A note from the Editor: Ben Marcus recently wrote a book called Women Who Surf. It’s going to be a good one. It is, as the title infers, a book about women who are surfers–but the women featured have some of the most interesting tales in the sport. “From Rochelle Ballard head-butting the Huntington Pier to Bethany Hamilton losing an arm to a shark, to Keala Kennelly head butting the reef at Teahupoo to Mercedes Maidana getting a concussion at Nelscott Reef to Maya Gabeira nearly drowning at Nazare,” reads the book’s description, “these women have all survived various physical, emotional, financial and spiritual traumas: Broken homes, broken hearts, broken boards, broken heads. It’s not all light, colorful reading and clean slices off the top, but Women Who Surf does justice to all these women, because they are tough, taken their lumps, paid their dues – and survived to push the limits of women’s surfing from competition to Teahupoo.” The following is an email interview about the process of writing Women Who Surf.
Alex Haro finally emailed those questions I’ve been begging him to send for a few weeks. What does the email say? Let me print it verbatim. It’s good stuff:
Here’s what I got, Ben. Not much there, so feel free to do add what you like. Sorry this took so long… I’ve been on horse duty for a neighbour and spent the last few days up to my elbows in horse’s dicks. Literally. Cleaning horse dicks. What has my life become?
Did you write Women Who Surf while living on a boat in Hawaii?
Yes, I have been on Oahu for three years, researching a novel I want to write, called Swipe. Right now I am living in Kewalo Basin on a “15-meter utility boat.” It kind of looks like a World War II PT boat or something. I sleep on the boat and poach Wifi from various places around Waikiki. I’ve gotten thrown out of The Harbor Pub and Snappers, so now it’s the Starbucks on Ward and Tea Leaf at Foodland Farms.
How long were you working on it for? You’ve written a ton of books, haven’t you?
I’ve been involved in like two dozen books. So many I’ve lost count. Some are good, some are so-so. Usually, I am fast but this book took for fricking ever. It was kind of a nightmare. Over a year to write profiles of 20 women surfers and gather photos and get photo permissions and model releases. If only the reward and return were exactly and opposite to the amount of work invested…
Surfers are notoriously difficult to work with. Was that a hurdle for you?
Yes and no. Some of the women were great. The women who don’t get a lot of attention were grateful for it and helped all the way along. I make sure every woman–or one of their people–read and approve every iteration of what I’ve written. These women are traveling and competing and doing fashion stuff and are busy, so it can take months to get a response. They’re busy. They don’t care. They aren’t getting paid, etc. Response time can be slow, even in this era of miracle and wonders and telecommunications.
Becky Hamilton was a big help with Bethany Hamilton’s profile. Tami Gabeira helped with her sister Maya’s profile.
And Keala Kennelly was fun to work with. She may look punk, but under that exterior, Keala Kennelly is as sharp as those reefs she likes to headbutt. The book starts with Keala’s entire speech from the 2016 WSL XXL Awards, where she accepted the award for Biggest Tube. Keala is the Gnar Mother as far as the women go.
Where’d you get the idea for Women Who Surf?
It was the publisher’s idea. They had done a book called Women Who Dare about female mountain climbers. It did well so they figured a book on women surfers might do the same. For a while, I wanted to do a book called Women Who Charge which was about women big-wave surfers, because that’s what is new in the world of women surfers right now. There’s a whole bunch of women who are pushing the limits at Teahupoo, Peahi, Maverick’s, etc. Taking dirty lickings and still ticking.
But the publisher wanted the “marketable” women so this book is a calabash of different women surfers: from mid-20s to 80 years old. Pros, longboarders, chargers, travelers, philosophers.
How’d you choose which women to be involved? Did you have to cut anyone out?
Some of the women were obvious choices: Rochelle Ballard, because she led the way for the likes of Bethany Hamilton, Keala Kennelly and Maya Gabeira. Some of the women were a little more obscure. It was mostly the big-wave women: Wrenna Delgado, Bianca Valenti, Paige Alms, Mercedes Maidana, Andrea Moller.
Jianca Lazarus suggested Leah Dawson, and that came out good, although Jianca’s photos were cut: Shoots. Books. Publishers. Lucia! I tried to sneak a couple of my friends in there to repay favors. There was a girl I met in Honolulu named Rachel Pettit who surfs Rockpile every day. Wrote a good profile about her, about a girl from Tennessee who moves to Hawaii and gets bit by the surfing bug.
I also wrote a somewhat heart-wrenching profile on Karen Gallagher who used to run Sunset Beach Surf Shop and who I have known forever: Broken hearts, broken boards, broken into surf shop, etc. And Janet Macpherson, a Malibu gal who has been kind to me over the years. She’s almost 80, she has a house at Pavones, a house at Scorpion Bay, she charges and her son owns half of New York City. Some of them made it, some of them didn’t.
The marketers wanted women who ranked high in social media, so there’s Alana Blanchard and Sally Fitzgibbons. And Rosy Hodge.
Why no Carissa? Why no Steph?
I asked and asked again, and got no response. I think Roxy has shunned me. Many many years ago, when I worked at Surfer, Lisa Andersen stayed in our apartment overlooking State Beach in San Clemente. We were sitting there one day when a skunk and a raccoon got in a fight inside the apartment. That might have traumatized her and put her off the Ben thing for good. There was also the Lisa Andersen story in Surfer that had very private information about Lisa that caused heaps of trouble with her Brazilian husband.
As for Carissa, I had the pleasure of speaking to someone else from the past: Bryan Taylor. He was Kelly’s agent way back when, and now he is hustling for Carissa Moore. He said Carissa had her own book project coming out, so couldn’t participate in this.
I’m glad Janet Macpherson stayed in. She’s been good to me. And it’s a shame Kelia Moniz got cut because her story is good. Same with Sarah Gerhardt.
Most interesting is Maya Gabeira. Tough, pretty Carioca chick. Interesting family. Her father, Fernando Gabeira, is a famous figure in Brazilian politics. He kidnapped the American ambassador in the 1970s, got chased, got shot, got arrested, got convicted, got exiled to France, came back in handcuffs, wore a thong bikini on the beach that managed to shock all of Rio and is now a leader of the Green Party in Brazil.
Fernando Gabeira wrote a popular book about his politics and they made a movie about him: Four Days in September with Alan Arkin. Once you understand Maya’s family, you understand Maya.
Where and when can people get it?
Women Who Surf was officially released on May 15. It will be available on Amazon and any surviving bookstores. It would be funny if this book was a big hit and sold 100,000 copies and I got big royalty checks so I could go big at Foodland Farms salad bar every day and write a sequel that includes all the women who got cut, and many others.
Hopefully, people will buy the book and find inspiration in the stories of women who have lost arms to sharks, lost half their face on the reef at Teahupoo, nearly drowned at Nazare and Nelscott, got shoved through the rocks at Maverick’s: Broken homes, broken hearts, broken boards, broken heads.