Joyce Hoffman in Conversation with Dibi Fletcher and Herbie Fletcher

JOYCE HOFFMAN INTERVIEW BY DIBI & HERBIE FLETCHER

“Joyce Hoffman’s Surfing Walk of Fame honor wasn’t the first time she’s held a prestigious title. In 1965, she was named the L.A. Times Woman of the Year, the only surfer to ever receive this honor. That year, she was unbeatable, winning the U.S. Championship in Huntington Beach and the World Championship in Peru. She was a two-time winner of the Makaha International (1964, 1966) and amassed two more U.S. Championships (1966, 1977). In 1966, at only 19, she was voted best woman surfer in the world by the International  Surfing Hall of Fame. All of this equated to her winning the first-ever women’s Surfer Poll Award — a feat she repeated four straight times. Her competitive spirit didn’t stop there. She went on to place third in the women’s motocross world championships and raced 2-liter Can Am cars. Hobie Surfboards introduced the Joyce Hoffman signature model in 1967, while Triumph gave her a Spitfire coupe. Hoffman remains active and surfs as often as possible.” – SURFING WALK OF FAME

JOYCE HOFFMAN PHOTO BY RON CHURCH / COURTESY OF SHACC

DIBI: Thank you for spending the time with me to do this.

JOYCE: Sure. 

DIBI: Here’s the thing. We’re getting older and a lot of our friends aren’t here anymore. I just think we have to document these stories. People that don’t know you will write about you and, all of a sudden, it changes surf history. They just say what they think it must have been like.

JOYCE: Right, and they weren’t there. 

DIBI: Right. People have written stuff and I’m like, “I don’t know them. How can they make these comments?” Herbie and I are cognizant of that, so we interview some of these people. We have interviewed Wayne and dad, so there is a format of saving our history. We talked to Velzy out in the barn.

JOYCE: Oh nice! He was such a character.

DIBI: He ran in the back and started drinking Bacardi. 

“Surfing gave me so much in my life, so many opportunities, places I went and people I met. It was really wonderful to me, so I always try to give back to surfing so that I can be proud of what I have done for surfing because of what surfing has done for me. Hopefully, I will be remembered as a gracious, humble champion who always reflected well on the sport of surfing.”

HERBIE: He was funny. He had a 20-minute conversation with Dibi and then he said, “Just a second. I’ll be right back.” He went into the tack room. I said, “Give him 30 seconds to get the bottle open.” [Laughs] Then I walked back there with my camera firing. 

JOYCE: Yes! I love it. Those are the characters that we miss.

HERBIE: They were the board builders.

DIBI: Right. There were still characters in the ‘80s and then it just completely shut down. The surfing industry became about selling ‘back to school.’ Once it became about selling ‘back to school’, they had to clean it up.

JOYCE: The characters wouldn’t fit in.

DIBI: Yes. All of a sudden, in a rush to grow these companies, it all changed. None of them should have ever gone public. 

JOYCE HOFFMAN PHOTO BY RON STONER / COURTESY OF SHACC

JOYCE: No. It was the kiss of death. 

DIBI: Once that started happening, it was about corporate earnings and more sales. It was a rush to the bottom and that was really a tragedy of not protecting what was so cool. 

JOYCE: Right. They didn’t care about protecting it. They were in it for the money.

HERBIE: What’s cool is what Hobie wrote in his book before he died about your dad teaching him how to make surfboards. That’s how far back the family goes. It’s interesting. I think saving this  history and working with Juice Magazine is important because they are willing to print these stories and share the history. 

JOYCE: That’s great. Thank you for asking me to be part of it. 

JOYCE HOFFMAN PHOTO BY RON CHURCH / COURTESY OF SHACC

DIBI: Absolutely. Could you tell me a little bit about being a World Champion surfer in the ‘60s?

JOYCE: It was a lot different than being a World Champion today. Surfing wasn’t that well known and it didn’t have that big of a platform beyond the immediate coast, so your fame was not like the fame that they have today where everyone in the world knows the most famous surfers. For someone who hadn’t pursued it looking for fame, it was a lot of fame for me. When I got the telegram from the Los Angeles Times telling me that I had been named the Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year, that was the biggest thing that ever had happened to me because that was slightly outside of surfing. To think that they were recognizing a surfer in the Los Angeles Times, it was amazing. It was very gratifying and very humbling. 

