Author of Wave Woman: The Life and Struggles of a Surfing Pioneer
Betty Waxing Vicky’s Board
Years Betty surfed: 1954-1961
What inspired you to write Wave Woman? When reflecting on my life, I realized my greatest influence was my dynamic mother, a women who navigated her life with joyful passion and believed anything exciting was worth trying at least once.
What was one of your favorite memories with your mother? After Betty was in Lima we were both invited back to interest the women at Club Waikiki in surfing. The club put us up for a month and we were treated like queens. Every day we went down to the club and surfed. This was an unforgettable experience of a lifetime that neither of us ever forgot.
How does your relationship to surfing affected your life on land? The challenge of surfing gave us the mental and physical strength to deal with life’s twists and turns and the courage to live a passionate productive life. Our surfing friends became treasured friends forever.
Favorite wipeout story? It was the spring of 1959, a picture-perfect Hawaiian morning at Makaha Beach. Perfectly shaped, glassy waves rolled in from the point. The musty smell of saltwater-drenched kukui nuts saturated the air. The surf conditions were ideal, with cloudless blue skies and clear warm water. Only a slight breeze blew down the valley, barely making the coconut fronds sway. This was a day of days for surfing.
I had been out since dawn and had caught some super waves. My rides had been exciting, and I was almost ready to quit, but it was hard to stop. Instead of going home to do some carpentry, I decided to paddle out for just one more wave. The surf had been eight to ten feet, but suddenly—and typically for Makaha—the waves jumped up to twelve to fourteen feet. A bit scary, but the conditions were perfect.
I wondered if I was up to this. My heart pounded as I headed a half mile out through the channel toward the point. All I could see were giant mounds of water forming lines on the horizon, moving in.
After what seemed like an endless paddle, I finally reached the lineup: the place where I wanted to sit and wait. I figured this could be a chance to catch the biggest wave of the set yet. The first wave approached, and I paddled as hard as possible to catch it—always the safest thing before the bigger and bigger waves roll in behind. I caught the wave with an exhilarating, steep drop of at least ten feet. This ride was like nothing I had experienced before, my best ride ever. I was ecstatic, feeling very proud of myself sliding across the face of this wall of water. Then, a few seconds later, the wave crested and broke, the whitewater crashing over me with a wild jolt. The force flipped me off my board and engulfed me in water and foam. I was pushed under with a power that tossed me head over heels like a rag doll in a washing machine. I was held underwater for what seemed like an eternity. I was powerless—caught up by the ocean’s strength. As I struggled to reach the surface and get my head above foam, I remembered the advice I had been given by fellow surfers, to “relax, stretch out your extremities, and make yourself as big as possible.” This would make me pop up to the surface of the foamy abyss. If your body is tense and rigid, you stay under the water longer. I desperately needed a breath, but I tried my best to get limp and be as big as possible. Then, after what seemed like forever, I popped up to the surface and caught one little breath before the next wave broke—pushing me back under the whitewater once again. This happened over and over. I had nothing to hang on to for support—this was long before leashes. By now, my board was headed to shore. I was a strong swimmer but wondered if I would drown.
Finally, there was a lull between sets. The waves eased up, and I made my way to shore, less swimming than being pushed by the currents. I staggered out of the water, trying to time my exit between the fierce shore-break waves. I made it onto the dry sand with barely enough strength to crawl and collapsed in sheer exhaustion.
Lying there, slowly catching my breath, I felt my life racing before me. I looked out to the surf break and wondered, How did I get myself into this?