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Looking Back: An Original Surfer Girl - Donna D'Amico

Looking Back: An Original Surfer Girl - Donna D'Amico

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Published by South Bay Digs
Some may recall the popular story of Gidget, “the little girl with big ideas,” first as a book in 1957, and then in movies and a television series. Gidget was based on a real life surfer girl in Malibu, at a time when surfing was considered a “boys only” sport. This didn’t resonate much with Donna D’Amico in 1960, as a young girl in the South Bay who wanted to surf.
Some may recall the popular story of Gidget, “the little girl with big ideas,” first as a book in 1957, and then in movies and a television series. Gidget was based on a real life surfer girl in Malibu, at a time when surfing was considered a “boys only” sport. This didn’t resonate much with Donna D’Amico in 1960, as a young girl in the South Bay who wanted to surf.

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Published by: South Bay Digs on Aug 09, 2012
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52 SOUTHBAYDIGS.COM|8.10.2012
 
LOOKING BACK
AN ORIGINAL
   P   H   O   T   O   G   R   A   P   H   S   C   O   U   R   T   E   S   Y   O   F   D   O   N   N   A   D   ’   A   M   I   C   O .
SurferGirl
 
8.10.2012|SouthBayDigS.com 53
 8.10.2012|SOUTHBAYDIGS.COM 53
 
WRITTEN BY: DENISE KANO
Some may recall the popular story of Gidget, “the little girl with
big ideas,” rst as a book in 1957, and then in movies and atelevision series. Gidget was based on a real life surfer girl in Malibu, at a time when surng was considered a “boys only” sport. This didn’t resonate much with Donna D’Amico in 1960,as a young girl in the South Bay who wanted to surf.
 
54 SOUTHBAYDIGS.COM|8.10.2012
LOCAL GIRL
“I didn’t know anyone who sured, but I lovedwatching them,” says Donna. “I was 11 years old whenmy dad started surfng with a neighbor.”At 12, Donna’s amily bought a house across romRedondo High School, and she was now anxious to learnhow to sur.“My dad said ‘no’ because I was really little,” she says.“When I started high school, I was our-eet, six-inchestall and weighed 68 pounds. He said absolutely not.”Donna’s ather challenged her that i she could swimpier to pier, he would teach her to sur, likely assumingthat would be the end o her requests.“It took me three to six months,” says Donna. “I wentevery day and swam until I just about almost drowned.My dad came one aternoon and watched. I did it, andhe was trapped.”Donna recalls the frst time she stood up on a boardwith her dad’s encouragement, and clearly remembers aeeling o reedom.“My dad kept saying, ‘just stand up.’ Once I got up, Irealized I wasn’t going to all. One thing I’ll never orget:Being on top o the water and eeling all this powerbeneath you — it’s like you’re ying. And I kept thinking,‘I’m ree.’ That’s the eeling. Even though you’re scaredor it’s hard, you want to recapture that eeling. Andwhen you get out in the water, it doesn’t matter whothey are, what they look like, or what they do — you’reall sharing that experience. That’s what it’s about, really.”Her frst board was a 9-oot, 1-inch, Dewey Weber,obviously much bigger and heavier than hersel.“My dad made a rack and hooked it onto my strandcruiser. I was so small, I couldn’t wrap my arms aroundit, but once I got to the beach, I parked my bike on thestrand and dragged my board to the shore.”
FLYING FISTS
Since starting a new school, Donna didn’t knowmany local kids yet, but she heard that some kids wentto Second Street in Hermosa. One morning, she rode herbike down to sur — the frst time by hersel. With hersmall stature, short hair, and sweatshirt, Donna put herboard in the water and started walking it out.“When I took o my sweatshirt, I had a one-piecebathing suit on,” says Donna. “And there were our orfve boys out there. As soon as I took o my sweatshirt,they must have realized I was a girl, and as I startedwalking out, they were riding a wave in. They came overto me and I said, ‘hi.’ They said, ‘Girls don’t sur here. Inact, girls don’t sur.’ They took my board, threw it aside,and started pushing me.”Eventually, Donna was able to get out o the water,drag her board back to her bike, and ride home, althoughshe suered a broken collarbone rom being pushed.Upon arriving home, her dad “had a ft” and wentto the beach, but the boys could not be ound. Donnanever saw them again. She returned to school wearinga sling, and the boys she had met at school asked herabout it. When she explained that she was beat up, theboys were incensed and invited her to sur with them.“From that time on until I was in my early twenties,I sured with them,” says Donna. “We became goodriends and nobody ever bothered me again.”
SURF TRIPS AND GIDGET
Donna’s ather started taking Donna and her newsurfng buddies all along the coast — Dana Point, ZumaBeach, Rincon, Carpinteria. On one Carpinteria trip, thegroup went to the drive-in at nearby Ventura to see themovie “Gidget”, although nobody knew what the moviewas about.“I’d gotten caught up in kelp that day and couldn’tget it o my scag,” she says. “The guys made un o me.They were always making un o me, calling me “midget”because I was so little.”Everyone sat on the hood o the station wagon andthe movie started, eaturing the beautiul Sandra Deeand the cool James Darin.“Sandra Dee was gorgeous, but she was little,”explains Donna. “In real lie, I elt gawky, unattractive,but I could relate to the movie. Sandra Dee wore a one-piece bathing suit with stripes around the middle, and Iwore a bathing suit with stripes around the middle. I waseuphoric ater that movie, because I thought — that’s mystory without the love interest! Ater that, they teasedme, calling me Gidget, and torturing me!”
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SURFERS
Although she no longer surs, Donna is thrilledwatching her son-in-law sur and is amazed at howsurfng has changed over the years.“What they do now is so dierent,” she says. “Tosee that athleticism that’s developed and how it’s reallybecome a true, recognized sport is wonderul.”At 65 years old, Donna looks back ondly on thelie she had growing up. She has seen many changesin the South Bay, and eels blessed to have grown upin an era o innocence. She credits her parents withencouraging her to fnd her own path in lie and neversetting limitations. She also credits surfng with givingher the enviable ability to live completely in the presentand treasure each day.“There’s something about surers,” says Donna. “It’slike you share a secret. You don’t have to be big andpowerul, you just have to be tenacious and go or it.And when you’re standing on a board, there’s nothingto deter you rom what’s actually happening in thatmoment. You’re orced to be present. You’re hearingthat water, you eel that salt sticking to your skin, yousmell those ocean smells — and you’re standing therethinking, ‘I’m here in this moment.’”While the gang has moved on to dierent locales,class reunions occasionally reunite them. And when theydo get together, they share memories o surfng days,school dances, unrequited crushes, and sur trips withtheir very ownGidget.
LOOKING BACK

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Greetings, “We are gods, and we might as well get good at it.” wrote Sausalito, California's futurist Stewart Brand on the cover of his Whole Earth Catalog in 1968. Goddess Donna D'Amico is far from amateur at being human.
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