Howard Gottlieb's feature on pro surfer Linda Davoli ran in the June 19, 1978, issue of the Press of Atlantic City. This version has been slightly edited.
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She likes to party, and over the years she’s developed a reputation as a table-top dancer. But Linda Davoli would rather be balanced on a surfboard than a table.
The 21-year-old Brigantine surfer admits that surfing is her life. Ask her about her sport, and she’s more than eager to tell you anything she can.
“To understand and harness the ocean’s energies is one of the unique factors of surfing,” Davoli explains. “I love the art. I love the sport. Most of all, I love its style. I intend to put as much into surfing as I’ve gotten out.
“When life gets me down, I go out and surf. It’s given me personal satisfaction, and I’ve arranged my priorities, as well as learning to respect the ocean.”
In her case, the ocean should be respecting the surfer. Nine years after beginning her career, Davoli has earned the rating of the third-best female surfer in the world.
In a sport where the greats usually come from Hawaii or Australia, growing up in Brigantine could have been detrimental. “I was told I had born talent,” she says. “I felt I did too, and my parents and friends supported me, so I just went for it.”
Three months after she started, Davoli was winning local surfing contests. From there, it was off to the New Jersey Districts and East Coast competitions, which she won five years in a row from 1971–76.
In 1974, Davoli won the United States Championships in Malibu as an amateur. In 1975, she felt the time was right to turn pro. So in September of that year, she flew to California to compete in the Hang Ten in Malibu. At 18 years old, Davoli came in third in her first professional surfing competition.
In the years that followed, Davoli added more and more personal victories in her quest to become the world’s best women surfer. But without financial backing, she returns to the tiny waves of Brigantine for the summer. “Brigantine is a good town,” she says. “I like to have a good time, so I hang out at the Barefoot Pub with my friends. That’s the problem with Brigantine—too much beer, not enough waves. If I had a sponsor, I’d rather be out surfing.”
Living here has hurt Davoli in more ways than one. Overcoming the pitiful waves that hit the Jersey Coast was a minor achievement compared to finding a sponsor. Surfers in Australia, Hawaii, and California are more in the public eye than she. And because Davoli uses only custom-made surfboards, she can't offer her services to a board manufacturer.
Until Davoli finds a sponsor, she’ll give surfing lessons in front of the Root Beer Barrel surf shop in Brigantine to try to save enough money to continue on the tour. “While most of the surfers are out there with the waves, I'm stuck here working,” she laments. “You can't even begin to realize your true potential until you’re out there with the best in the world.”
Few 2l-year-olds can claim they have seen as much of the globe as Davoli. Australia is her favorite: “The waves there are just as good as in Hawaii, but there are thousands of uncrowded breaks. You can drive along the coast for miles and see not a single house, just nice waves. Hawaii draws too many people. The water in Hawaii is shallow. With three feet of water over sharp lava rocks, any slip could kill you. I try not to think about it.”
Right now, she's trying to think about nothing but enjoying her summer.
“I came home to try and find a sponsor. If I can’t find one this year, I’ll consider moving to the West Coast. I have an agent out there working on it. But for now, I'm here. And there’s a lot more happening here than when I left. I checked out Resorts every night last week.”