Gidget is back, and she`s original

by Terry Rodgers | Jun 27, 2001
Gidget is back, and she`s original For surfing historians, major trends fall naturally into two epochs: B.G. or A.G. - before Gidget and after Gidget.

"Gidget" was initially a best-selling novel published in 1957.

Two years later, the story of the perky "half-girl, half midget" who learned to surf with the boys was made into a blockbuster film. The movie`s impact upon surfing was similar to what "A River Runs Through It" did to fly-fishing.

Purists of both pastimes have never quite recovered from hordes of wannabes who invaded their previously uncrowded secret spots.

Now, "Gidget" returns to bookstores in the form of a paperback published by Berkley Books.

The new edition features a foreword by the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, whose teen-age exploits at Malibu beach were fictionalized by her writer father. It also is illustrated with photos from Zuckerman`s private collection.

Gidget democratized surfing. Wave riding was no longer the exclusive domain of burly watermen, and a few women, who shared a special relationship with the ocean.

While the movie version of "Gidget" continued to germinate in pop culture via television and video, the original novel by Los Angeles screenwriter Frederick Kohner lapsed after six printings in May 1964 before it was reworked for today`s release.

Zuckerman said she is thrilled that the book will now be available to a new generation of girls, even though positive female role models are far more common today than in 1956.

"It`s such a cute story," said Zuckerman, who turned 60 in January. "I must have reread the book 10 times. I said to myself, this is so cool."

For Zuckerman, the story is a flashback to a time in her life when life was simple and hot summer days were spent at "the `Bu" surfing with older boys who had adopted her as their mascot.

"In all honesty, none of the boys hit on me," she recalled. "I was just the little pest."

The novel is a tribute to Frederick Kohner`s relationship with his youngest daughter.

(Kohner`s other daughter, Ruth, is 10 years older and has no desire to share the limelight with her younger sister.)

A careful reading reveals the Gidget character as a blending of the author`s erudite sensibilities with the sweet, naive voice of his boy-crazy, surf-stoked daughter.

Here`s an example from Chapter 2, written in Gidget`s voice:

"I`ve been in and out of that bitchen Pacific from Carmel down to Coronado and there`s no water around the world that can beat it. That`s what Rachel Carson says too, and she ought to know, having written that terrific book, The Sea Around Us."

It`s hard to imagine any 14-year-old girl in the 1950s having read Rachel Carson. Elsewhere in the novel, Gidget makes reference to "Silent World," the seminal 1956 documentary film by Jacques Cousteau. Hardly a kiddie flick.

Kohner`s achievement in capturing the essence of the then-emerging youth beach culture is all the more remarkable given his background: a German-speaking Jewish intellectual who fled Eastern Europe in advance of the Nazi oppression. He died in 1986 at age 80.

"I was his eyes and ears for what was happening at the `Bu," said Zuckerman, who kept her own account of her intrepid beach days in a series of diaries that she still has.

She recently reread her diaries to compare her actual experiences to her father`s story.

June 24, 1956, was her diary`s first entry to mention surfing.

"Dear diary: I didn`t do much but go to the beach. I didn`t think I`d have fun, but I met Matt (Kivlin) and he took me out on his surfboard. He let me catch the waves by myself. And once I fell off the board went flying in the air. I didn`t get hurt at all."

Zuckerman surfed at Malibu Point during the summers of 1956-59, then went away to college at Oregon State University. After earning a degree in English, she married a professor in 1965. She worked as a substitute teacher and raised two sons.

The real Gidget didn`t surf again until Mike Doyle, a lifelong friend who sold her her first surfboard, took her out on a tandem board in La Jolla in 1995.

"That was my reawakening," she said, explaining that she`s recently gotten a new surfboard and is back at Malibu trying to surf.

So far, she`s ridden a few waves in Hawaii and paddles out at Malibu to ride them on her stomach. She`s rediscovered how being in the water and paddling in the ocean is exhilarating.

"I feel you can go home again," she said.

For Gidget, her father`s story, as well as her real-life experiences at Malibu, were about discovering one`s place in the world.

"I felt that the `Bu was my place," Zuckerman said. "I felt comfortable there. And I felt this was my purpose. I needed to learn to surf."

(c)Copley News Service

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Author: Terry Rodgers


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