Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Winner 2013 Webby Awards for Best Political Website
Top Banner, Site wide
Apr 23, 2014

 Choose a size
Text Size

The Divide

Truthdig Bazaar

The Pornography of Power

By Robert Scheer

more items


America’s Mermaid

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share

Posted on May 24, 2011

James Darren, Sandra Dee and Cliff Robertson pose as Moondoggie, Gidget and The Big Kahuna in the 1959 film.

By Deanne Stillman

(Page 5)

Some time later, I accompanied Gidget on a return to Malibu. It was a perfect day, not too crowded. “Good waves,” Gidget said. Then, as we walked past The Pit and toward the now-vacant site of the shack, she said, “Jeez, did you see that?” She took off her sandals. The site obviously emanated powerful tribal crosscurrents not detectable by outsiders. “Oh, my God,” Gidget shrieked. “There’s Mysto.” Mysto George had been surfing Malibu since 1954, never missing a good day, long after many of Gidget’s contemporaries had drifted away, long after younger surfers had quit the scene, because the waters now carry raw sewage. In full wetsuit and neoprene cap, with the blazing, sea-blue eyes certain surfers have, George was carrying his dinged-up longboard, ready to paddle back out. “Looks bitchin,’ ” Gidget said. “Yeah,” he said. “You wanna surf?” Gidget said she had been thinking about getting back to it. Later that day, she took her board to the shop for repairs.

A few days after that, a special commemorative issue of Surfer magazine hit the stands. Gidget was No. 7 in a list of the 25 most important surfers of the 20th century, a bold move on the part of the premier journal of surf culture, which generally retains a seafaring, “ye har mateys” cosmology that ranks women with the weather—strange forces to be reckoned with, but not so primary as to be included on the important census lists that are surfing’s equivalent of who gets tapped for the Rapture. Gidget was one of only two women in the list. She ranked not far below Duke Kahanamoku, the universally adored Hawaiian father of modern surfing, and higher than Mickey Dora, revered king of surf style. Gidget’s placement near these gods stunned some members of the surf establishment, but the deed had been done: The unassuming surfer girl was finally getting her due from those whose livelihoods she had fueled. As the century turned, and major figures and groups began apologizing to each other for decades of mistreatment and abuse, maybe in preparation for an apocalypse or maybe just because it was time, it was nice to know that Gidget had finally made the cut.

POSTSCRIPT: Some time after I had met Gidget and learned her story and about the existence of her father’s novella, I suggested that it should be reissued. She agreed. We took it to Kathleen Anderson, my agent at the time, who sold the book to Penguin. The new edition has a foreword by Gidget and a preface by me, which includes an abbreviated account of our meeting.

Since its publication in 2001, Gidget has reclaimed her story, crisscrossing the country, speaking at surfing events and in bookstores, paddling out, riding waves, uncorking her bottled message for a new wave of girl surfers.


Square, Site wide
Deanne Stillman’s latest book is the widely acclaimed “Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West.” She is currently writing “Mojave Manhunt” for Nation Books, based on her Rolling Stone piece of the same name. Follow Deanne Stillman on Facebook.

New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

By francesca, May 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Report this
James M. Martin's avatar

By James M. Martin, May 25, 2011 at 2:55 pm Link to this comment

Just goes to show you, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

Report this

By jo6pac, May 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks, as someone who surfed in Northern Calif. in the 60s but we all knew how it played out in the South. It was pretty brave and the right thing to do by Surf Mag.

Report this
BR549's avatar

By BR549, May 25, 2011 at 9:26 am Link to this comment

Re:  Lafayette, May 25 at 2:03 am
Loved the whole article and your response as well. Unfortunately, as you say, the wars killed all that, but then, WWII killed it for so many Europeans. It’s that gluttony for wealth and power that has had the likes of the Fords, the Rockefellers, and the Bush Family stomping over any of the paltry ants that get in their way of world dominance. During the time of Gidget, we were in our own little fantasyland, hoping to escape those wars and those megamaniacal sociopaths, if even for only a few years.

Here is the link to a current day shot of the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman: still hot at 64.

Report this
Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, May 25, 2011 at 2:03 am Link to this comment


When does myth become fiction and fiction become reality? When stories such as this one enter into the symbolism of a revered time past. What symbolism?

My take on it: A time in the 1950s and ‘60s when life was good (America was surfing on an economic tsunami) and freedom could easily be expressed in anything that allowed us to transgress social constraints. The ‘burbs were full of such constraints - it was the age of Keeping up with the Joneses in a Middle-class American existence that was pretty damn good.

Was it the pursuit of happiness? Happiness is an emotion and not necessarily a condition of existence. But one could be happy on a surf-board. One could be happy on a Easy-Rider bike. And one could die happy; like James Dean, running a sports-car flat out, the wind in your hair.

That freedom was physical, tangible and unleashed us from the constraints of a Middle-Class Existence with all its rules and, particularly in America, its Sexual Taboos.

But what about Real Freedom? The kind that can be shared by everyone, the one we could identify with because it applied to all of us and our condition. Well, for that we had to wait for the Martin-Luther-Kind-Moment to arrive a bit later.

Freedom first of the blacks and now for women - at least on paper (legislation), where most such liberties start. We Americans go from freedom to freedom, usually showing the world how it should be done. Uncle Sam had become a Role Model.


The first stupid war of Post-WW2 was Korea. Gidget postdated that war by just five years and predated the Vietnam War of the 1960s. The wars changed us.

The naive belief that the Good Times could go on forever feeding our need for symbolic freedom started coming apart. And finally came Ronnie to end it all in 1980. By the time he left as that decade finished, he had reset the clocks.

The Age of Personal Enrichment had arrived and a dogmatic belief that freedom was not expressed in the surf or hotrod ride or any physical emotion.

It was all about money. And it still is that way, only the dates have changed.

When will we be finally free from the God of Mammon?

Report this

By gerard, May 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm Link to this comment

I loved that “uncorking her bottled message for a new wave etc… “!  That really did it for me. Nothing like a mixed metaphor to make your day!

Report this

By TDoff, May 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm Link to this comment

Does anyone know, did the make-up/wardrobe person who kept the crotch of Gidget’s then-daring two-piece bathing suit dry while she chased/lusted after all those surfer-hunks ever win an Oscar?

Report this

sign up to get updates

Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion   Publisher, Zuade Kaufman   Editor, Robert Scheer
© 2014 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.