DIBI: I thought that was so interesting because, at the same time, you also got a write up in Sports Illustrated and you got on the cover of Life magazine and you were on The Dating Game and What’s My Line? What do you think it was about you that caught the imagination of a much broader popular culture?

JOYCE: Well, I don’t know that it was me so much as it was the time. My time was the perfect storm. It was right when surfing went beyond just the coast and the small group of people that were interested in it to surfing being spread across the country via Madison Avenue. Getting in magazines like that, with Hang Ten and the Gidget movies and The Endless Summer, all of a sudden, people in Kansas City and Nebraska had heard about surfing. From what they saw of it, everyone wanted to pursue that. Why wouldn’t you? Look at The Endless Summer with glassy, beautiful, sunny days and the surf and everybody is in shape and having fun and chasing their dream around the world, so everyone wanted to be part of that. If they couldn’t be part of it, they wanted to learn about it and read about it. I was just fortunate that my time of being a top woman surfer coincided with surfing going across the country and around the world. I think that’s why I got the outside of surfing notoriety from Time Magazine, Life Magazine, Look Magazine and all of that. 

“After I won the World Championships in San Diego, I started writing companies and suggesting that they might want to use me as a spokesperson because their particular product went well with surfing. So I wrote Triumph Leyland and I sent the magazine articles of me from Look magazine and Life magazine and I said, “Surfing is really big and it’s really taking off. I have to drive to the beach every day with my surfboard and whatnot and I think one of your cars would be fabulous to advertise to surfers.” 

DIBI: I was reading about Surfer magazine, which started in 1960 and Surfing magazine, which was launched in 1964 and they didn’t do much on women’s surfing then, but you went out to a much broader marketplace, which is very interesting.

JOYCE: Yeah. I think I was the quintessential image of what they were trying to sell as surfing. I was a good student and I didn’t party and I was serious about my sport and they were trying to push that image. They didn’t want to be tied to the surfers that were out partying and staying out late and screwing around and whatnot. Madison Avenue now is okay with that kind of stuff, because everybody is, but back then, they weren’t. They were a lot more prudish. I think that was another reason, out of the women surfers, I was chosen to be more representative because that was the image they were trying to sell. 

DIBI: Tell me how you got the sponsorship with Triumph Spitfire. 

JOYCE: After I won the World Championships in San Diego, I started writing companies and suggesting that they might want to use me as a spokesperson because their particular product went well with surfing. I wrote Triumph Leyland and I sent the magazine articles of me from Look Magazine and Life Magazine and I said, “Surfing is really big and it’s really taking off. I have to drive to the beach every day with my surfboard and I think one of your cars would be fabulous to advertise to surfers.” I wrote Honda Motorcycles and they gave me a motorcycle. I wrote Tourister Luggage and they sent me a whole set of luggage. I just pimped myself out. No one else was doing it for me, so I thought, “What the heck?” Most of them didn’t pay me any money, but Triumph gave me a car for a year to use and, when I went around the world, they had a brand new car waiting at the airport for me when I arrived in Australia and when I arrived in New Zealand and when I went to Europe and when I went to South Africa. There would be a car there and I’d use it. When I left, I’d just leave it in the parking lot at the airport and I’d call them up and say, “Your car is there.” They weren’t giving out money in those days, because surfing wasn’t that big, but I got all kinds of product just by promoting myself. 

JOYCE HOFFMAN PHOTO BY RON CHURCH / COURTESY OF SHACC

DIBI: I was going to ask you, when you won a contest, was there any contest purse? Was there any money as far as the contests went?

JOYCE: There was only one contest that they held every year where they gave away TVs. It was the Laguna Masters. I would go to the Laguna Masters every year in Redondo Beach.

HERBIE: It was at the Redondo Breakwater. I think John Peck won the Men’s and I won the Junior’s and you won the Women’s.

JOYCE: Right. They gave out TVs.

HERBIE: I got a Honda S90!

JOYCE: Yes! They gave out merchandise. That was the only contest that I ever surfed in where they gave anything other than a trophy. 

