Secret Surfer

Tracking the life of forgotten two-time world champion Sharron Weber. Excerpted from TSJ 29.4.

Light / Dark

On September 20, 1969, a south swell slammed overhead lefts into the Huntington Beach Pier just in time for the US Surfing Championships. Strong currents sent loose boards into the pier pilings with predictably disastrous results. Surfing magazine estimated that more than 50,000 people turned out to watch the show, sponsored by Pepsi-Cola.

By then, Weber had won four Hawaiian state championships and finished second to Margo Oberg (then Margo Godfrey), at the 1968 World Championship held in Rincón, Puerto Rico. Though she had competed in California in previous years, even winning an event in Carlsbad, Weber still felt like an outsider.

“I had to start at the bottom at all those surf contests in California,” she says, “because no one knew who I was.”

At the US Championships, Weber staked her claim. Wearing the helmet required by the rules at Huntington Beach, the diminutive Weber dropped into set waves that towered over her. Gerry Lopez, her frequent travel companion during those years, encouraged her to shoot the pier. He argued that it was easier than surfing the crowded lineup at Ala Moana, because the pilings did not move.

“I went right through the pier,” she says, “with that helmet and me and the board, and never crashed.”

The women’s final proved a close battle between Weber, 21, and Oberg, 16. Oberg had been nearly unbeatable for two years, and had largely eclipsed California’s queen of surfing from the longboard era, Joyce Hoffman. But in the 1969 final, Weber surpassed Oberg to win the US Championship title.

An advertisement from that time, for Kanvas by Katin, depicts Weber in a bright red bikini. Standing next to Dru Harrison and Mike Purpus, she is tan, fit, and smiling. In that era, appearing in a Katin advertisement confirmed a surfer’s status. Typically the payout was one pair of trunks.

A grandmotherly figure, Nancy Katin hit it off with Weber. Katin asked the younger woman to live with her and run the business. “If I had taken the Katin job”, says Weber. “I wouldn’t have spent 45 years changing tires.”

But with its snaking freeways and mushy beach breaks, California left Weber cold. Her heart remained in Hawaii. “I was not going back to living in California. Sorry.”

Pick up the new issue of TSJ for the full read: