Joyce Hoffman, a ’60s-era surf pioneer and champion, has racked up a long list of “firsts” through the decades.
First woman to have her own signature surfboard, crafted by icon and friend Hobie Alter. First woman to be inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach – she was part of the first class of inductees. First surfer, male or female, to incorporate serious cross training to win national and international surf competitions and the first to gain sponsorships outside of the surf world.
And now, she’s adding another milestone to her long list of accolades: The first woman to be honored with a statue at the Watermen’s Plaza in Dana Point. It is believed her’s will be the first life-size bronze statue in the United States to honor a female surfer.
“I was pretty blown away, it certainly was never something I thought would happen to me,” Hoffman said. “It’s very humbling, but very exciting.”
Hoffman grew up on Beach Road in Capistrano Beach during a time when surfing was gaining in popularity, but surfers were still largely an exclusive tribe pushing limits in the sport, equipment and changing the culture.
Fellow trailblazers and friends those days were the likes of Alter, who helped modernize surfboards by developing foam blanks to make them more lightweight, and Bruce Brown, a filmmaker who inspired a generation with stories of surf travel, most notably in the film “Endless Summer.” There was also John Severson, founder of Surfer Magazine, and style master Phil Edwards – all of whom have bronze statues already at Dana Point’s Watermen’s Plaza.
Hoffman’s father, Walter, was one of the early big-wave chargers and a board maker well known in the surf world. The family moved to Beach Road in Dana Point when Hoffman was 12, a pristine surf break right in front of their house.
“Dana Point is a big part of my surfing history and formation,” Hoffman said. “I got a taste of the first competition there.”
She surfed her first contest in the early ’60s at Doheny State Beach, back before the Dana Point Harbor was built and blocked the once epic waves coined “Killer Dana.”
Hoffman was athletic, looking for just the right sport to focus her energy to satisfy her competitive drive. Surfing was the right fit.
“This set me on my quest to be the best surfer I could be, and hope that would be the best surfer there was,” she said.
She approached competition in a way no other surfer was at the time, with a seriousness that involved intense cross training for hours a day. Most surfers at that time gravitated toward the sport because it was the antithesis of mainstream, rigid sports.
“I was very dedicated, very serious,” Hoffman said. “That’s what I gave to surfing, more than anything else. If you don’t take it seriously, you won’t go anywhere.”
Only a few women competed at the time, a core group of 15 to 20 who would show up at all the events up and down the coast, she said.
From 1963 to 1971, Hoffman dominated women’s surfing competitions across the globe. In addition to her United States Surfing Championships in 1965, 1966 and 1967, she won the Makaha International in 1964 and 1966 and the Laguna Masters in 1965 and 1967.
“A little known fact is Joyce was the first American to hold the title of World Surfing Champion, as she won the ‘old school’ ISA World Championships in Peru in 1965 and again in 1966 in California,” said Peter “PT” Townend, considered the first men’s surfing champion under today’s contest circuit.
Hoffman was the first to reach outside of the surf world for sponsorships, something no other surfers at the time thought of doing.
She recounted how she flipped through magazines to find outdoor brands she liked and asked if they wanted her to represent their brand.
And many – from luggage brands to fast cars – did.
One of her biggest supporters was the British carmaker Triumph, which put her in ads standing next to its sleek convertibles. On one of her surf safaris around the world, they sent a Triumph car to every airport she arrived at so she could use it during her adventure, from Australia and New Zealand to South Africa.
Her popularity grew and soon magazines – from Vogue, Seventeen, Teen and Look – wanted to feature her. She was named the Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year at age 18 and was featured in Life magazine.
“I was the first one who crossed over from surfing into the mainstream,” she said. “It was going to happen to somebody, it happened to be me.”
She appeared on “To Tell the Truth” as a teenager in 1965, the audience having to guess which of the girls on stage was a surf champion, only two of four judges correctly guessing she was the one.
“I was there in the ’60s when surfing took off, I was able to ride that wave,” Hoffman said. “Surfing was becoming popular around the country, no longer a quirky thing on the coast – from surfing movies, music, clothing. I was just lucky, I was there at the right time to take advantage of that.”
She was a team rider for Hobie Surfboards and one day asked the surfboard maker why she didn’t have her own signature board, like Edwards or Corky Carroll.
“I’ve won more contests than all of them combined,” she told Alter.
His answer, she said: “I never thought of that,” and soon after he made the Joyce Hoffman signature model surfboard, another first for a female.
She was just a teen when standing on the beach in Hawaii with her parents when filmmaker Bud Browne, clutching a camera in his hand, said that if she paddled out, she’d be the first female documented charging Pipeline.
“I have my camera here, if you go out I’ll film you,” she recalled him telling her.
So she did.
In 1994, she was the only female in the first class inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach, and she was the first female ever to win the popular Surfer Poll awards.
When asked what Dana Point surfing icons were worthy of their own statue at Watermen’s Plaza, Surfing Heritage and Culture Center founder Dick Metz said he put Hoffman high on the list.
“She just kind of leap frogged ahead of the other women who had been surfing before. Joyce is certainly deserving,” Metz said. “She really took it to another level.”
At 75, Hoffman still paddles out and catches waves, sometimes in front of her parent’s house on Beach Road in Dana Point where it all began or at “Old Man’s” surf break at San Onofre.
On a recent day following a surf session at San Onofre, surfer Tandem Ogilvie Hayden couldn’t help but be star struck, asking Hoffman for a photo and calling her an inspiration. Hayden was visiting from Santa Cruz, where she grew up hearing stories from her father about Hoffman, the surf pioneer who helped pave the way for women out in the water.
“Having women like her to look up to is really important,” Hayden said. “We have a place (in the surf) now.”
Hoffman recently got a sneak peak of the bronze statue created by artist Bill Limebrook and she she couldn’t help but tear up, she said.
It’s a tribute to all women surfers, she said. Although she’ll be the face, if it wasn’t for the women before her and after her, she wouldn’t be getting the honor.
“It’s so humbling,” she said. “When I got into surfing, I never expected all the extra things that would come with it.”
The statue will be unveiled at 3 p.m. on Jan. 27 at Watermen’s Plaza, located next to a bridge that connects Doheny State Beach at Pacific Coast Highway at the South Cove development.
Source: Orange County Register