DIBI: To promote and sponsor yourself to go to all of these contests, you either had to have a job or your mom and dad’s support, so that’s how you were able to go do these things, right?

JOYCE: Yes. 

JOYCE HOFFMAN PHOTO BY RON STONER / COURTESY OF SHACC

DIBI: Okay. I saw some clips of you and you had a unique style. Who were you inspired by?

JOYCE: I really liked Phil Edwards and Billy Hamilton’s style. I used to surf at Oceanside quite a bit and Billy Hamilton surfed there a lot. Of course, he sort of mimicked Phil Edwards because he was trying to mimic him. Then Phil, when he was building his Catamaran, would surf there at Poche, so I really tried to mimic him. There weren’t any women that I tried to mimic because the women before me weren’t as aggressive. They were much more graceful. When you think of Marge Calhoun or Candy Calhoun or Linda Merrill, their posture was really erect and very nice. They really flowed with the wave and they didn’t try to overpower it the way the men did. I was looking and thinking, “It looks way more fun to surf like Phil or Herbie where they’re really using the wave instead of just standing there calmly and letting the wave decide where they go and how they go. I had the impetus to take a different way of doing surfing. 

HERBIE: That was the best style going on in those days. You could see it in your surfing and the Makaha stuff. It was really noticeable. 

JOYCE: Now the women surf just like the men. That’s the way you’re going to get the most out of the wave. 

HERBIE: The girls nowadays are unbelievable.

JOYCE: Absolutely.

DIBI: We were talking about it earlier and it seems to me like our childhood was a golden era because we surfed on clean beaches and uncrowded waves. Do you still surf?

JOYCE: Absolutely. I went out yesterday and the day before. I surf as much as I can while I still can. 

JOYCE HOFFMAN PHOTO BY RON CHURCH / COURTESY OF SHACC

DIBI: What do you think about surfing being in the Olympics?

JOYCE: I’m sorry that it’s going that route. It’s going more conventional and more mainstream. It’s taking more of the uniqueness out of it and turning it into another activity. I think, because it’s going that way, you don’t have the characters attracted to surfing that you had in the ‘50s and ‘60s. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, there were strange people attracted to surfing. It was a strange activity. People didn’t understand it. They thought we were all nuts or weird or crazy or something. I remember the Sports Illustrated article. It attracted unique people. Now that it’s like every other sport, it could be soccer, baseball or football. 

DIBI: Doesn’t it seem odd that the surfers who will be competing in the Olympics, have been professional surfers, some of them for decades?

JOYCE: Well, the Olympics are bogus. The Olympics have been bogus for the last 20 years. As soon as they let professional people, like the professional basketball players, play in it, that was the end of the Olympics, as far as I’m concerned. I’m a traditionalist and I’m very conservative, so the Olympics don’t have any of the charm for me that they did before. I feel like surfing has sold out by putting themselves in the Olympics. Shame on them. 

DIBI: Have you ever surfed in a wave pool?

JOYCE: No. I might like to, just to see what it’s like, but people growing up in a wave pool are never even going to be able to paddle out. That’s what I think. 

JOYCE HOFFMAN PHOTO BY RON CHURCH / COURTESY OF SHACC

DIBI: We’re going to have a world champion that has never duck dived. [Laughs] 

JOYCE: Exactly. They won’t have to for God’s sakes. You don’t have to pick waves and learn to recognize a good wave from a bad wave.

DIBI: You don’t learn about nature. 

JOYCE: Yeah. It’s like a wet board game.

DIBI: What does a day well spent in your world look like?

JOYCE: A day well spent is getting up and taking a hike up in the hills, three or four miles, outside my house. I love doing that. I love seeing the horses out in the pastures, because I live in a horse stable. I love seeing the sun come up and then going down to Carlsbad and surfing with a couple of my good friends on some beautiful waves. Six or seven of us old gals that have surfed since the ‘60s all met down in San Onofre and surfed and reminisced and told big stories and remembered the good ol’ days. It was a magical day. We keep our good memories alive by talking about them. We were all laughing about what we were doing back then and what it was like. 

DIBI: I remember going to the contests back then. You go to the contests now in Hawaii and it’s just so different. Then it was an event, but it had a much different feel to it. Now it’s just a huge trade show.

