Women’s surfing is growing at an exceptional rate, but the sport is still dominated by men -- most of whom are supportive and share the waves. Ventura County has a few of the female surfers pushing the boundaries of the sport to hook more females.
They call themselves the Mondos Mary Surf Sisters. They come in groups to Mondos, a beach just north of Ventura every day. At first light, they clamber down a steep bank of rocks and paddle into the ocean. They ride the waves, bond as women surfers, and embrace a pioneer named Mary Monks – Mondos Mary.
Who is Mary Monks?
Mary might have been one of the shortest female surfers ever to do it but big in local surfing folklore. Mary Monks was among the first female surfers to charge Ventura County waves back in the days of wooden boards and wool sweaters. Her love of the waves and outsized personality earned her an honor bestowed to a very few. Not to mention her favorite surf break was named after her.
Mary was born in Fillmore in 1919 and died 89 years later in a Santa Paula nursing home. An obituary in the Ventura County Star said her memory was affected by dementia and she believed she was perpetually on her way to a surfing adventure.
The passion for waves started after she took surfing lessons on a trip to Hawaii in 1953. She saved enough money to buy three balsa boards for herself, her husband, and her son. Wetsuits were not available, so she wore tightly woven lambswool sweaters found at the Salvation Army.
To get past breaking waves, she and her husband, Bob, would sometimes jump with their boards off the end of the Ventura Pier. According to one of the many legends about her, she realized the waves were too big even for her after one pier plunge. So, she paddled to an oil barge and caught the attention of the captain.
The Legend on the Pier
Now an artist's rendition of Monks sits at the end of the Ventura Pier. She willed some of her original surfboards to a surfing museum.
Mary Osborne, a professional surfer who grew up near Mary's break, always heard about the legend of Mondo’s Mary. After getting out of the water on Tuesday, where she was teaching 19 little girls how to surf, she said she owes something to the woman who paddled out all those years ago.
"It definitely helps having that other female out there at the beginning paving the way," Osborne said.