The Women on Waves exhibit on display at the California Surfing Museum is no small feat. (published on Surfline June 2, 2010- Note: The exhibit is now over) It traces the 300-year lineage from the surfing queens of Hawaiian myth and history to the newly-crowned women's surfing champions of the 21st Century.
The exhibit is about how women's surfing has evolved from something that was taboo to the current, ultra-high-performance level as practiced by gals such as Steph Gilmore, Keala Kennelly, Maya Gabeira and Layne Beachley.
Three of the 40+ panels on display at Women on Waves show one of Lisa Andersen's boards next to an original pair of Roxy boardshorts - the trunks that launched an industry. Next to that is a tribute to Blue Crush featuring Sanoe Lake's board. And off in the distance, Sarah Gerhardt's Mavericks special.
There was a time when most women took to the waves only in the company of a gentleman, because boards were heavy and taboos were strict about what women could expose when they went into the water.
In 1914, Isabel Letham defied her father when she went tandem surfing with Duke Kahanamoku, and defied Victorian culture when she wore a risqué "Canadian" swim costume which was made for performance more than prudence.
Eighty years later, Lisa Andersen didn't like how her behind looked in a bikini -- and also didn't like worrying about her two-piece suit coming off in contests -- so she innovated a pair of performance women's surf trunks that revolutionized the surf industry.
In between, Women on Waves shows how women's surfing and women's beach fashion paralleled each other, as women of the 20th Century crossed a line in the sand and took to the waves, and wanted to wear bathing-suits that went against the grain of the times -- and in so doing had a major influence on changing what women wore in the ocean.
Women's-performance influenced fashion and vice versa, and Women on Waves also details the ascent of women's surfing from a time when women could barely lift the heavy hardwood boards of the early 20th Century -- to now, when women surfers are going bigger, faster and deeper on modern equipment.
And that modern equipment was also influenced by women surfers such as Darrilyn Zanuck, whose need for a shorter, lighter hardwood surfboard in the late 1940s inspired Joe Quigg to make "The Darrylin Board" which is considered by many to be the Eve of the modern shortboard.
Women on Waves was put together by Jim Kempton, Julie Cox, Jane Schmauss and Tara Torburn at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, with help from Ben Marcus and many of the women and shapers featured in the exhibit. The exhibit consists of more than 40 panels -- from ancient Hawaii to Steph Gilmore -- with photos and three dimensional displays of famous surfboards, swimwear and other icons and jetsam from women's surfing history.
The exhibit includes more than 35 surfboards, from the kind of alaia ridden by Princess Ka'iulani, to the board Bethany Hamilton was paddling when she was attacked by a shark on the island of Kauai.