer girl character.
Peter “PT” Townend, surfing’s first pro surfer, calls Kohner-Zuckerman the “fairy godmother of surfing.” The character prompted countless people to learn to surf — whether that was a good or bad thing is debated among surfers who cringe that their counterculture pastime hit the mainstream thanks to Gidget’s popularity.
These days, at 76, she’s the “Ambassador of Aloha” at Malibu’s Duke’s Restaurant and a member of the Malibu Surfing Association.
“The surf community has just been incredibly embracing to me,” Kohner-Zuckerman said.
While the story of Gidget became an inspiration for an entire generation in the ’60s, the inspiration for a younger generation of surfer girls, the 2002 movie “Blue Crush,” also will be celebrated in the exhibit, through movie posters.
Artists are coming in from around the world for the event, including Australian photographer Shannon Glasson, an 18-year-old who shoots pro surfers in the water.
“She can photograph 8- to 12-foot waves and right in the impact zone,” Roberts said, “and she’s not scared at all.”
Pro surfer Sally Fitzgibbons recalled meeting Glasson for the first time at a surf spot called “Cape Fear.” She was nervous about surfing the “sketchy” spot when she saw Glasson heading out to the water.
“I so admire Shannon for her bravery in shooting at spots like Cape Fear. Not only is this a heavy spot to surf but the photographers that are not on jet skis take real risks getting in and out of the water,” Fitzgibbons said.
Another well-known photographer, Elizabeth Pepin Silva, was the first woman to use a water housing to take images of females when she felt they weren’t getting the recognition they deserved.
“She got out there and battled with the men for the best shots,” Roberts said of Silva, now in her 50s. “I have two generations of legendary women photographers.”
There are plenty of local artists in the show, as well.
There’s a piece by World Tour surfer Courtney Conlogue, one of the best female surfers in the world. The painting the Santa Ana resident submitted is moody, with dark skies. The way she captured the color of the wave, Roberts said, was done with the expertise of someone who knows how the waves work.
“She’s a really brave painter, she’s got guts,” Roberts said. “If she didn’t become a competitive surfer, she would have gone to art school. She has a career when she’s done with professional surfing.”
Conlogue said she’s honored to be alongside the other female surf artists. She’s been an artist since she was a child, often painting her surfboard, but this is Conlogue’s first time being part of an art show. Being included in the show has helped “stoke her fire” to start painting again, she said. And it’s something that helps relieve stress as she battles for a world title.
“For me, for my art, it’s just something I do for fun, it’s a pastime and a hobby,” said Conlogue, currently ranked fourth in the world. “My art has always been an outlet for me — art and writing. I’ve always had a very creative side. It’s an escape — it’s where I get to kind of let go.”
There are three rooms in the “Women of Surfing” exhibit, the first one dedicated to women surf pioneers.
“The women have had to really step up to the plate and competed with the men the entire time to get their spot out in the line-up surfing waves,” Roberts said. “Even today, it’s tough for them. So many of the women in the portraits in the show were the first pioneers to grab a surfboard, paddle out with the men and say, ‘Anything you can do, I can do.'”
The second gallery will hold vintage surfboards on loan from the San Clemente Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center made specifically for women in the early days of surfing by shapers Dale Velzy and Joe Quigg. A film showcasing the first women’s surf contest at San Onofre in 1957 will be shown.
“The second gallery is more about the ride and the glide,” Roberts said.
The third gallery is a huge sculpture installation — so big visitors can walk in it — by Santa Barbara-area artist Blakeney Sanford.
“That room is all about the wave and the experience of being in the water,” Roberts said.
This is Roberts’ third show at the Arts Center, and the one he’s most proud of, he said.
“The level of work and technical ability and raw talent is mind-blowing,” Roberts said. “They are so good and so gifted. To put them in one location is just awesome.”
Opening reception for ‘Women of Surfing: Art & History’
When: 6:30-9 p.m. Saturday, July 22
Where: 538 Main St., Huntington Beach
Also: Entertainment will be provided by singer/songwriter Jamisen Jarvis