Hey All,

We all got ripped off by ignoring or dismissing women surfers year after year, decade after decade. Today’s Joint runs the idea through a pro surfing lens, but the same can be said for the sport in general—more girls in the water means a better surfing experience for all, full stop.

Anyway, let’s get to griping. This will not be breaking news, but it is worth noting again because the numbers are so nuts: total WCT women’s prize money in 1977, their debut season, was $19,500—right, the entire season, five events, combined prize money less than 20K—and then it went down for three straight years, landing at $10,000 in 1980. The men’s total from 1977 to 1980, meanwhile, jumped from $92,900 to $208,400. So the men started out earning 10X more than the women, and three years later it was 20X.

Insane, but not atypical, given the era. Again, though, old news.

A different and less-talked-about angle on this is that surf fans also got ripped off, because there were rivalries and feuds and all manner of pettiness and spite among the women pros that we never knew about because the surf media couldn’t be bothered to pay attention enough to bring the tea to the table. We knew Mark Richards and Cheyne Horan hated each other’s guts during their repeat world title battles, which made following the men’s tour that much more fun. We 100% did not know that Lynne Boyer and Margo Oberg also pretty much hated each other during the same period, when they too were in what amounted to a five-year world title cage match. For the record: between 1977 and 1981, Boyer won two world titles and twice finished runner-up (both times to Oberg), while Margo won three titles and finished runner-up once (to Boyer). The Oberg-Boyer rivalry was the first and best in women’s pro surfing history.

Encyclopedia of Surfing
Encyclopedia of Surfing

Except I don’t know for sure if Margo hated Lynne; I’m probably using that word too loosely. I’ve written about Oberg a lot, but don’t have any real insight or understanding into her thinking; she got religion in a big way while still in high school, married young, moved to Hawaii, dropped out, dropped back in, and then won just about everything, especially in Hawaii, into her early 30s. Throughout that period Oberg was, not aloof exactly, but certainly at a remove from her competitors.

Hold that thought while we bring another voice into the chat: Linda Davoli of New Jersey, who was one of the very few surfers able to challenge Boyer and Oberg in their prime and the only female surfer of the period who seemed ready to play up and lean into the differences among the pros. Here’s an excerpt from Linda’s 1980 Surfing World interview:

In the women’s surfing movement, the people at the top are protecting this squeaky-clean image, whereas you don’t really try for that.

Well, right now [the women’s pro tour] is not really that big of a thing, and until it is, I can’t see myself dedicating all my time to it. I mean, I’m not going to waste a whole year working on image just for a few contests. I just like to go out and have a good time. Maybe in the future, when it does get bigger, I’ll settle down (Laughs). Probably that’s why I haven’t done as well as I could have in competition over the last four years because I haven’t taken it as seriously as I could have. Maybe I didn’t want to be a champion because I knew I wasn’t ready; I was too busy having a good time. It’s hit my mind lately that it’s kind of now or never because people will start to lose interest in my surfing.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Margo’s lifestyle suits contests.

Margo’s a Christian, so it’s against her religion to go out and do anything radical. I think Lynne has been doing a very good job of covering up. (Laughs). Me, I’m not going to change my lifestyle to suit the contests.

Margo said as much in 1979: “I started surfing because I really like to be alone.” On the other hand, this slender little bird-like surfer was a deadass killer when she put a contest jersey on, brimming confidence in any conditions but especially when it came to the North Shore (“I’m sort of the women’s Gerry Lopez”), and losing her world title to Boyer in 1978 no doubt had something to do with Oberg taking the next year off—only to storm back and defeat Boyer for the 1980 crown. Lynne came for the Queen, in other words, did not miss, but did not take her out. Boyer was the flashier, more progressive surfer. Oberg proved to be more dominant.

Margo, as far as I know, never publicly talked trash about Lynne. But my strong belief is that you have to hate your rival, at least on some level, in order to keep swinging at her that many years running.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Boyer has been more upfront how things played out between her and Oberg during their shared time at the top. Ella Boyd interviewed Lynne last month (read here), and the conversation is fascinating, heartbreaking, and redemptive, but here is the quote that kickstarted today’s Joint:

Margo Oberg was your biggest competition for a really long time. Was it a friendly rivalry?

No, it wasn’t. Not at all. It was like, “You’re on your side, I’m on my side, and let’s not talk.”

I am 98% sure that Margo, Lynne, and Linda could today have a long and absolutely wonderful dinner together, laughing and reminiscing and shit-talking, just like Magic, Bird, and Isiah Thomas would.

But as a sports fan, I feel slightly burned that all we got back in the day with regard to women pros was either radio silence or girls-as-novelty or are-you-a-libber-or-not. The knives were out and we didn’t know it. Our loss.


Encyclopedia of Surfing

PS: Margo did the Wide World of Sports color commentary for the ’79 Women’s Offshore Masters (watch here), so she’s not in the contest herself, but you get a glimpse of Linda Davoli, and you can see that, yes, Lynne Boyer very much deserved to be the preemptive favorite in any contest she entered during the late 1970s. Jericho Poppler for the win, though!

PPS: This is my favorite quote from the new Boyer interview because it is so all over the map. Brassy and poetic, insecure and funny and wise, one feel after the other with no empty space in between.

SURFER did a big profile on you [in 1977], and you were kind of the pinup girl of pro surfing.

I was so cute! I remember thinking, “I want to look like Farrah Fawcett.” And I kind of did! I look back at those pictures and, you know, I looked like her. Of course, we were so young. We were all beautiful, really. Even people that weren’t beautiful look beautiful to me now. I don’t know. It’s funny, getting older.

You brought a lot of color to the scene. Your red hair, and your boards were always so bright, and you surfed so well.

I was kind of a star, I guess. But actually, at the time, to be honest, I didn’t have much self-worth. Surfing was my whole identity. I was shy and introverted, and surfing was the only place I could just let it all out. In the water, I didn’t give a crap about anything on land. I think that’s why I stayed in the water so many hours at a time!

Encyclopedia of Surfing

[Photo grid, clockwise from top left: Lynne Boyer by Jeff Divine; Jericho Poppler surfing, Boyer pulling back, 1979, Sunset Beach, by Dan Merkel; Margo Oberg, 1977, by Antony Linsen; Linda Davoli at Burleigh, 1980, by Hugh McLeod; Oberg, Davoli, Boyer, by Divine; Boyer by Gary Terrell. Boyer surfing Haleiwa by Terrell. Oberg at Sunset Beach. Davoli by Steve Sakamoto. Oberg, 1979, by Bob Barbour. Boyer at Ala Moana.]