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Atop the House of the Rising Sun: Day Break at Haleakala (photo: Dana Edmunds / Pacific Stock)
Vol.12, no.6
December 2009 / January 2010


Gigdet Goes Hawaiian 


Introduction by Julia Steele
Diary by Kathy Kohner Zuckerman

Portait by Dana Edmunds
(all other photos courtesy Kathy Kohner Zuckerman)


In the summer of 1956, a teenager named Kathy Kohner headed down to the beach in Malibu and met a bunch of guys who were taking slabs of wood out into the water and catching waves. Kathy decided to try it, too—and loved it. One of the lone females in the breaks, she spent her days surfing with the guys, who dubbed her “gidget,” or “girl midget.” Theirs was a counterculture that was way off dead center; hard to believe now, but in the mid-’50s, surfing was extremely rare in California, an outre, isolated phenomenon that most everyone knew nothing about. At night, Kathy would visit her father, a writer, in his study and tell him of her escapades. An inspired Frederick Kohner decided to write a book about a young, independent girl surfer. He’d call it, he decided, Gidget. He penned the whole thing in six weeks.


It came out in October of 1957, and it was a smash, besting even On the Road on the Los Angeles Times best-seller list. The book became a movie. Gidget mania swept the country. There were more books, more movies (Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Gidget Goes to Rome), even television shows. By the early ’60s, Gidget was a household name—and a cultural phenomenon that SURFER Magazine would eventually rank the seventh most influential surfer of all time.


Kathy, meanwhile, turned 18 and went off to college at Oregon State. At the end of her first year, in September of 1959, she decided to visit Hawaii to surf. She came alone, adventuring, just her and her board—and her journal. What follows are excerpts from that journal—which Kathy recently unearthed and which has never before been published. Here, for the first time in print, is the genuine article: the true story of Gidget going Hawaiian.