JOYCE: Yeah. It’s a carnival.

DIBI: Yeah. It loses something in that. Are you active on social media?

JOYCE: No. It seems like it’s a time suck. 

DIBI: If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would that be?

JOYCE: Winston Churchill. There wasn’t anybody smarter or stronger with more character and integrity in the 20th Century. 

DIBI: What would you like to do on the bucket list that you haven’t done yet?

JOYCE: Well, I would have liked to have done kite surfing, but I know I’m too old to start that, so that’s kinda disappointing. I would have liked to snowboard up in The Bugaboos but, again, I’m too old, so I know that I can’t do that. I love to go  camping and fly fishing. I love to travel in the United States and see all of the beautiful parks and forests, so I’m hoping to spend more time doing that in the foreseeable future. 

“My time was the perfect storm. It was right when surfing went beyond just the coast and the small group of people that were interested in it to being spread across the country via Madison Avenue.”

DIBI: How would you like to be remembered? 

JOYCE: Well, I’d like to be remembered as a good representative of surfing. Surfing gave me so much in my life, so many opportunities, places I went and people I met. It was really wonderful to me, so I always try to give back to surfing so that I can be proud of what I have done for surfing because of what surfing has done for me. Hopefully, I will be remembered as a gracious, humble champion who always reflected well on the sport of surfing. 

DIBI: In going through some of the stuff online to find things that people might be interested in, that is what is said about you.

JOYCE: Really? That’s nice. I guess I succeeded. 

DIBI: Yeah. They all spoke very highly of you and said you were a very driven champion and you were a really good ambassador. 

JOYCE: Well, then I succeeded because that’s my wildest dream!

DIBI: You’ve always been extremely athletic. What are your latest obsessions?

JOYCE: My latest obsession is not obsessing. It’s giving my self permission to not obsess over things. I hiked this morning and I went to the gym and I rode my bike and I’m still trying to be active. Mostly, I stay active so I can keep surfing because that’s the thing that I really love to do. I don’t love the gym and hiking gets tedious, but I do all of that so I can keep surfing, but I no longer obsess. I don’t think about anything anymore and that’s really a relief. 

DIBI: Well, you’ve talked about your greatest accomplishment, but what was your most crushing defeat along the way?

JOYCE: Well, I really hated to lose. There was a time when I drove Jericho Poppler, who is a couple of years younger than me, to a contest. She was only 16, so she couldn’t drive yet, and I drove her to the Santa Cruz contest and we competed there in the days of the AAAs and the AAs. It was the Western Surfing Association and Jericho beat me. 

DIBI: Did she have to walk home?

JOYCE: No, but I wouldn’t speak to her the whole drive. It was an eight-hour drive home and I never said a word to her. I’m embarrassed about that now, but I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t believe it. Not only did I lose, but I frickin’ lost to her. I regret that now. We laugh about it, thank god. She laughs and thinks it’s funny, but she was 16. Poor thing. She won and I should have been big enough to celebrate that with her, but I just couldn’t.

DIBI: When I look at modern surfing, it’s so much different than when you and I were young. 

JOYCE: Oh gosh, yeah. 

DIBI: I remember it as fun.

JOYCE: Yes.

DIBI: Now I don’t think it’s so much fun. People drive to the beach and get out of their car and go for a surf and get back in their BMW and drive off. They don’t have that beach life most of them. 

JOYCE: I will say that it’s still really alive in San Onofre. They come with their family, just like we did. The family comes – the mom and the dad and the kids and the dog. The kids are surfing now and the moms are too. When we were kids, most of the moms didn’t surf, except for Liz Irwin and a few others. Now the moms surf too. It’s very family still. It’s way too crowded, but it’s still catering to family. When I was there, Don Craig was there. He went there as a kid when we went there and it was a private club and we were talking about the family thing and how it’s carried over. At other beaches, I don’t know that it does. They may just come and surf and leave. At San Onofre, it still brings families and they bring their lunch and they still have the fire on the beach in the evening and roast their marshmallows. It’s still alive there. There’s still a little piece of the endless summer in San Onofre, which is really nice to see. 

FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, GET ISSUE #77 AT THE JUICE SHOP HERE.

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