Friday, November 27, 2009

Surf Fridays!

“The first time I saw surfing was in 1956 and I was 6 years old. My mom and I were living in Oahu, having moved there from our native California, as my father was deployed on a ship in the eastern Pacific. Mom and I loved to watch the surfers gliding on the waves, like dancing on water...I dreamed to surf from that day on...” Cher Pendarvis

Riding the 6'9 shaped by Tom Threinen at OB jetty in winter 1968-9
photo courtesy of the Cher Pendarvis photo archive

I was fortunate to meet Cher Pendarvis at the Mattson Family Art Benefit. She had generously donated two photographs and I remember being impressed that there were several guys who were trying to outbid each other like mad for her photos. I first learned of Cher actually, by reading photographer Liz Cockrum's blog. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

Cher has an amazing life story with surfing. She taught herself at a time when there weren't many other girls surfing. Initially discouraged by her parents, she had to hide from them for a while that she was learning to surf.

Cher glassed boards and made fins for friends to help work her way through college and she was one of the first ever women's professional surfers.

Off the lip at OB Jetty, January 1969
photo courtesy of the Cher Pendarvis photo archive

Cher was also the first woman on staff at Surfing Magazine & surfed with Bunker Spreckles and Shaun Thomson. Now a self-employed artist working with her husband Steve Pendarvis, Cher is an every day surfer who loves to share her stoke with others.

As this is being published, Cher is on a flight to Oahu to attend and help with the Rell Sunn Aloha Jam and work on some projects with friends.

For this interview, we shared a lot of emails back and forth and one of the most poignant things Cher said to me was, “There's just so much enthusiasm and excitement about the past and present, and I am so grateful to be a surfer, ocean woman.”

May we all be fortunate enough to feel like that. This will be a 3-part series and I hope you enjoy as much as I did, learning more about this special lady.


I was really curious why your parents didn't support you surfing - did they think it was dangerous for a girl?

My stepfather was a navy officer who did not like surfers; he thought all surfers were bums. Keep in mind that for many, the surfing lifestyle represented freedom and fun, kind of wandering and bohemian, and back in the 1950s-early 1960s that could be scary to someone who had grown up in the depression in the mid-west like he had; My stepfather was very bitter.

And you borrowed boards until you saved up enough to buy your own - did you surf without your parents knowing, for awhile?

Yes. I had to sneak to the beach for awhile.

Practicing a hard bottom turn on 9'6" Dewey Weber Standard Speed
photo courtesy of the Cher Pendarvis photo archive

You were first entranced with surfing while living in Oahu - is that also where you learned to surf?

We lived in California, Hawaii, The Philippines, Japan and for a few years in Florida. I first saw surfing at Waikiki when my Mom and I were living on Oahu in 1956, when I was 6 years old. My Father was deployed on a ship in the Pacific. I remember we were so excited, "Mommy, it's like they're dancing on water!"

My Mom and I dreamed of surfing then, but instead I was enrolled in ballet classes. After Hawaii, we lived in The Philippines and Japan, and moved back to California in the Bay area.

When I was 11-12 years old, I taught myself how to swim and practiced ocean swimming to be more comfortable in the water, still carrying the surfing dream... and getting ready for surfing.

1966, Florida Gulf Coast, first time riding her second board
Photo courtesy of the Cher Pendarvis photo archive

My first wave was when I was 13, on Easter weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida, on a hollow lifeguard paddleboard. I asked Mom if I could ask the lifeguards if I could paddle out on the lifeguard board and she said OK. Mom was an artist and more free-spirited than my stepfather, and vicariously wished she could surf (even earlier when we were in Hawaii in the 1950s).

It was exciting to begin surfing, and yes, I did have to "sneak" to the beach for awhile after that first outing on Easter. Most people thought that "girls don't surf!"

I began meeting people when their boards would wash up on the beach, and I'd ask if I could ride a board when the person was done. I taught myself.

What was the ratio of girl to boy surfers at that time?

The hard-core surfers were mostly young guys, and there were a few girls. My stepfather wanted to retire in Florida and it was hard for my Mom and I to leave our native California. My parents moved from California to Florida's west coast during my last year in Junior High school. There were surfers in St. Petersburg, but they were a closed group until I got to know them better.

I looked forward to returning to California, and did so after graduating high school.

Sunset Beach, Florida, 1967 with a 9'8" Surfboards Hawaii Model A, named "Mr. Tricks"
photo courtesy of the Cher Pendarvis photo archive

What did your Mom say when she finally saw you surf?

My Mom saw me surf a bit in my teens and she was supportive. My Mom passed away from cancer in the summer of 1968 and I was not yet 18. Very heartbreaking.

When you saved up to buy your first board, how much did it cost and what board was it? What color was it?

My first board was a used 9'7 O'Hare that had been broken in half and repaired. It was very heavy and cost $45 at the shop where I was patching dings. It had a thick redwood stringer and a wide, diagonal green stripe where it had been repaired.

It took me all summer of patching dings at the surf shop and doing chores to earn this board. I asked my stepfather and Mom if I could bring it home and he replied, "Well you earned it, you can bring it home."

Did you compete?

Yes. In the winter of 1971-1972, Skip Frye talked with me at Sunset Cliffs when I was riding one of my fishes and told me that I was one of the best women and should consider competing. I was blown away. Skip has always been very kind and supportive of our surfing and board building. I did not know about the other women, as I had not competed in the US Championships. I was working hard on college studies, working on boards and surfing mostly at the cliffs, and Baja.

In March of 1974, Skip told me that Jericho Poppler was founding Women's International Surfing Association with Nancy Katin and some other women, and he gave me a recommendation and contact information to call Jericho. I then became a founding member of WISA. Skip encouraged me to follow up, make friends and compete.

1974-1975, I worked hard to compete in WISA and earned a ranking that qualified me to be one of the first ever women's pros, I was in the top 3 on the West Coast as an amateur going into the pro events.

photo courtesy of the Cher Pendarvis photo archive

In September 1975, I placed in the first ever Hang Ten Women's Pro at Malibu in 1975, even winning over Margo Oberg in an earlier heat, and but she came back to win the event and I placed. Later Margo complimented me as a groundbreaking, creative surfer from California. Margo is a great competitive surfer and a true champion.

I did not stay with professional surfing for long, due to my family situation at the time. And I was not able travel to Australia and South Africa when I was invited to surf in those Pro events.

When Margo Oberg said your surfing was groundbreaking & creative - did you already kind of realize that it was? What a compliment!

Yes, what a wonderful compliment, from Margo, I was very honored. I knew that we were riding unusual, creative boards that we were building, and my Channin boards were unusual and new/creative for the time. We were blending inspiration from my early fishes with some of Mike Casey's ideas, even in the mini guns that he shaped for me at that time.

5'2 fish shaped by Tom Threinen and glassed by Cher in 1970
photo courtesy of the Cher Pendarvis photo archive

Please stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow!


Surfsister said...

Cher rocks so hard that I can't express it in words. I didn't know all of these wonderful things about her. No wonder she shreds!!

Thank you, Jamie, for the interview. Thank you, Cher, for the encouragement as I recovered (and continue to recover) from the knee replacement.

6ftnperfect said...

I'd have to check, but I'm pretty sure this is your best interview yet, and it's only one third done! Can't wait to read the rest.

Hye Tyde said...

great to read - nicely done!!

Mariss said...

I just read all three parts of your interview and the links about Rell. What amazing and inspiring women.